In the days of my childhood whenever I heard the mention of Haridwar, I used to conjure up an image of a very holy city in which you would find at every street corner some or the other yagna going on, Sadhus meditating under trees and a silent atmosphere sprinkled with the chants of the mantras. Well when I finally reached there, Haridwar was like any chaotic Indian city busting to it’s seams. Depilating buildings interspersed with new structures, temples surrounded by street vendors of all sorts, an ever present crowd that is in a constant motion on both directions of the streets followed by the Cycle rickshaws and the autos. The loud shrill sounds were a far cry from my childhood imaginations of the sacred mantra sounds, but maybe this is the face of the transitioning India.
After spending the night at Rudraprayag we hired a taxi to Haridwar. Not mentioning our experience in Rudraprayag would do gross injustice to our trip. We arrived from Badrinath at around 7 in to the town of Rudraprayag to find all the hotel rooms to be taken. We finally found a hotel in which there was no water supply and was literally situated out of the city. The guy looking after the place said he would supply us 2 buckets of water from the nearby waterpump and we decided to stay there for the night. The place was really big with many rooms but none of them were occupied, In the night we had to grope our way around in the corridors to get out of the place for dinner. The hotel manager looked like someone straight out of the horror movies, sporting a mysterious blank look and speaking as if he had not spoken for years. Well, in the night all of us prayed that there were no spirits lurking around the place and hoped the time had not yet come to answer for our sins. The morning light allayed a sense of joy and also brought in the stark reality of what man was doing to his surroundings, all the beautiful hills surrounding the place were completely denuded, even though the mighty Alaknanda was flowing just below us the water levels of the area was so low that there was a huge water problem in the town. Finally after having our cheapest breakfast of the whole trip which comprised of Aloo paratha, curds and tea, we left for Haridwar.
We had close to 3 days to kill in Haridwar after having cancelled the trip to the temple town of Kedarnath. The trip got cancelled partly due to the apprehension of bad weather and partly due to laziness to trek the slopes once again. We lodged ourselves in a very comfortable place which was some 3 kilometer to the bathing ghats. Comfort and luxury were quixotic terms when we were climbing on the peaks to reach roopkund, but now we were determined to compensate for the hardship and sufferings one normally forces his body into in a trek, by spoiling it to the maximum.
The three kilometers from the hotel to the bathing ghats is choc-o-bloc with people and street vendors. But one real surprise was in terms of the cleanliness, the place was really clean by our Indian standards. People were not dumping waste here and there as is common in crowded places and even if they did, there was prompt cleaning of the garbage by designated people. The bathing Ghats were also pretty good with very good arrangements ensuring that everyone could bath in the water without having to fall over one another to do it. We could not watch the first days Ganga aarthi properly as there was a huge crowd and apparently people had reserved the best spots from 4 in the afternoon to get a good view of the 7pm aarthi. After having my first holy dip in the Ganges, I came back to my room pretty satisfied. The next day we perched ourselves near the banks of the river by 4 in the afternoon and had a very good view of the Aarthi.
The Aarthi comprised of two stages, one stages had some 4-5 small Aarthis and in the second stage close 12 of the big Aarthis are used to show our devotion to the Ganga matha. Devotional songs kept blaring from the loud speakers and hundreds of small diyas which are let loose by the devotees can be seen floating past in the river at great speeds.
In terms of food, we didn’t experiment too much and stuck to a restaurant called the Choti waala which was on the way to the Ghats. The place served some really good food and the ambience was also pretty great.
Apart from roaming around streets and going to the ghats for bathing and having rich food dipped in butter and Ghee, we didn’t do pretty much. We didn’t even visit the famous Mansa devi temple.
After having a disappointing sojourn to Rishikesh on the last day of our trip, we caught the morning train to Delhi, to fly back to Bangalore.