The north Indian state of Uttarakhand is famous for many great Hindu pilgrimages like Badrinath, Hemkund Sahib and Rishikesh to name a few; where people visit to seek ‘nirvana’. Situated on the banks of River Ganga, Haridwar is the most ancient and sacred cities located in ‘Dev Bhoomi’ Uttarakhand. This holy Indian city is a hub for all spiritual things, centre for Yoga & meditation which attracts devotees and travellers from around the world.
The name Haridwar is a combination of two words – ‘Hari’ means Lord Vishnu and ‘Dwar’ means Gate. Thus, it is known as ‘Gateway to Gods’. At Haridwar, the sacred River Ganga enters the North Indian plains after flowing 250 kms from its origin Gaumukh (Gangotri Glacier) in upper Himalayas.
O Devi Bhagavati Ganga, the Goddess of the Devas, you liberate the three worlds with the merciful waves of your liquid form,
O the stainless pure one who resides in the head of Shankara, may my devotion remain firmly established on your lotus feet.
— Adi Guru Shankaracharya
You can get a close insight into Hindu culture, interesting rituals and customs by visiting Haridwar. Dotted with several temples and ghats, this spiritual city of Uttaranchal is visited by pilgrims to bathe in sacred water of Ganga, relieve themselves of their sins and achieve salvation.
The Journey Begins
We boarded Uttarakhand State Roadways bus from ISBT Kashmere Gate (Delhi) and reached Haridwar after an overnight journey. You can even travel by your car or train from New Delhi Railway Station. Once you reach Haridwar, the serene view of Shivalik hills and River Ganga will heal all your tiredness. After getting down at Haridwar bus stop you can look out for accommodation options as per your need.
Stay At Dharamshala & Innumerable Memories
This popular pilgrimage is loaded with numerous budgeted holiday rentals and chic hotels, but staying at a dharamshala was an unmatched experience in my life. We stayed at Baba Harihar Dham – a dharamshala run by Delhi based ashram near Kamla Market. The accommodation is equipped with all the basic amenities giving you a complete hotel-like feel. At ground floor there is a big puja hall and a food court or bhojanalaya nearby where three times sattvic (vegetarian) meals are served not only to the tourists living in the ashram but also to sadhus or homeless people. Feeding the needy is regarded as the best form of philanthropy in Hinduism.
The uniquely constructed three level terrace gives a picturesque view of Shivaliks and Haridwar city. It is the best place to see sunrise and glittering stars, chit-chat on various topics and chill. You can even cook your own food in aashram’s separate kitchen for devotees.
Some popular Ganga ghats namely Saptrishi Ghat near Saptrishi Ashram, Dharma Ganga Ghat near Parmarth Niketan etc. are situated at few minutes walk from the ashram. Amongst these, the later was beautifully built and well maintained due to less footfall.
Major Attractions In Haridwar
This Uttarakhand city has several temples dedicated to various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. After getting freshened-up, we took an auto to Upper Road near Har Ki Pauri to visit Mansa Devi Mandir. The temple is located atop Bilwa Parvat in Shivalik range. You can reach the temple by cable car (ropeway or locally known as Udan Khatola) or on foot. From the ropeway you can see the bustling town of Haridwar, sacred River Ganga and lush greenery. Seek the blessings from Mansa Devi – a Goddess who fulfills all the wishes (mansha) and tie a sacred or manokamna thread symbolizing your faith on the branch of a holy tree located in the temple.
Chandi Devi Mandir is located atop Neel Parvat on the opposite side of Har Ki Pauri. Since, this temple is located away from the main town thus there is peace all around. It is believed that Devi Kali (fierce form of Shakti) rested here after killing demons. A temple dedicated to Devi Anjani (mother of Lord Hanuman) is also situated near Chandi Devi Temple. You can reach the temple either on foot or cable car. The chilled Shikanji and Jaljeera at hill top is really amazing for healing tiredness. You can buy combined tickets for both these temples for a comfortable experience.
Maya Devi Temple is another holy shrine in Haridwar dedicated to Goddess Maya (an incarnation of Shakti). Due to this temple the holy city of Haridwar was also known as Mayapuri. These three temples (Mansa Devi, Chandi Devi & Maya Devi) dedicated to Shakti are called sidhpeeths and thus visited with utmost faith.
Next we visited Daksheshwar Mahadev Mandir in Kankhal. This famous temple dedicated to Shiv is situated 6 kms from Har Ki Pauri. Kankhal is associated with the famous episode from Hindu Mythology when Devi Sati gave up her life for the sake of her husband Shiv who had been insulted by her father Daksha Prajapati. The havan kund in which Devi Sati sacrificed herself is still present in this temple.
Another temple dedicated to Shiv namely Bilkeshwar Mahadev is located near Haridwar railway station amidst forest area.
