After we visited Rishikesh, Neelkanth and Kunjapuri, we went back to Haridwar. Haridwar, or the “Doorway to God”, if you take a literal translation of the name of the town. Some towns are built around religion and God, and Haridwar is one of these towns. Every aspect of the town focuses on sustaining religious fervor, and is home to pilgrims to come, visit, stay and move on to other destinations.
In the North Indian state of Uttaranchal, people undertake religious trip, or Yatra, known as the ‘Char Dham Yatra’, and the places covered in this are the towns of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. In the major Char Dham, tradition asks you to visit Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameswaram. They say that once you visit these four places, said to be places of the God Vishnu, you will attain ‘moksha’ or salvation.
Before I continue, allow me to translate. “Char” means Four; “Dham” means “Abode”, and “Yatra” means “Journey”. So, it is the journey (in this case, devotional) to the Four Abodes (of Vishnu).
Rajiv, The Cynic
I am more of a cynical person and don’t agree that you attain salvation by making religious trips, ringing bells, and feeling happy about this. But I if this comforts you and a sense of salvation, then I am at peace with your belief system. I have never been comfortable praying before proceeding to ruin the environment, or harm people.
Before I continue, I must pause and take a deep breath. If I don’t, I will only direct venom and spit towards the rising trend of religious intolerance in India. It’s unfortunate this is happening because all we are doing is to weaken society and wreak havoc on the young and future generations.
I’ve traveled to Haridwar many times on business, and a few times for the pleasure of making photographs. Over the years, the town has changed and yet nothing has changed. If you find my statement confusing, I don’t blame you.
The Central Core of The Town
The central core of the town has not changed over the years. On one side of the canal (the waters of the Ganges flow fast along this canal), you find the market and most religious institutions. This is also where hotels dot the town, as well as dharmsalas for poor pilgrims. Almost all the pilgrims who travel through and to the town are poor. They are damned in this life, so seek salvation in the next in their religious fervor. And why shouldn’t they? Life in India is difficult for most people and can be almost torture for the poor and downtrodden. In contrast, the rich enjoy a very comfortable life in India, with the poor as their minions.
There is a walking path on the other side of the river, and I prefer this part of the town. Priests hold a prayer ceremony every evening, in an area called “Har Ki Pauri”. People crowd the area, especially in the evening, and you may find someone picking your wallet with joy in their hearts!
There is a hill on either side of the town–the closer one being on the side where you have the market and the temples. And a temple sits on the top of each hill. I went up to one hilltop, but not into the temple. I avoid entering Hindu Temples because I find the priests to be avaricious and grasping. They don’t leave you alone and will rip the clothes off your back without hesitation.
We walked down, and this was splendid. I watched the sunset over the town, lighting it up, and casting a beautiful orange glow on the river. It is unfortunate but, few people pause and lose themselves in the sunset, or sit by the river and allow the power of the water to enter their souls.
The Outer Part of The Town
Then, there is a new outer area that has developed around the town. Here, you will find industries, industrial parks, and upscale hotels. Those who wander the modern parts of Haridwar avoid the core, ancient part of the town. They come in, do their business, pay a perfunctory visit to the Ganges, and dip their toes into the water to purify their souls. Then, they carry some water from the river back home for the religious ceremonies they conduct at home.
Haridwar is a cacophonous town, with religious music blaring through the calm of the morning and splitting the setting sun into a million pieces. The way pilgrims, priests and visitors muddy the waters with their offerings and soap suds does not match the religious fervor with which they pray. Since the Ganges purifies itself, as per belief, there is nothing for anyone to do to keep the water clean.
These are convenient beliefs because they absolve you of the responsibility of keeping the river clean. After all, if the river can do it, why should they?
For all my disdain about the religious practices in the town, the river, and the air, are beautiful. It won’t surprise me if this is the reason the first seekers stopped here, and said, ‘this place is good, and the spirit is strong.’
I edited the images using Luminar AI from Skylum. Luminar Neo is to be launched on the 17th of February. If you do use the link to explore it and buy it, then bully for you!