By PRATHAM GOLCHA :
T hese two towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar are just close to each other, and till the time I visited these places, I was always confused between the two. Jostled up in the state of Uttarakhand in the northern region of India, these two towns are the perfect destination to experience the real essence of Hindu culture and traditions. Haridwar in Sanskrit, literally means ‘The Gateway to Lord Vishnu’. Set at the scenic foothills of the Shivalik Ranges of the Himalayas, Haridwar is set on the bank of the most revered river in India, the Ganges or Ganga. Millions of devotees attend the Kumbh Mela, which takes place every 12 years. According to Hindu mythology, taking a dip in the holy Ganges washes away the sins of an individual. It is an important place in the context of the ‘Char Dham’ yatra - Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri. According to mythological legends, Haridwar, along with Nashik, Allahabad and Ujjain is one of the four places where ‘Garuda’, the mythological Hindu bird, dropped Amrit, also known as elixir.
It was in Haridwar, that Goddess Ganga descended on earth, according to Hindu scripts. Also, it is one place where Hindus believe Moksha can be attained. Well, as far as travel was concerned, it was mighty cold there since we had visited it during year end. One thing that needs to be noted is that in these two cities, non-vegetarian and alcohol consumption is strictly banned, taking into account the Hindu customs. Before going to Haridwar, it was my dream to witness the hair-raising atmosphere at the HarkiPauri. So, it can easily be remarked that without a visit there, your trip is incomplete, as it has to be the highlight of the trip. During the evening aarti or prayers, tens of thousands of people from all over the world throng the ‘Brahmakund Ghat’ for the prayers.
This ought to be my best religious experience, ever in life as the bhajans and shlokas reverberate in the ears and one completely submits to God. People, while performing the aarti completely devote themselves and prepare a tokri or paper or leaf bowl, consisting of flowers, incense and other religious stuff and float it in Ganga waters, along with diyas or floral floats with lamps in earthen pots. During dusk, the floating diyas and the exuberating atmosphere makes one feel alive. There can never be an experience like this, found nowhere else in the world, except Varanasi. The next day we were off to the Chandi Devi Temple. It is believed that Adi Shankaracharya had established the statue in 8th Century A.D.Aropeway is also present, that can transport you from Chandighat to this place. Next place to visit was Kankhal, which houses the Sati Kund, another historical place in Haridwar town. According to Hindu texts, Sati immolated herself in that very kund, and the sati pratha is said to have had associations from that episode of history. Another temple that followed the visit was the Mansa Devi Temple.
It again, reflected the true Hindu essence with the scriptures and the artistic idols of the deities. One place that ought to be visited in Haridwar is the Patanjali Vidyapeeth. Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Vidyapeeth houses a yoga and meditation centre. Also close to this is the Patanjali Manufacturing Unit of Baba Ramdev, India and the world’s yoga guru. There are not just these many temples in the holy town, but there are hundreds and hundreds of small and big temples dotting the holy town of Haridwar. Well, after spending a few days in Haridwar, it was time for us to step into its twin town, Rishikesh, another religious Hindu pilgrimage site. Popularly known as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’, it just a 30-minute drive from Haridwar. The town is host to the International Yoga Festival since the year 1989.
The town rose to fame courtesy the songs produced by the Beatles during their time in Rishikesh. The town is extremely famous for drawing tourists around the world for yoga, spirituality, Hindu traditions, rafting and the world famous ‘Ram Jhoola’ and ‘Laxman Jhoola’. It was one of my dreams in life to do river rafting in The Ganges in Rishikesh, and thankfully, that did come true. It has to be, the most exhilarating experience in my life. I joined a group in one of the rafts and set sailing for a couple of hours to my heart’s content, watching the iconic Ram Jhoola and Laxman Jhoola pass over my head.
The rapids literally pushed us out of the raft and I found myself, the very next moment immersed completely inside the cold waters of the Ganges. I drank the water of the Ganges, and it tasted purely heaven-like and sweet; felt like having Amrit or the elixir. Specifically speaking, the Ram Jhoola connects Swarg-ashram in Pauri Garhwal to Muni ki Reti in Tehri Garhwal. The Parmarth Niketan is located just at the foot of the bridge. One would expect the Ganges to be full of flower waste, partially decayed bodies and other dirt. But quite contrary to my expectations, I found the Ganges water to be crystal-clear and beautiful bluish-green in colour.
Also, the scenic beauty of the Jhoolas from the Ghat is a spectacle to behold. The huge cramped up market of Rishikesh is famous for typical Hindu stuff, such as vermillion, deities statues, rosemary beads, Om and Shloka - printed tees, etc. One must not forget to take home the most prized possession for Hindu homes - ‘Ganga Jal’ or the Holy water of the Ganges, to offer Gods in the temple back home. The local food in Rishikesh is to die for, with the world-famous Choti-wala restaurant in the town.
The traditional and scrumptious North Indian cuisine of ‘Chhole Kulche, Bhature’, ‘Chaat’, ‘Rajma-Chawal’ can be found at every corner of the town. Hundreds and hundreds of foreigners from all around the world stand baffled and open-mouthed to the grandeur and customs of the Hindus. The trip to these two towns can never be forgotten because of the sheer religious sentiments attached to it, with respect to the temples, ghats, Ganga, etc; and it is no less than a pilgrimage for the Hindu community people. Invariably, the true essence of Hindu and Indian hospitality can be found there, that would leave one astounded and gasping for more.