Haridwar and the Kumbh Mela Religious Pilgrimage

Visiting Haridwar, one of the seven most sacred places in India

¿Where is Haridwar?

Haridwar is only 10 km south of Rishikesh and 200 km northeast of New Delhi. It is situated on the banks of the Ganges River and is considered one of the most sacred places in India.

It is one of the four cities where the Kumbh Mela is celebrated, a Hindu festival that consists of making a pilgrimage every three years to four sacred localities through which the Ganges passes.

The celebration takes turns. For example: first it is held in Haridwar, after three years in Praiag, after three years in Nasik and finally after three years in Ujjain. Therefore, each city celebrates the Kumbh Mela every 12 years. It is considered the largest religious pilgrimage in the world as it mobilizes about 70 million people. This Hindu festival is based on the myth of “The Milk Ocean Shake“.

Haridwar - Templo Har Ki Pauri Panorámica
Haridwar – Templo Har Ki Pauri Panorámica

The myth of “The Milk Ocean Milk Shake”.

According to Hindu mythology, the gods and demons agreed to a temporary truce in their constant wars to work together in the elaboration of amrita, the nectar of immortality.

After years of effort, as soon as the nectar was finally achieved, the demons stole it. Again a conflict was unleashed that would last twelve divine days (the equivalent of twelve human years). During the war, 4 drops of nectar fell in four places in India: Haridwar, Praiag, Nasik, Ujjain. These four cities were immediately blessed.

Hindus are convinced that during the celebration of the Kumbh Mela the waters of the Ganges become the sacred nectar and if you immerse yourself in them you will be absolved of all your sins. It is not surprising then that millions of Hindus come to purify themselves on that date.

Haridwar - Río Ganges
Haridwar – Ganges River

¿How to go from Reshikesh to Haridwar?

We went from Reshikesh to Haridwar in tuk-tuk for 600 rupees between the three (7 euros). It’s just 20 km far and it takes just 30 min. We arrived around 12 noon and were told that the next bus to Shimla was leaving at 7pm.

With nothing else to do, we went for a tour of the city. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we didn’t agree with the Kumbh Mela, but there were still quite a few people.

Haridwar - Mercado
Haridwar – Street Market

A day in the city of Haridwar, what to see in Haridwar?

Walking around the Ganges

Haridwar was not as beautiful as Rishikesh but there was a more sacred, more solemn air. However, there also seemed to be a lot of poverty. The areas adjacent to the city were full of shacks where children played barefoot among the trees.

Near the river there were many vagrants. If anything India differs from other countries I’ve been to, it’s that you see a lot of people who don’t seem to have had an easy life. They have a dark skin that has been burned for generations working under this intense sun. With wrinkles that revealed years of misery and black eyes that sometimes reflect sadness and other times serenity.

Haridwar - Street Cow
Haridwar – Street Cow

Har Ki Pauri Temple

We spent a couple of hours walking until we reached the Har Ki Pauri temple; a temple dedicated to the god Shiva on the banks of the Ganges. It has its typical staircases to go down to the river to be purified or to make offerings.

Although Haridwar is only 10 km away from Rishikesh, the waters of the Ganges River change to a brown color that I wouldn’t know if it’s from dirt, stirred waters or both.

We stayed for a while, watching how on both sides of the river people kept getting into it. Suddenly, what appeared to be gurus approached and told us that it was customary to make a donation to the Ganges. Almost without realizing it, we accepted the proposal for fear of appearing disrespectful. In addition, we were curious to see what it was about making an offering as we did not make any in Rishikesh.

Haridwar - Templo Har Ki Pauri
Haridwar – Har Ki Pauri Temple

Offering to the Ganges, ¿a full-blown scam?

I was the first to go to the river with a guru. Standing with one hand on top of the other, he put a lotus flower on my hands. He painted a red dot on my forehead and indicated to me to repeat with him some verses in Hindi. I had no idea what they meant.

He asked me the names of my closest relatives so that they would also be blessed by the Ganges and before finishing he stopped praying and asked me how much I wanted to donate. I had no idea how much was donated in these cases so I said 100 rupees (1.25 euros). The guru suddenly told me that the minimum donation to continue was 500 rupees (6 euros), although many people donated 1000 or 2000. I was perplexed with that “minimum donation” thing. Six euros in Spain is not much, but, in India, you can do quite a few things.

Taking advantage of the tourists

Equally, as I did not want to leave the blessing half-way and wanted to avoid problems with the gurus, so I gave him the 500 rupees. That spiritual moment was destroyed, but we followed the ritual as if nothing had happened.

I repeated a few more words, released the lotus flower into the river and it disappeared as fast as my 500 rupees. My first religious experience in India had just been my first scam. I quickly went to my companions, who were about to begin the ritual, and told them what had happened to me.

Each told their respective guru that they had no more than 100 rupees on them and that it was the only thing they could donate. The gurus, after insisting for a while that it was not enough, finally, with bad faces, accepted the donation. Little is better than nothing.

Haridwar - Ofrenda al Ganges
Haridwar – Offering to the Ganges

Next Destination: From Haridwar to Shimla by bus

After that we had a chai (tea with milk very typical of India) and returned to the station to catch the bus to Shimla. We stayed 12 hours sitting in a bus on curvy and badly asphalted roads. By the way, the ticket cost us 450 rupees, something less than my donation. The Ganges could already, bless me with a good trip through India.

I said goodbye to Haridwar with a bittersweet taste. I had loved the city, but I had also just witnessed in my own flesh, how some used their own religion to deceive others and take out some money. Although looking at it in perspective, that was nothing new. At least I learned a lesson that would serve me for the rest of the trip: respect for the Ganges but without donations.

Help us continue to grow: comment, rate or share if you found this article interesting and practical for your trip to India. You can also subscribe to the blog for travel updates. If you are planning a trip to India, you may also be interested in the list of Tips for travelling in India and the Guide to Amritsar and the Golden Temple.

How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.

– Wayne Dyer –
Callejeando por Haridwar
Walking around Haridwar

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