An Indian Odyssey
Haridwar – Fri May 6th
I quickly headed for Haridwar and the Shivalik Mountains, the foothills to the Himalaya – about 250 kms NE of Delhi.
Hit by car today – side-swiped by a four-wheel drive and reeled back in shock, the weight of my backpack making me wobble like a bouncy-clown, while the onlooking Indians laughed heartily. Not nastily, just heartily. All I could do once I realised all limbs were intact and in their proper places was to join them in laughing and continue on with life, satisfied I had survived. But in truth, this sort of occurrence made me impatient to reach the Himalaya.
Haridwar’s main strip/road is a 3 km stretch lined with with merchandise, souvenir and religious shops, tea stalls and restaurants. But the closer you got to the river end the more it was lined with religious paraphernalia. All in the name of God – but which god I wasn’t sure. Shiva? Hanuman? Ganesha? Vishnu? Or was it just The Dollar?
Why this profusion of religiousity? Every night of the year thousands of people file along this street as sunset approaches to Harkipuri, the town’s main ghat, to witness the famous nightly aarti ceremony on the banks of the world’s most well known river, the mighty Ganges. The ceremony is a puja (religious offering) in which tiny boats made from leaves and flowers are released into Ganga’s waters. Each boat carries a lit candle.
As you approach the three km mark on the main road it rounds its one and only bend and comes face to face with the river. She flows swiftly here, faster than one would expect, carrying the rainfall and snow-melt from the Himalayan peaks 250 odd km to the north. It is about 400 metres wide and on the western side, separated from the main flow, lies a 30 metre wide concrete channel, lined on both sides with steps down into the water. This is Harkipuri Ghat.
In part, it’s like a carnival atmosphere …but with a strong religious air. Novelty salesman roam widely spruiking glo-sticks and glo-helicopters. Plastic water container salesman push plastic so folks can take Ganga home in a screw top pvc container. And tikka (a religious mark placed on the forehead) salesman swoop unexpectedly, make their mark right between your eyes without invitation, then promptly demand payment. At dusk, by which time the ghats are packed with seated, standing and bathing spectators, the official ceremony begins, broadcast over loudspeakers to the audience here and beyond. Mantras are chanted, prayers offered, fires lit and the official aarti boats are launched.
Rajaji National Park Safari – our driver’s assistant asked if we minded if he drove. "No, of course not." He failed to mention it was only his second time at the wheel! Bunnyhops and swerving ensued as we continued down the already rocky road. I dropped from my standing position to the relative safety of the seat.
Haridwar – Sat May 7th
Someone’s throwing up in the restaurant where I’m eating. ‘Mmmm, really adds to the flavour of my dahl. It’s a tad off-putting.