Haridwar: ‘Gateway to God’ where River Ganges is worshiped

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By Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network

Mumbai, 21 July 2011: After a long and exciting train journey through 19019 Deharadun Express, the group of seven of us reached Haridwar railway station at around 3.30 pm. Just then it started raining and we spent around half an hour on the platform while two of our group-members  accompanied by a ‘rickshaw’ man went to the city to find out accommodation for our stay for a night before proceeding on the ‘Char Dhams’ tour early in the next morning. Having found a reasonably decent hotel at affordable charges, the duo returned to the railway station and led us to the hotel.


We were at Haridwar for two days, one day prior to our start of the ‘Char Dhams’ tour and another day after our return from the tour before starting our return journey to Mumbai. We had two different types of experience on these two days which I felt appropriate to be narrated in this episode of the travelogue.


After freshening up at the hotel, we hired a cycle rickshaw and proceeded to  the chief centre of Haridwar where bathing ‘ghats’ and temples are located on the bank of the Ganges River. The two sides of  the river are connected by bridges at regular intervals so that devotees can pass from one side to the other without much problem.


As the name of the holy city suggests, Haridwar, literally means ‘Gateway to God’. This  is one of the sacred places s of Hinduism and has been  a center of Hindu religion and mysticism for centuries. River Ganges, after flowing for 253 kilometers from its source at Gaumukh at the edge of the Gangotri Glacier, enters the Indo-Gangetic Plains of North India for the first time at Haridwar, which gave the city its ancient name-‘Gangadwára’.


Haridwar is regarded as one of the seven holiest places to Hindus. According to a legend, along with Ujjain, Nasik and Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar is one of the four sites where drops of ‘Amrit’, the nectar of immortality, accidentally spilled over from the pitcher while being carried by the celestial bird ‘Garuda’.  This is manifested in the ‘Kumbha Mela’ being celebrated every three years in one of these above mentioned four holy  places, and thus every 12 years in Haridwar. Amidst the Kumbha Mela, millions of pilgrims, devotees, and tourists congregate in Haridwar to perform ritualistic bathing on the banks of the river Ganges to ‘wash away their sins’ to attain ‘Moksha’. Brahma Kund, the spot where the ‘Amrit’ fell, is located at ‘Har-ki-Pairi’ which literally means ‘Footsteps of the Lord’ and is considered to be the most sacred ‘ghat’ of Haridwar.



Haridwar, being the starting point of the nearly nine-days long ‘Char Dhams’ pilgrimage or  one or two Dhams at a time, the pilgrims have to alight at Haridwar station and make arrangements for stay and travel. Hence, Haridwar has a large number of hotels, lodges and ‘Dharmashalas’ as well as eateries to cater pilgrims from different parts of the country as well as from varied economic background. There are also hundreds of travel agencies that provide appropriate vehicles for the pilgrimage and tour depending on the number of persons in a group. The  livelihood of the local inhabitants as well as migrant labourers mostly from Bihar and UP greatly depends on the economic activities associated with hotel and restaurant industry, shops selling religious items and souvenirs and travel agencies. For local travel there are cycle and motor rickshaws and other types of vehicles.


As we walked towards Hari-ki-pairi towards the north of the centre which is considered to be the focal point of Haridwar where people gather in thousands to bathe and worship the holy River Ganges, I could see a  number of stalls selling ‘prasad’, plastic cans for carrying the ‘Gangajal’, souvenirs and also eatables. Women and children sitting on the road-side were seen selling assortment of flowers, lotus being the chief one,  in bawls of leaves with a wicker which would be lighted by the devotees before floating these ‘Diyas’   it in the Ganges that would be carried by the rapid flow of the water.


As we approached Hari-ki-Pairi we could see a large number of devotees being seated on the steps of the ‘ghats’ waiting eagerly for the evening ‘aarati’ of the River Ganges at around 7.15 pm. There were uniformed guards to maintain order and discipline and direct the people to sit on the steps of the ‘ghat’. These guards also make an appeal for donations. However, one has to be quite careful as con artist posing as officials  practically ‘force’ the devotees to make such donations. Earlier, I was stopped at two places by these ‘officials’ and somehow I escaped by saying that ‘I would be missing if I don’t catch up with the group which has gone ahead’.


