This was during one of the not-so-often sojourns to Gurgaon, where we also had a weekend off! 🙂
We decided to make the most of our time by planning a trip to somewhere close by. Since these were not the days of Metro in Gurgaon, we were not keen on following the train route to get anywhere in a hurry. So we had to zero down on a location that wasnt too far from Gurgaon, and could be easily reached by car.
Haridwar was about 4-5 hrs by car, and turned out as the ideal destination for that weekend. We had a basic plan in place i.e. reach Haridwar by noon, take a hotel for over-night stay, see Ganga Aarti and some temples and ashrams mentioned on a travel site, leave for Rishikesh next morning. Leave Rishikesh next evening and return to Gurgaon.
What we weren’t prepared for was the sheer beauty of this road trip. Miles and miles of beautiful fields stretching along the road. Sugar cane fields being harvested. In some places, jaggery being made, and a heavenly sweet smell filling the air.
We started from Gurgaon at about 5am. At about 8am, the driver stopped for tea and breakfast at a small roadside “resort”. They took their sweet time to serve us parathas, but the wait was worth it. The parathas were piping hot and were great to taste.
One the way to Haridwar, we got stuck in a traffic jam. The place seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, yet trucks and tractors were stopped on either side of the road, causing the jeeps and cars on the road to be stuck. Finally, we managed to get through, and found ourselves at the venue of a Buffalo Mela (fair). Apparently, all the buffaloes in the region were brought here for this occasion. It was definitely a sight!!!
We reached Haridwar at around 12pm. We thought of going for a dip in the Ganga right away, but the Ganga had been re-driected to build more ghats in preparation for the Maha-Kumbh Mela in 2010. The place for taking a dip was some place away, and the heat was not very conducive to going looking around at the time. So we took a room at Hotel Raghunath at Khankhal. One good thing i noticed here was the level of security required to take a room. We were asked to show our PAN card, and submit a copy of the same. It did not matter that this was a small hotel with hardly aboout a dozen rooms. What mattered was the security…
We decided to go exploring around Haridwar, and see the famous Mansa Devi and Chandi Devi temples. We also had a list of most temples and important ashrams that needed to be visited. As we walking on the bridge spanning the ghats, it felt desolate as the Ganga had been redirected, and only a minor trickle was left to flow through the original path.
We walked through the bustling market and reached the Mansa Devi temple. To get darshan, one can opt to go up the temple via ropeway. A lot of people prefer to wlak up the hill for darshan. Also there are packages available. You can visit only Mansa Devi, or combine with a visit to Chandi Devi as well as transport from Mansa Devi to Chandi Devi. As both temples are on top of hills, both include going by ropeway.
Mansa Devi temple is an important Siddha Peetha, a temple where one’s wishes come true. The other 2 Siddha Peethas in Haridwar are the CHandi Devi temple and Maya Devi temple. The godess is offered coconuts, incense sticks, and garlands. The Devi is said to be the sister/consort (differs depending where you read about it) of Vasuki, the Serpent God. There are 2 idols of Mansa Devi within the temple. One idol has 8 arms and the other has 5 arms and 3 heads. Both are placed in the center and worshiped equally. Next it the main shrine is a tree, to which devotee tie a thread while making a wish. When this wish has been fulfilled, they come back and untie the thread.
Once we came down from this temple, we had to wait for about 15-20 mins for the next shuttle to Chandi Devi. The drive till the hill is across the Ganga (even the re-directed one). So it is truly scenic drive. There are 2 temples on the hill. The main one is Chandi Devi. Slightly away is the temple of Anjani Devi (mother of Lord Hanuman) and Santoshi Mata. Most of the temple was under renovation, so we did not get a chance to see most of it.
Once we were done with all the darshans, we decided to have a salad of some fruits and vegetables being sold at the gates. Well, they called it a fruit salad, but since there were vegetables (beet and cucumber) also, can it be called that? Also it was 4pm, and i hadn’t had anything since breakfast.
