After our lovely few days relaxing in the hills we decided to go check out Haridwar which is supposedly one of five holiest cites in India. Situated on the Ganges just 30kms downriver from Rishikesh we had a pretty uneventful bus journey out of the mountains until we hit the outskirts of Hardiwar and came to a complete standstill. As we have come to expect with the Indians, the traffic jam became a complete free for all which of course only made the situation worse. Sigh.After another hour and a half we finally made it to our accommodation.
We had come to Haridwar to witness the sacred ganga aarti ceremony at the Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat. It is where the god Vishnu is said to have dropped some divine nectar and left behind a footprint. We had been told that the one in Rishikesh was for the tourists but this was the one you had to see. On the bus into the city the sheer number of people we glimpsed bathing in the Ganges made us think tonight was going to be pretty special.
The river has been diverted to create more manageable flows where steps have been built down into the river to accommodate so many people. Even with the diversions the inlets are still fast flowing and I shudder at how many lives must be lost with so many people entering the water and how poor at swimming they are.
In the afternoon we headed out towards the ghat where the ceremony would take place. The town itself was manic! The streets were filled with shops and cars and people. Back to the hectic India for us! Now I don’t know if it was because we had a break from it all in the mountains for a few days or because we were expecting it but although extremely busy we enjoyed the streets far more than Rishikesh. It definitely didn’t have as many western tourists. A guy who was riding a bicycle was too busy goggling at us that he ran into the car in front of him. It was acutely quite funny.
We headed towards the river and walked the last kilometer along the Ganges watching everyone enjoy bathing in the river. The crowds got thicker and thicker as we got closer to the Ghat and the atmosphere certainly felt reverent. There were holy men walking around offering blessings, for a fee of course.
At the Ghats there were several bridges criss crossing the river and on either side hundreds and hundreds of people were swimming. We didn’t quite know where to stand so we just wandered around watching in awe what was going on around us. We found a good vantage point on a bridge and were approached by a lovely family to have our photo taken and were told that we had a good spot to view the ceremony.
Soon enough the chanting started and on either side people joined in. The crowd had swelled to thousands now and the atmosphere was amazing. Looking around at all the people in and about the water, flower offerings flowing down the river we realised why people told us to come here instead of the far more sedate ceremony in Rishikesh.
There was a break in the chanting and then small fires and candles were lit all along the river. This just added to the magic of the place. Soon it was all over and then as people dispersed plates of the fire were passed around and people would touch their hands through the fire and then to their head. From what we could garner from our family, these fires were now holy and you were blessing yourself with the fire.
We waited a little while for the crowd to disperse but were inundated for requests for photos. My mouth was actually sore from all the smiling we had to do. So we got out of there with the crowds and had a lovely walk back along the river to our hotel. Along the way we came across lots people setting up as if to sleep out along the river. I don’t know if they were there permanently or there just for the night because they made their pilgrimage here to bath in the Ganges. I hope it was the later as there were a lot of them. Haridwar was definitely worth the stop. S
The streets of Haridwar.
There were little shops everywhere selling plastic bottles to collect your own sacred Ganges water. Some people were leaving with buckets of it. We couldn’t figure out if they drank it or just put in on the mantle as a keepsake.
On the other side of the river the buildings all went right up to the river and had their own private ghats. Notice the little boy fishing for metal with his magnet.
People were bathing for kilometres all along the river edge and special barriers had been but in place so people could hold on and not get washed away.
Getting closer to the Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat. As you can see the river has been diverted into a smaller and shallower channel.
Waiting for the ceremony to start.
The sheer number of people in attendance was mind blowing. This happens every night, though the crowds are the busiest between May and July.
The fires being lit and people floating their offerings down the river. There didn’t seem to be a specific time you had to do this so all afternoon offerings were floating by.
The holy fires.