A long weekend, a spur of the moment plan (OK 2 days planning is also quite spontaneous in my dictionary) and cameras ready, we were all set to go explore the jewels of Uttrakhand - Haridwar and Rishikesh. Anyone who was made privy to our plan would have a very predictable reaction - people our age would exclaim "Why are you wasting 2 days in Haridwar?? Rishikesh is where the action is man!" and our elders would be so happy that their blasphemous children have finally chosen the correct path! I'm glad we trudged through the affection, criticism, sympathy and all that came our way and stood our ground!
If your trip involves only Haridwar and Rishikesh, the best way to travel is by train from Delhi. The morning Shatabdi was as efficient as ever, and before we even knew it, it was noon and we were on the holy soil of Haridwar. A small town by most standards, Haridwar like most places in the world has two faces to it. The face that the residents see and the one that travellers explore. We were lucky to be in the middle of the action as we got accomodation in an Ashram directly on the Ganga just a km away from Har-Ki-Pauri. The views from the balcony were good enough to take your breath away...the waters of Ganga flowing below you, the hills rising from the plains on the other side.
Haridwar is a sightseeing delight. Our intention was not purely religious but more curious and thus the intrigue of the town enveloped us. The Chandi Devi and Mansa Devi temples offered gorgeous views from hilltops and a nail-biting jouney up in the cable car! A combined ticket for both the temples including the cable cars and transport between them costs Rs.150 per person. The centre of action ofcourse is at the famous Har-ki-pauri during the morning and evening aartis. This place is famous for being the spot where the trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Bhrama were formed. There is a natural shivling in one of the temples here as well as a marble slab on which it is claimed that Vishnu's footprints are imprinted - the credibility of the same may be questioned by some though. The evening aarti is an experience that will stay with me for a long time. Swelling crowds singing in unison, pundits praying with fire almost half as tall as a man and diyas floating in the water, it had the capacity to mesmerize you completely. Ofcourse, you are not spared the exected commercialism with everyone who put a tika on you asking for money or 'collectors' catching you and asking to donate. But taken in the right spirit, these dont act as a deterent to one's experience.
The part that we enjoyed most was perhaps walking the streets of Haridwar. The market runs on two levels, the twisting turning lanes of the lower market and the paved road of the upper market. As can be expected, we fell in love with the lower market. You never knew what you are going to find at the next turn - a lipsmacking samosa, one in a kind handbag, chandan sticks or quaint wooden artifacts. We walked through those lanes morning, noon and night and I doubt we would have taken the same route even once!!
Our 2 days done here, we packed our bags and left for our camp further from Rishikesh. But it seems like a shame to mix the wonder of this town with the adreline rush of Rishikesh in the same blog...the latter will come soon...keep checking this space!