Anywayz, we made our way to the next stop on our list the Maya Devi Mandir. The turn-off to this temple is lies between 2 old buildings, and we wondered where we would be able to park our car. Only to find that there is a large courtyard hidden from view, and a whole lot of buses carrying tourists parked there! The temple itself is unassuming. The goddess Maya is flanked with idols of Goddess Kamakhyaon the right & Goddess Kali on the right. Maya Devi is also the Adhisthatri of Haridwar (presiding deity).
By this time it was already 5.30pm and we needed to get to Har-Ki-Pauri, the venue of the Ganga Aarti every evening. This is supposed to be the precise place where the Ganga leaves the mountains and enters the plains. The ghats here are called the Bramhakund, and is also the site of the Ganga Devi temples. We reached by around 6pm, and opted to sit on the banks facing the temples and Aarti site. This got us a very good view of the Aarti itself. However, the best places were already taken by the time we got there, and we had to make do with what we got. 🙂
The aarti itself was a great experience. The chanting is done by the priests, and is heard through loudspeakers placed at strategic intervals across the banks. Once it was done, we went into the market and had dinner (paratha;s yet again). Also I’d found out that my maternal grandmother and uncle had come to haridwar on a visit that very day. So we went across to the ashram where she was staying near the BhimGoda Tank. BhimGoda tank is said to be the place where the Pandavas had stopped for a rest during their exile. Bhim had struck his knee (goda) into the ground to draw fresh water for his brothers and wife.It was a nice visit, and by the time we returned to our room it was 9pm.
The next morning we left our room at 7.30am, and went to the Ganga banks. It was a steep climb through stones, and was not the most comfortable thing i’ve done. The river was COLD, and i shivered through the 3 dips. Of course, i cheated a bit, and just put 3 splashes on my head. This itself got me the shivers. Hubby didnt agree with me, and i was carted back into the river for the proper dips. Shelters were raised around the site for women to change their clothes. You can use them for a nominal cost of Rs.2/-. The men changed clothes right there on the banks.
We got back to the hotel soon after, and after a proper bath, left with our luggage by 8.45.
Our first stop of the day was the Daksh Mahadev temple. It is said to be the site of Sati’s immolation in the pyre at King Daksha’s yagna. At the entrance is an imposing idol of Shiva holding a limp Sati in his arms, face creased with anger. Its is very awe-inspiring. There is also a yagnakund that is kept covered with a cloth to signify the immolation of Sati.
The next stop was the Parad Shivling temple. The shivling in this temple is made of parad or mercury. the scientific abilities of india’s past keep surprising us, since mercury is not a solid element, and it had been solidified to form this shivling centuries ago. Also is the fact that the shivling required the room temperature to be somewhat lower than the outside temperature, and this was achieved without the help of airconditions, only amazing and simple-to-look-at architecture. There is also a rudraksh tree in this ashram, and they are sold at a low cost.
Our next 2 stops were the Bharat Mata temple and the Sapt Rishi ashram. The Bharat Mata temple has various levels, each signifying an important aspect of India’s past, and culture. The topmost level has the idole of Bharat Mata and a map of india on the floor in front of her.
The Sapt Rishi ashram is dedicated to the 7 great Rishis: Kashyapa, Vashishth, Atri, Vishwamitra, Jamadagni, Bharadwaj & Gautam. It is said that they had meditated here. Also, the Ganga has split into 7 currents at this location.
By the time we were done, it was 11.30am, and we set out for Rishikesh.
It is a short drive from Haridwar to Rishikesh, and we were at the Ram Jhula by 12.30pm. The car stopped on the main road, and we had to come down a 4 flights of steps to reach the bridge.
Ram Jhula, also known as Shivanand Jhula, is a suspension bridge, and is situated about 9kms from Rishikesh. Alongside the bridge is the bathing ghat, and on the other end of the bridge are the various ashrams and the Triveni Ghat, where the Ganga Aarti is performed every evening.
