Best time to visit: Anytime except for monsoon
Major Attractions: Har Ki Pauri and Ganga Mata Arti
No. of days required: Ideally 2 days
Haridwar, associated with both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, is one of the seven holiest places in Hinduism. It is one of the four places to host Kumbh Mela which witnesses around 10 crore people making it the largest religious congregation in the world. Pilgrims and tourists visit Haridwar throughout the year to take a dip in the holy Ganges which is believed to alleviate sufferings and wash away sins. Haridwar is generally the starting point of several spiritual voyages like the Chota Char Dham Yatra, Kailash Mansarovar yatra, etc.
I went to Haridwar with one of my friends as a part of our trip to explore Uttarakhand. We reached Haridwar in the night after boarding a Uttarakhand Transport Corporation bus from New Delhi. Normally you all find buses from Delhi throughout the day which takes you to Haridwar via Roorkee. On reaching Haridwar there are lots of budget hotels and ashrams in Haridwar. A pre booking is recommended especially on festive occasions. One of my friends belonging to Haridwar planned our trip and helped us with accommodation. We stayed at Shanti Kunj Ashram which is the headquarter of the All World Gayatri Parivar. My friend`s dad was an extremely cooperative and helpful person who was a devout member of that organization and arranged free accommodation and food for us in the ashram. Shanti Kunj itself is a must visit place in Haridwar and we were extremely delighted to have the opportunity to stay there. The ashram culture, its serenity and tranquility struck me and I spent some time wandering in its bylines enjoying the beauty of the place before going to back to my room to sleep. There was a combined aura of devotion, altruism and tranquility in that place which captivated me.
Next morning we woke up early, took bath and went to Har Ki Pauri, as planned. Har Ki Pauri is the most sacred bathing ghat in Haridwar. It is believed that a drop of the elixir of immortality fell at this place following the Kheer Sagar Manthan. Here we took a dip in the Ganges. At Har Ki Pauri a channel of the main Ganges has been separated and devotees mostly bath in this section. The speed of the Ganges at Haridwar is quite fast and it’s not safe to bath in the main river. In this section, the depth of the water is around 3-4 feet and chains are provided in order to assist old people and non-swimmers while bathing at the ghat.
There are no proper locker facilities to keep your valuables. However, you may find private facilities to keep your mobiles and cameras. People in Haridwar are generally very honest so you can safely hand over your belongings without much skepticism. After bathing, we collected our belongings and took a few photographs. Then we visited a series of temples which are at the river bank. It took around 2 hours and after that, we had breakfast at the famous Chotiwala restaurant. However, food at this restaurant is average and overpriced. I don’t recommend this place as it seemed overhyped to me.
Then we walked through the main market of Haridwar known as the Moti Bazar or Bada Bazar to reach the Mansa Mata Temple. The market was filled with religious items, saffron kurtas, trinkets, brass items, puja items and lots of other fancy doodads. I bought a few of them as souvenirs for my family members and friends. Then we went to the Mansa Devi Temple which is at the top of Bilwa parvat. There are two ways to reach there. You can either take a ropeway (udaan khatola) or go through the stairs. If you are taking the ropeway you can take the combined ticket which is valid in the Mansa Devi as well as Chandi Devi temple ropeway. Additionally, they will provide you shuttle bus service to commute between the two temples. One of my friends who visited recently said the prices for the combined ticket now from Mansa Devi is Rs.280 per head. However, the same ticket costs an excess of Rs.400 when bought from the Chandi Devi temple. So it’s wise to start from Mansa Devi both due to the price as well as its proximity to Har ki Pauri and Haridwar town. We had only one day to explore Haridwar so we opted for the cable car to save time. We got a surreal view of the Ganges and Har ki Pauri from the trolley which made it worth. If you are opting for the stairs, take care of your belongings as there are lots of lurking monkeys on the way. There are lots of prasad shops near the temple on the hilltop. Don’t take the prasad from the starting point especially if you are walking as there are a lot of monkeys who will not let you carry the prasad along. You get a panoramic view of Haridwar town from this temple. However, the place is hugely crowded owing to its divinity; poor crowd management makes it worse. The center of attraction is the Mansa Devi Vriksha from which the temple has got its name. It is a Kanchan Tree. People make a wish here and tie a thread around it and once the wish is fulfilled, they come back to untie it.
