Monday, March 21, 2011

To Haridwar - The Gates to Hari

The drive from Dehradun to Haridwar is about 75 kms and almost all of it in plains. It is a scenic ride, with tall eucalyptus kind of trees on both sides of the wide road and lots of greenery as well. In retrospect I wish I had spent the entire day there because there was something serene and peaceful about just being there on the banks of the Ganges watching all the devotees move around, watching the Ganga flow by. We were just in time for the evening aarti at the 'Hari ki Pauri' ghat and we hurried down to the other side of the bridge where the aartis take place.
On the banks of the Ganga at Haridwar

There were steps leading into the Ganga all along the ghat. The clean, cool, flowing water was too much to resist and I dipped my feet in and washed my face with the water considered so holy that it washes away your sins. Many devotees stripped down and had a dip right there. Very refreshing indeed. And then there were several uniformed guards who were selling some tickets or rather seeking donations for the Ganga aartis or something like that. They have no specific amount in mind - they take whatever you give them and it is best to buy one ticket early on so you can wave the many other chaps along. I bought my ticket, ignored all the other offerings, camphor lit bunches of flowers and leaves that float in the water and other offerings to the Ganga and headed to the aarti which was about to start.
Viewing the sunset across the Ganga

The aarti is performed by pujaris from the temple on the other bank and it is a beautiful sight in the twilight to hear the symbols, the chants and watch the flames of the large aartis light up one after another. The whole spectacle goes on for about twenty minutes or so. I walked along the other shops, saw the ashrams, browsed through the many shops, gazed at the many pilgrims who came from all over the country, some from all over the world and headed back to Dehradun.
The crowd waiting in anticipation of the aarti

There is another ghat that is built in the middle, that splits the river, from where one can watch the aarti being performed and that is where I went. Of course as in all holy places the crowds do anything to get ahead in the celestial queue. Push the old, trample the weak, bully yourself and your family ahead, so we get to see the  Gods first! The tribe of the camera flashes and video recorders has increased and there were more people keener to record the event than actually witness it as it happened. I heard snatches of conversations between an old man who was more than seventy and his middle aged son - "We can download the video on to our computer right?" Right. India has arrived. What bothered me was that the enthusiasm at pushing and shoving everyone else to get ahead was not in evidence when the aarti was going on and the guards raised the slogan 'Ganga maiyya ki jai". Not many takers for that! Just a weak shout.
The aarti in progress and being recorded
This was in lean season. My mind boggles when I wonder what would happen during the Kumbh mela when millions of Hindus congregate here. Haridwar is considered one of the seven most holy cities for the Hindus, one of the four cities where droplets of amrit from the amrit manthan fell (the others being Ujjain, Nasik and Allahabad). The Kumbh mela is held once in 3 years in each of these places and that brings a 12 year cycle for the Kumbh at each of these places. The Hindus believe that by performing rituals during the Kumbh,  and bathing in the Ganga they wash away their sins and attain moksha. The Ganga, after travelling some 253 kims from the Gangotri glacier, enters the plains for the first time at Haridwar and hence the name (previously Gangadwar). Also, Hari ki Pauri is supposedly the exact spot where the amrit droplet fell.

Several places along the way, in the dense jungles there are signs that say that the 'elephants have right of way'. Apparently there are several elephants in the area and it is a common sight to have one of the jumbos amble on to the highway. If you are lucky you  find it in an amicable mood, else pray. The driver told me that it is best to switch off the lights and wait silently. The elephants get irritated with loud noises, horns and bright lights!

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