There are quite a few ashrams to explore here. The first one is the Geeta Bhavan, which features scenes from the Geeta, and also alsoside it are cloth shops and ayurvedic medicine shops run by the Gita Press and associated organizations. Walking ahead we came to the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir, another old time ashram here. Further up ahead, we pass through shops that sell clothes, spiritual books, spiritual music, silver jewellery and even internet cafes.
After this we come to Parmarth Niketan. This is by far one of the most beautiful ashrams that I have seen. Many temples donated by various people across the country are built within the campus. It is also a vedic school, home to many kids of various ages who stay here.
Facing the ashram, to the riverside, is a beautiful structure, also called Parmath, where the Aarti to Ganga is performed everyday. We dipped our feet into the river. The currents are very strong here, so there are steel chains lined along the steps in the river, to help people stay close to the steps, and not get dragged away by the river. On a platform built over the river sits a beautiful white idol of Shiva in padmasan pose seated on a tiger skin.
By the time we spent some time here, it was close to 1pm, and we decided to have lunch at the famous Chotiwala restaurant. There are 2 of these side-by-side, and it is difficult to figure out which one is the original. The food, however, lives upto its reputation. Out the restaurant/s is a bald man seated on a high platform with the full make-up of the Chotiwala idol and they pose for photos too! 🙂 There was also a guy sitting nearby who was ready to put mehendi on both hands for an amazingly low cost of Rs. 50/-. I, of course, jumped at the chance to get it done. 🙂
Walking further ahead, we decided to go to Lakshman Jhula which is about 2-3 kms from this location. However, for people not used to walking long distances on hilly terrain, you can go by share-jeeps. Approximately this costs about Rs. 20/- per person.
Lakshman Jhula is a a 450-ft long suspension bridge, the first jeepable one of its kind. It was built in 1927-28, and was open to traffic from 1930.
Next to it was the Tryambakeshwar Mahadev temple which had 12 floors. Each of the floors is adorned with idols of Shiv and his consort in various forms. In fact, inspite of the fact that we keep climbing the stairs, we dont really feel tired. The exhaustion starts as soon as we get down though! 😉
Rishikesh is the Yoga center of India. Everywhere you look around, there are yoga centers. Also, compared to Haridwar, there are a lot more foriegnerrs here, mostly to learn yoga. But a lot of them have settled down in Rishikesh. Another major attraction of Rishikesh is adventure sports and white-water rafting. These have gained immense popularity, and the rafting season extends from March to July.
We decided to recharge ourselves at the Coffee Day located a few meters away. We then returned to Parmarth Niketan for the Aarti. Even though we reached around 5.15pm, we were one of the first people to sit down. So we could get a good seat on the steps. Slowly the place filled up, but the center space was kept free. Then the students from Parmarth Niketan, all boys decked out in traditional attire, filed in sat down in neat rows around as yagnakund placed in front of the idol of Shiva on the platform. At about 5.40, the yagnakund was lit, and all the kids started their chants. It was amazing to hear them. As the evening progressed and darkness fell, the statue of Shiva was lit with strategically placed lights. Unlike Haridwar, the music played by the kids was not from a music system, but from music instruments that were brought to the venue and played by kids.
The aarti songs were quite beautiful, and most of the people who knew the lyrics sang with the children. The main Aartis were lit soon enough, and the aarti to Ganga started in earnest. Soon, plates of diyas were lit, and passed around in the crowd. This was great since it would mean that we also get to do the aarti ourselves also, and not just be spectator. Most of us kept the plates for a few minutes and then passed it on the the next person. The aarti finished by 7pm, and it was a hhuge crush to get out of there. We were in a great hurry, as we planned to return to Gurgaon that night itself.
So it was quite the experience to rush through the crowds, across the Ram Jhula ,and up the 4 flights of steps to the road and hop into the car. 🙂
On the way back, we stopped at a road-side dhaba at around 10pm. The food was the only avoidable experience in the whole trip. But at least it was hot. So small mercies!
We got back to Gurgaon at about 2am, tired but very happy.