Sunday, May 22, 2011

Haridwar: Reach for the Gateway to Lord Vishnu

The street leading to Har ki Pauri
It is the desire of every devout Hindu to visit Haridwar (the gateway to Lord Vishnu) at least once. Even the not-so-devoted wouldn’t regret visiting this ancient abode of the gods, located in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand.

Besides being one of the holiest centres of pilgrimage for the Hindus, where the devtas (gods) were believed to have set foot, it is also the gateway to the pilgrimage towns of Rishikesh, Kedarnath and Badrinath.

There is a deep history embedded inside the town of Haridwar. During Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean of milk), Haridwar was one of the towns where Amrit (drink of immortality) fell while Garuda (carrier of Lord Vishnu) was carrying it for consumption of the devtas, to make them immortal.

In Haridwar, the place where Amrit fell is known as Brahma Kund, which is near Har ki Pauri (footsteps of Hari) where devotees assemble every evening to light diyas (lamps) and float them on the Ganga.

The river Ganga by night
This is the holy city where over lakhs of pilgrims amass every 12 years to celebrate the Kumbh Mela. The Kumbh Mela is of four types:

The Kumbh Mela comes after every three years, the Ardh (half) Kumbh after six years and the Purna Kumbh after every 12 years. Then there is the Maha Kumbh Mela, which is held in Allahabad only after a period of 144 years. 

Haridwar also finds place in India’s most famous epic, the Mahabharat. Some scriptures have named the city as Kapilsthan, Mayapuri and Gangadwar during the ancient times.

It is in this town that King Bhagirath is said to have brought the river Ganga from heaven. Sikh guru Guru Nanak is also believed to have bathed at the popular Kushwan Ghat, which houses a Gurudwara today.

The town also finds adequate mention during the Mauryan period (around 350-190 BC) and the book of Chinese scholar Huan Tsang, who travelled to India around 600 BC, has documented Haridwar. 

How to reach Haridwar

Not to inundate you with the town’s history, let’s look at how you can reach this holy town.

Delhi is the closest metro city near Haridwar, at a distance of around 220 kms. Bus could be a good option to reach Haridwar as a host of private operators have regular luxury bus services to the holy town.

You can also opt for semi-luxury buses from inter-state bus terminus or ISBT located at Kashmiri Gate in Delhi, where Uttar Pradesh state government buses can take you to your destination in 5-6 hours for just Rs 200 (as on March 2010). Buses from here are available almost every hour.

Devotees bathe in the Ganga at Har ki Pauri
There are a dozens of trains to Haridwar and the best option here is the Dehra Dun Shatabdi Express, which takes round about four hours. For those wishing to reach Hardwar by air, the nearest airport is in Dehra Dun, just 40 kms or one hour drive from Haridwar.

Haridwar is a town you can visit throughout the year but from December to February, the temperatures could be uncomfortably cold (below 5 Degrees Centrigrade). 

Haridwar has quite a few tourist spots you may want to visit:

Har ki Pauri: It is located at the hub of Haridwar and is one of the most sacred ghats of the town. Be there to watch the mind blowing evening aarti, where hordes of lamps float on the river as hundreds pay respects to their ancestors at the ghat, which also houses the ancient temple of the river goddess Ganga.

The ghat also has chains, in case you decide to take a bath in the swiftly-flowing river Ganga.

This ghat has its unique place in the mythology of India. As per myth, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu visited Har ki Pauri during the Vedic period.

Even Lord Brahma performed yagna (fire sacrifice) at the ghat. From Har ki Pauri, the sacred river Ganga enters the plains from the hills. Also, Amrit fell near Har ki Pauri, as per legend.

The Ganga Temple at Har ki Pauri
Devotees during the evening aarti (lighting of lamps) at the Har ki Pauri
Mansa Devi Temple: Located atop a hill (Bilwa Parbat) around 2.5 kms from the town, you may opt to take the ropeway to the temple or you can choose to sweat it out by walking up the hill.

The temple is unique because Mansa, the snake goddess, has three mouths and five arms, while there is another idol with eight arms. Don’t miss the breathtaking view of Haridwar town from the temple.

A ropeway ride to the Mansa Devi Temple, the tip of which can be seen (top right)
Haridwar town as seen from the Mansa Devi Temple
Chandi Devi Temple: It is on Neel Parbat, which is on the other side of the Ganga, around five kms from the town. The temple was made by King Shumbh Nishumbha in 1930.

The main idol was believed to have been set up in the eight century by Adi Shankaracharya. It is believed that the Senapati (army chief) of one of the ashuras (demon kings) was killed by goddess Chandi here.

Daksha Mahadev Temple: This is also a temple with its bit of history. King Daksha Prajapati, the father of Sati, was performing a yagna (fire sacrifice) and since he did not invite Lord Shiva, Sati felt insulted and killed herself by lunging into the yagna kund (place of sacrifice).

Later, Lord Shiva or Mahadeva’s aides killed Daksha.

The giant Shiva stands near the Daksha Mahadev Temple
The Daksha Mahadev Temple
The yagna kund (place of sacrifice) where Sati is believed to have committed suicide
Pawan Dham: The sheer beauty of this glass house will bowl you over. It is around two kms from Haridwar town and is a temple with myriad idols that are elaborately decorated with eclectic colours of glass.

Inside the Pawan Dham
A glass replica of Arjun’s chariot, which he used during the Mahabharat War, inside the Pawan Dham   
Among other places you may also want to visit are Bharat Mata Mandir, Doodhadhari Barfani Temple, Bilvkeshwar Mahadev Temple, Neeleshwar Mahadev Temple and Maa Kali Temple, that is, if you have adequate time at hand.

Also, you can shop for some winter wear and eclectic replicas of Hindu gods for a bargain. Don’t miss the lip-smacking sweets of this pilgrimage town.

This ancient gateway to Vishnu is a must see if pilgrimage tourism is in your mind but be warned that non-vegetarian food or alcohol is forbidden inside Haridwar.

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