Haridwar

HaridwarWe arrived by train about 7 a.m. and were surrounded again by porters, rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers. We walked across the street and had some chai and pastries. We checked into a hotel on the Ganges. From our balcony, we could survey a quarter-mile section of river including the sacred Ghat, Har-Ki-Pauri. There were bathers and swimmers, saddhus in orange robes, street vendors with blankets on the ground and middle-class families. There were sacred cows, sacred cows eating garbage and sacred cow manure.
The entire district prohibited automobiles and trucks ( but sadly not motorcycles). Most people walked or used bicycle rickshaws (pedicabs). We used a rickshaw to move our luggage. Our balcony had a warning about monkeys. At the end of the day, about forty monkeys would walk by.
Evening Ceremony (Ganga Arti) — there is a religious ceremony every evening. We cheked our shoes and entered the holy area. A Hindu priest helped us purchase a little boat made of palm leaves and filled with flower petals. He said prayers for us and our families. We splashed Ganges River water on our foreheads. He lit candles in the little boat and we sent it off into the current. We gave him a donation and sat down to watch the area fill with people.
There were cheers, speakers and uniformed men accepting donations and giving receipts. Many men dressed in white and had their foreheads painted yellow with a red smudge in the center. At dusk, there were gongs, cymbals and bells clanging and clashing loudly. People chanted. A small chair was carried beside the river and lit up with electrical lights. Ancient temples were illuminated. Many torches were lit. The clanging and chanting got louder. Many small boats were floating down the Ganges with tiny lit wicks. The singing slowed, the crowd grew quiet and dispersed.
Bazaar — behind our hotel were narrow alleys that contained a marketplace or bazaar. The goods were targeted toward Indian tourists and included jewelry, clothing and linen, sourvenirs, books and fruit.
A Holy City — no alchol or eating of meat is allowed. People have been coming here for thousands of years. On certain occasions, over 1 million people converge here.
Few Westerners — during three days, we saw four Westerners.
Chief Medical Officer — every few hours, a squad of uniformed officers went through the streets to clear the crowd. They carry bamboo batons. People roll up their mats and scurry out of the way. One officer stopped and introduced himself. He did not speak English, but we carried on a conversation anyway. He showed us his identification, Chief Medical Officer. I wished him well and said I thought he had a very difficult job.
Hot — it is hot and humid beone anything I’ve eperienced before. There are limited sanitary facilities. Thousands of people are bathing in the river. A very large population of street people live on both banks of the river. The beggars have significant deformities, leprosy and missing limbs. Although people are always sweeping and hauling away garbage, it feels dirty to me, as though germs are everywhere and the outbeak of disease is imminent.
Middle Class — most of the people in Hardiwar appeared to be middle class tourists from other parts of India. They are on religious pilgimages. They are well-dressed and have their families with them. We took gondola rides up to the two temples on the surrounding hills (Chandi Devi Temple and Mansa Devi Temple). While standing on line for the gondolas, we met several families. Usually an adolescent would ask us in English, “Where are you from?” Eventually, we would meet everyone in the family which usually included three generations. This felt comfortable and nomal.
Foreign — after traveling in South America, China, Tibet and Nepal, Haridwar felt most foreign to me. I have no frame of reference for the people, language, customs and rituals. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

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