Friday, January 28, 2011

Day 6 - Oct 23rd, Saturday. Rishikesh and Hardwar

Day 6 - Oct 23rd, Saturday. Rishikesh and Hardwar

Next morning, was a clear beautiful day, no trace of any clouds. The garden outside the hotel and the view of the mountains in the distance was breathtaking. We had our usual breakfast, packed up and set out towards Lakshman Jhula. Parked close to the bridge and walked down to the bridge. There is a Sai Ashram just next to the bridge. There is a large statue of Lakshman in front.

On the other side of the bridge is a statue of Shiva. One thing that surprised all of us was that two wheelers were allowed on the bridge. Motorcycles, scooters, hand carts, bicycles shared the bridge with people and an occasional cow. The river here is really wide. People were rafting down below. This area had a very high percentage of Europeans, Hare Krishna’s walked down
the road singing bhajans, hippies on motorcycles crossing the bridge, orientals. Many stores all around selling ‘genuine’ stuff - rudraksha, khadi clothes, jewelery, pearls, ayurvedic medicine. There are many yoga centers all around. There also many book stores - I think I saw Gita press near the steps.
After Lakshman jhula we went to Ram Jhula, a similar suspension bridge but longer. Instead of walking across we took a boat to cross Ganga. Ganga over here is really wide. The motorized boat can take about forty people, and crosses the river in 5 minutes. Crossing ganga on a river brings back memories from childhood, when there were no motorized boats, but oarsmen taking you across.

On the other side the first task was to go to the Chotiwala restaurant, an institution as famous as the bridges. After a nice lunch we walked around the place, went down to the river bank, took pictures and then crossed over to the other side. By this time it was afternoon. Initially we were thinking about staying in Rishikesh for the night, but then our driver suggested that it was too much of a hassle and time wasted if we did that. Next stop Hardwar.
We reached Hardwar soon. O the way we stopped to pick up some grapefruits from a thela wala. They peel it for you, but black salt on it and serve it to you. Must have been good, but I did not indulge myself in this round. I wanted to have the singara.

Just as we entered Hardwar we passed a giant statue of Shiva. Hardwar is not very clean, there is garbage all around. And it is very crowded, I cannot imagine how it would have been during the maha kumbh, which was earlier in the year. We tried to go in closer to the Har ki Pauri area and find a hotel there but the roads to that place were not open to cars and vans. So we had to settle for a hotel in the gurdwara area. The rooms were small and windowless but clean with a clean bathroom with air conditioner - in Hardwar we needed an air conditioner even in this season. I remember, even when I was here in 1979, we had a windowless room. After checking in, we tried to take a chance at visiting the Manasa temple, which is accessible by ropeway. 

We took a auto rickshaw to the base station. The roads were really dirty, and we got stuck on the way for 20 minutes where a truck was picking up garbage.After we reached the gate to the ropeway, we had to go down a steep flight of stairs and then walk for 5 minutes to go to the boarding place. We decided not to go on this ride because there was not enough time for us to come back in time and get a good seat for the Aarti. Took an auto back to the Har ki Pauri area and walked along the river bank, past the Netaji Subhash Chandra statue, past food stalls and beggars (Hardwar has a very high concentration), across the bridge to the ghat on the opposite side. 

We got a good place, but it was dirty so I went and bought some gamchas (towels) to sit on. The place filled up slowly, and by the time it was dark it was packed. There was a group sitting next to us who had come all the way from some small place in Bengal. By the way this time of the year, during Durga puja is called the Bangali season. They have their own cooks who cook the bengali delicacies, take you to all the must see places and provide decent accommodation. Bengali's are the original tourists in India, followed now by Gujratis. But gradually now this fever has caught on.

The ganga that flowed in front of us was like a trickling stream, shallow and dirty with plastic bags and other trash floating in it. The reason for this travesty is that the main ganga flows down another section and this by-pass is fed as needed by controlling a set of gates upstream and down stream. During the day this section is starved and about 30 minutes before the Aarti starts water is let in and soon it becomes full. As the steps fill up, people who come late go and sit on the lower steps but as the water rises they start pushing up and everyone gets cosy and cramped. People buy the flower boats and set them down the stream. There are organizations in blue uniform trying to collect money as donation, they may make it seem like they are selling you seats to watch the Aarti. There is an occasional cheer and the blaring of bhajans from the other side.

As it gets dark, the preparations for the Aarti begins. The place is washed with water, the idols of the deities are brought down in palanquins, loud speakers are playing devotional music and there are announcements for this and that. It becomes a happening place. The Aarti people take their stations, with the giant lamps (really giant - probably one and a half feet at the base with two feet height, with multiple layers of lamps. Devotional songs are blaring at full volume with the crowd chiming in with chants of Jai Ganga Maiya. 

The Aarti is something to experience, the 5 or more lamps are spread out at a distance of 20 feet along the ghat. The flames are huge. The pundits doing aarti hold the lamps with a wet cloth to avoid getting scalded, and every few minutes a guy standing next to the pundit pours water onto his hand to keep it cool. The Aarti lasts for about 20 minutes. The crowd disperses very quickly after that. It is better to wait for it to thin down before moving, I have heard of pick pockets working the area. We waited for another 10 minutes, still in awe after this wonderful experience.

It was now time for dinner, we walked down the second street on the left, which is the restaurant street and settled down in a dhaba. The place does brisk business, has place to sit probably 16. We had all kinds of stuff - chaat, chana batura, alu gobi etc..As usual with the dhabas the food was great. I had my limca to wash it down. After dinner, we went to a street corner jalebi store, and had some jalebi’s standing on the street, standing next to the kadai where the jalebi was being made. Next stop was supposed to be the peda store but everyone was too full. We walked down the street doing window shopping, all kinds of stores line the road. After a while we had enough and took rickshaws back to the hotel. Near the hotel, we walked around some more looking for something, I don’t remember what. There was also some celebration going on behind the hotel, and as usual the loud speaker was blaring. We went and checked it our too, had some more Limca and went back to the hotel.


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  2. Nice trip. Thanks for sharing your trip experience. The place emerged as the World capital of Yoga when the Beatles paid a visit to the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Check out more about Lakshman Jhula.

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  4. Haridwar is one of seven holiest religious pilgrimage places in India for Hindus, known as Sapta Puri.

    Rishikesh Situated a little further up the Ganges River than Haridwar, Rishikesh is considered to be the birthplace of yoga in India. It's renowned for its many ashrams. A Ganga Aarti is also held every evening in Rishikesh, at Parmarth Nitekan ashram, the predominant ashram there.

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