I woke up quite late—9:00 AM to be precise. Although I was done with my sleep at 5:30 in the morning, I found my quilt to be of greater comfort than the darkness accompanied by chilly winds outside. I wouldn’t lie, but the views at that point of time, just when the Sun exposed itself from behind the hills and shone itself on the Rishikesh valley, were breathtaking.
I had no intentions of staying at Haridwar at any point during my trip. I thought it was a better idea to embark on a day trip. While having some aloo parathas at a small shop near the Lakshman Jhula taxi stand, I made up my mind to go there right after I was done with my breakfast.
Autos (Vikram) on the Rishikesh-Dehradun-Haridwar routes operated purely on the basis of the availability of passengers. I had negotiated a price of sixty rupees for a trip from Lakshman Jhula to Har-ki-Pauri in one of the shared autos. Somewhere near Triveni Ghat (one-third way into the route), the auto driver realised that there were only two passengers for Haridwar. He shifted us to another auto asked us to pay for the entire trip to the second driver while he himself turned around and called out for passengers to Lakshman Jhula.
As the auto rolled on the Rishikesh-Haridwar highway, the air became quite dusty. The under-construction roads and a barrage of private cars contributed to the polluted environment. The driver dropped me on the highway near Har-ki-Pauri and advised me to return to the highway by 7:00 PM, beyond which getting any public transport back to Rishikesh would become difficult.
It is thought that this is the place where River Ganges exits the mountains and enters the plains. There are many temples that adorn the area. Just by looking around, one could make out that the place was a micro-economy that thrived on the pilgrimage and patronage of devotees.
Manasa Devi temple was visible high-up on a hill behind Har-ki-Pauri ghats. I climbed up a flight of stairs followed by a tarmac road. It was also possible to get on a ropeway at Har-ki-Pauri and reach the temple but then I would have missed the view of Haridwar from high up the hill. It was a long walk. I passed many devotees who were struggling to walk in spite of the well paved roads.
The temple was very crowded and I barely got to explore it beyond the organised queue. A few volunteers controlled the flow as if the devotees were a pack of mule. I wondered how bad it would become in the peak seasons. Of all the things, I still remember a saying scribed on one of the walls—”Even the dead gets his share of wood, cloth and fire. We shouldn’t worry about our future lest we desire to be doomed.” (It forms a nice couplet in Hindi.)
Once I was back at the ghats, I walked around, taking quite a few photographs. Some people had even come there to perform the last rites of those who had deceased.
One of the things I wanted to do at Har-ki-Pauri was to observe the evening aarti (shringar aarti)—a prayer and offering made to the deified Ganges. My phone showed that sunset would occur at 5:17 PM. By 5 O’Clock, people started to take their seats on Malaviya Ghat. This place offered the best vantage points to watch the aarti. I squeezed through and found a nice spot right before the steps of the ghat descended into the waters.
The chants of the priests were amplified and broadcast via speakers mounted at the ghat. After a long and elaborate ritual, the entire audience was asked to join for an oath—a reminder to be environmentally cautious about the river and not to pollute it.
Returning to Rishikesh
I got back on the highway with a good half an hour of buffer from my 7:00 PM deadline. It had become very dark. I spotted a Rishikesh bound bus and got on it. Unlike yesterday, I did not have trouble finding a Lakshman Jhula bound auto from the bus stand.
On my way back towards Bunk Stay, I stopped at a roadside chaat stall for some aloo-tikki. A fellow traveller noticed the logo of Tour of Nilgiris on my pullover. He was more interested in the Nilgiris part. It turned out that he had been with major software companies for a very long time and now ran a small consultancy firm in Bangalore. He was from Pollachi (which was co-incidentally the final stop for last year’s Tour of Nilgiris). He liked travelling across the globe and actively pursued photography as a hobby. We exchanged numbers and he invited me to his home in Bangalore.
The bunk right beside mine was occupied by a German lady, who had just finished her school and was taking a gap year before applying for medical school. She had been travelling in India for the past seven weeks and wanted to visit Cambodia before she ran out of money.