Famous Food Spots & Shopping
After seeking blessings at these major temples, we returned to Har Ki Pauri to take a dip in the sacred water of River Ganga Before the aarti ritual. If you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of Har Ki Pauri you can visit Swami Sarvanand Ghat, Vishnu Ghat and VIP Ghat to take a holy dip which is comparatively less crowded and well maintained. Now it’s time for some food walk in this holy town. Non vegetarian food is prohibited in Haridwar. But not to worry, the vegetarian delicacies available here are excellent in terms of quality & quantity. Treat your stomach with the famous aloo kachori at Mohan Puriwale. Even the sooji halwa at this popular food spot in Haridwar is really tasty. Also try out the sweets at Mathura Walon Ki Prachin Dukaan and last but not the least the special thali served at Chotiwala Restaurant (Also there in Rishikesh). The best place for shopping in Haridwar is around Har Ki Pauri, Bhimgauda and Upper Road. There are several shops where they sell different stones, rudraksh, idols and many other things related to Hinduism. Use your bargaining skills for a good shopping experience.
Ganga Aarti – Seek Blessings!
As the day comes to a close, the devotees gather at Har Ki Pauri for the Ganga Aarti – a holy ceremony praising the glory of Mother Ganga. The main aarti ritual is carried out at Bhram Kund. As per the legends, it is believed to be the spot where drops of amrit (God’s Nectar) fell from the sky in the episode of Samudra Manthan. At the end of aarti, Shri Ganga Sabha – a committee handling the management of Har Ki Pauri region appeals the devotees & tourists to maintain the pristine form of River Ganga – the lifeline of India. In the evening ghats looks beautiful as hundreds of diyas (lamps) and marigold flowers float and light up the river.
You can also see Ganga Aarti at other famous ghats around Har Ki Pauri to avoid hustle & bustle. The aarti ceremony is organised twice a day, at morning and evening. This is one of the top attraction in Haridwar.
My Affection For Ganga
During my childhood days I used to visit Garhmukteshwar – a not so famous pilgrimage near Hapur district of Uttar Pradesh, to take a holy dip in River Ganga and spent some quality time with my beloved ones. The moments I spent near the river bank initiated my love and respect towards this largest river of India which was taken to a next level when I visited Haridwar, Rishikesh & Devprayag (where Alaknanda & Bhagirathi combines to form Ganga).
For Me Ganga is not just a river, it is truly the soul of India. The civilization is born on the banks of this sacred river. She provides water, energy and livelihood to countless millions of Indians of every caste and creed. She teaches me the lesson of selfless love and service. Haridwar is the place where Ganga emerges from the mountains and enters to the plain areas. She begins a new journey towards the Northern plains of India. Someday I wish to visit Gangotri to see the purest form of this mighty river which changes from Haridwar onwards.
Temple Hopping & Local Street Food
Evenings are the best time to explore the local streets of this holy city of Uttarakhand. There are several beautifully constructed and theme based temples depicting different stories from Hindu mythology.
Situated very close to Baba Harihar Chowk was famous Shantikunj – a spiritual and social organisation of World Gayatri Pariwar. The healthy snacks and sweets present in the canteen of this ashram is a must try. There is a big hall known as ‘Himalaya Darshan’ where artificial Himalayas are created and one can meditate in utmost silence for a few minutes.
Saptrishi Ashram is a traditionally constructed ashram where 7 great sages or Saptarishis said to have meditated. The aashram is adorned with numerous temples dedicated with several Hindu Gods & Goddesses.
The Bharat Mata Mandir is famous for the lift present inside the premises. There are 8 floors therefore makes it the tallest temple in this sacred city of Uttarakhand. This temple showcases the Indian patriotism.
Mata Lal Mandir (Vaishno Devi Mandir) is a replica of the Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu & Kashmir. There is an artificial cave containing the three pindis of Vaishnodevi as that present in the original temple. Outside this temple there are best local food options available. Don’t miss out a different style of papdi chaat and aloo tikki, pav stuffed with spicy chickpeas (chana) and tibetan momos. The kulfis and sweet lassis are an addon and can be preferred after dinner.
Other places to visit: Pawan Dham – a popular and modern temple made by using glass pieces, Geeta Mandir, Char-Dham Mandir – depicting the four holy shrines of Uttarakhand, Raghunath Mandir which is elegantly constructed using whitestone.
For Adventure Enthusiasts
Apart from holy shrines and beautifully temples, you can also explore the adventurous side of Haridwar. Nestled amidst Shivalik hills, you can visit Rajaji National Park and Chilla Wildlife Sanctuary. Rajaji is extremely popular for its tigers and wild elephants. For more fun you can choose to do rafting at Rishikesh.
Haridwar is all about Ganga, her divinity and a new journey which the river begins from here.
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