After visiting the Mansa Devi Temple we had lunch outside before proceeding to the Chandi Devi temple. We boarded the shuttle which took us to the Chandi Devi Temple. Here the crowd is comparatively less. There are a few shops where you can have some snacks. Initially we had to wait in a queue for our turn in the cable car. However the line moves briskly and we soon got our chance. It takes around 5 mins to reach the top. You can also opt not to use the ropeway and take the normal path which takes around 40 minutes. A breathtaking view of the flowing Ganges was an additional perk of taking the ropeway. In spite of taking the ropeway, on reaching the top we had to climb around 300 steps to reach the temple. As with most of the holy Hindu temples, there were lots of monkeys waiting for a chance to snatch any polythene or food packet in your hand. We were not carrying anything so we were safe.
As a temple, if you leave the faith and devotion, it’s just another temple. However, the scenic view that the place offers makes it a must visit at Haridwar. We went around the temple relishing the view from the top and enjoyed the sunset. The idol of Chandi Devi in the temple is said to have been installed in the 8th century by Adi Shankaracharya. Apart from the Chandi Devi temple, there is another temple belonging to Anjana Mata (mother of Hanumanji) along with a few other temples. We spent quite some time there before descending down. After that, we went back to Har ki Pauri to witness the evening aarti of Ganga Mata.
Witnessing the Ganga aarti at Har ki Pauri is a lifetime experience. The sight of hundreds of diyas floating over the Ganges, the chorus of aarti and the bells combined with the singing of prayers by devotees creates a mesmerizing atmosphere. Ganga Aarti is organized twice a day; morning at sunrise and evening at sunset. Timing is different in summer and winter according to sunset and sunrise timings. The evening Arti is more famous as more number of people congregate to witness the event. We reached there around 5:30 PM and took a place from where we can get the best view of the ceremony. You need to reach early to get a proper view. The place just near the clock tower in the little island type of place called Malviya Dwip offers the best view. Right in front of us was a person functioning at once as police, donation solicitor, cheerleader and crowd manager who directed us to the best place on our request. We sat on the concrete floor which is free. However, there are some wooden benches run by locals where you can sit by paying Rs.25 per person in case you do not want to sit on the floor. The aarti started around 6:15 PM.
Ganga Aarti has two parts. In the first part, offerings are made to the Ganga Mata. Priests dressed in white dhotis do the offerings with live chants of Sanskrit slokas in the background. After a short break of 5 mins, the second part starts which is Hindi aarti song for Ganga Mata. Before that, the devotees are made to pledge not to pollute the river and keep it pure and sacred. The priests light big diyas made of multiple wicks, soaked in ghee and held in large copper holders during this song. These diyas are waved in clockwise direction towards river Ganga. All the devotees sing the aarti song which along with the melody of the bells and cymbals creates an electrifying atmosphere and provides a divine bliss. After the aarti, we purchased a leaf boat of Rs.20 which had marigold flowers, camphor, sindur and red bangles in it. I prayed to the sacred river and offered my obeisances. Then I released the leaf boat in the flowing Ganges and we watched our lighted boat sail swiftly on the holy water amidst hundreds of others under the moonlit sky. Below is a video of the Ganga Mata aarti:
It was the end of one awesome day in our itinerary. We returned to Shanti Kunj and slept after having our dinner there. Next day we explored the divinity of Rishikesh along with some water sports.
People visiting for 2 days can include Maya Devi temple, Daksh Mahadev Temple and the Bharat Mata temple (which we visited in our return journey) along with a plethora of other small temples and maths in their itinerary. Another notable place which comes between Haridwar and Rishikesh is the Rajaji National Park which you may visit if you have an extra day.
Thanks for reading. Hope it helps you. You can also tell me about your experiences and reviews of Haridwar in the comments section. Har Har Gange ❤