As directed by the guards, we sat on the steps of the ghat somewhere a little away from the spot from where the ‘aarati’ was performed every evening in honour of the River Ganges. Meanwhile, I could observe a number of devotes, old, young and children, men and women bathing in the river. Security arrangements are in place with barricades and iron chains to hold on so as to prevent any kind of mishap including being washed away in the rapid flowing water.  Pilgrims were also seen filling the plastic cans with the water of the Ganges to be taken back home. Meanwhile, my attention was drawn to boys with buckets with milk persuading the women to offer tumbler-full milk to the Ganges for a price of rupees ten per tumbler and a number of women obliged. At the same time I could see a number of ‘Diyas’ moving with the flow of the river  and  sinking  at different distances due to the turbulent waters.


As it was getting darker, the ‘ghats’ around Hari-ki-Pairi were filled with thousands of devotees. At around 7.15 pm, ‘aarati’ was performed accompanied with the singing of hymns in praise of River Ganges. Following the end of the ‘aarati’ people began moving out of the place to their destinations. We walked through the narrow streets with rows of stalls selling religious related articles as well as souvenirs of different varieties.


Following the end of the ‘Char Dhams’ tour, we had a day to spare at Haridwar before leaving for Mumbai. Hence, we decided to visit the Mansa Devi, one of the most popular and most visited temples of Haridwar which is located on the top of Bilwa Parvat hill. The temple is known for being the holy abode of Mansa, a form of ‘Shakti’ and is said to have emerged from the mind of the sage Kashyapa. The term ‘Mansa’ means wish and it is believed that the goddess fulfils all the wishes of a sincere devotee. Devotees who want their wishes to be fulfilled by Mansa tie threads to the branches of a tree located in the temple. Once their wishes are fulfilled, people come back again to the temple to untie the thread from the tree. Mansa is also offered coconuts, fruits, garlands and incense sticks in order to appease her.


Mansa Devi temple


To reach the Mansa Devi temple one has to either follow the trekking route up to this holy shrine or ride on the recently introduced rope-way service. The rope-way service known as ‘Mansa Devi Udankhatola’ was introduced for the benefit of the pilgrims. The cable-car carries the pilgrims from the lower station directly to the Mansa Devi Temple. The total length of the rope-way is 540 meters (1,770 ft) and the height it covers is 178 metres (584 ft). With a ticket of Rs.48/- one can take a ride to the top of the hill that takes three minutes, spend an hour at the temple and its surroundings and get back to the base.
As trekking the hill through winding and steep road was quite strenuous for the senior citizens, we decided to take the ropeway ‘Udankhatola’. Though the ride was quite short, it was quite exciting as we could have a panoramic view of the mighty river Ganges and the City of Haridwar rising in front of us.


After visiting the Mansa Devi temple, we spent sometime in the vicinity of the temple taking pictures of the panoramic view of Haridwar. My attention was drawn by a group of monkeys at the lower edge of the temple searching for grams and nuts thrown at them by the devotees. I was quite amused to see a mother monkey and her child at the wheel of a stationary cart.



After spending some time, we came back to the cable-car terminus to get back to the base. However, there was a serpentine queue as everyone was keen to get back before it would get dark. The queue comprised of people from different parts of India right from Tamilnadu to Bihar to Rajsthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.


Alighting at the base station of the cable-car, we walked for some distance crossing various shops. As my group-members were busy searching for souvenir items to be taken back home to be presented to their family members and friends, I could see the full-moon with immaculate blue sky as the backdrop above the holy city of Haridwar.



Comments on this Article
PRADIP KHIMANI, junagadh gujarat Fri, July-22-2011, 1:24
Very good article as I feel I am in Haridwar.
Naveen M., Udupi Thu, July-21-2011, 12:27
We heard about Haridwar before. But this article gives complete information about the place. Thanks Dr. Eugene for your coverage and waiting for other episodes of your travelogue.
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