I have no clue why I was reminded today of our family trip to Delhi a couple of years back. There was too much happening that I will never forget the tour ever in my life! Hopefully!!! Not for the unfateful earthquake that hit Nepal and killed thousands of innocent lives. But more because of many incidents that happened during the tour.
One such incident or rather place we visited was Haridwar. Since we had 2 senior citizens in our group – my mom and her sister, we had planned a day in Haridwar and Rishikesh to keep them interested in the tour. We spent a couple of days in Delhi before that and had planned a day and night in Agra too. Thanks to the food poison that hit my husband, we both missed the Agra tour while we managed to send the rest so that they wouldn’t miss the beautiful Taj. We will make it up another time!
But then, our trip to Haridwar was an eye-opener in many ways. Firstly, this was my first ever trip this far in North India. By then, we had visited Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mysore, Chennai and Mumbai. Since we belong to Kerala, we have in-effect covered most of South India and Mumbai. So travelling to Haridwar was a totally new experience to me exploring the north.
I found a total contrast of cultures in Haridwar. The holy Ganges was pure and flowing in full fervour with ice-cold water on one side and immediately on its banks, there was a market full of dirt, flies and fleas! We literally had to cover our face with a cloth to make sure none of those flies or fleas got into our eyes, nostrils, mouth or ears! This was the first time during the tour that I saw my 10-year-old chatterbox keeping his mouth totally shut fearing the worse! We just did not have a choice other than crossing this place which is the dirtiest of all places I have ever visited in my life. My mom was telling I should wait till I visit Kolkata!!! I’d rather not, though I love the Bengali sweets.
While one part was praying silently on the freely flowing Ganga, the other part had a couple of temples that were open only to snatch some money. I used to think that Haridwar was a place where people sought spirituality! But what I found here was quite shocking. The couple of temples we visited were so crowded and the people there were only bothered about the money we offered them. We did not offer any money and we were frowned upon which was quite fine with us.
And then, just as we got back to witness the Ganga Arathi, the place was so crowded! Yet, the people were kind enough to understand that we were tourists and let us witness the Arathi peacefully. The priests and the authorities there were asking monetary help for cleaning Ganga and we happily donated as we could see that the place was seriously maintained beautifully. Except for the market part which was totally filthy!
We stayed back in Haridwar overnight and visited Rishikesh the next day morning. Just on the other side of Ganga, Rishikesh showed us a totally different world! This was a calmer place where people could join the Ashram to spend the rest of their life peacefully. The place was much neater and the people were much nicer too. No one was asking for money here.
This was the place where we managed to dip our feet in Ganga. I had never felt colder water in my life. Remember, it was April and the summer sun was at its peak when we visited. Yet, we could hardly keep our feet immersed in Ganga for more than a few seconds. Mine went numb in the ice-cold water! Another contrast, that nature drew!
It was while travelling by boat crossing the river that we came to know about the devastating earthquake that had just jolted Nepal. The driver was telling, he felt the tremors too while we were dipping our feet in Ganga. That did give us jitters considering, it was only a year back that the holy river rose in full fury after a cloudburst in Uttarakhand.
I still have no clue what makes me feel that I should share this contrasting culture and nature we experienced in Haridwar and Rishikesh. Here was one place that people sought for inner peace which had everything but peace of mind to offer. And then holy Ganga that had us totally amazed at the ice-cold water it had while the sun was shining bright and hot! Rishikesh has a lasting impression on all of us because of the Ashram and the serenity prevailing there.