Some vignettes

This is a mish-mash of a post. Don’t look for any coherence. It is a collection of thoughts and observations over the past few days as the L&M and I took a trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh to conduct some religious rituals and take a small break.  Be warned though that the snippets might appear as full-length posts in the near/distant future!


Though we have gone to this ancient city many times, it never fails to strike a chord every time that I set foot in it. I feel a primeval force, powered by the Ganga; Haridwar draws its essence from the river and its spirituality stems from that one source. The city though is a noisy, dirty and crowded place. Piles of stinking garbage, narrow roads and lanes that are choked with people, cycle rickshaws and jeeps and vans make it a nightmare to navigate through, testifying to the absence of any civic action to improve the situation. Why can’t the government do something about the cities that earn them so much revenue in terms of religious tourism?

Ganga Aarti at Har ki Pauri

But the clutter and filth vanish the moment one steps near the river. At Har ki Pauri, (feet of Har, or Lord  Shiva) one literally feels as if one is sitting at the feet of God. What with the ban on polythene which being strictly enforced, (at least for the moment) the water is clean!

Terror threats and high alert meant that the only viable means of transport in the city viz., the cycle rickshaws are banned in a one km radius from Har ki Pauri, which meant walking through impossibly congested and exhaust fumes-choked streets. We saw the Ganga aarti only once as we couldn’t brave the streets on the second day. I couldn’t stop marveling at the city playing host to millions of pilgrims during the kumbh mela every twelve years despite such pathetic infrastructure and even more pathetic sanitation!


One should stay in Swargashram – across the Ganga in Rishikesh, to get the true feel of the place. Just ignore the shops and hotels, which mostly cater to the foreigners thronging the ashrams in search of spirituality and yoga and sometimes cheap accommodation and a cheaper holiday. Many of the pilgrimage centres of the country are falling prey to last mentioned type of tourists with the attendant tourist ‘culture’ seeping in these centres. I could see a sea-change in the place from the time I had stayed here for over a month about six years ago when one could feel the tranquility of the place calming the mind. Even the ashrams are becoming upmarket in their demeanor leaving one in no doubt about their target audience.

Clean water of Ganga at Rishikesh

Ganga though, is clean here too thanks to the polythene ban. One could sit for hours and still not see any debris float by, which is saying something. It just goes to show what concerted effort can do to bring about civic change. The casualty of the ban however, are the floating lamps which light up the waters and look like so many twinkling stars on earth. Some ghats allow it but I could not see more than half a dozen lamps in the two days we stayed there.


I feel very close kinship with her. She is almost my soulmate. On the last day at Rishikesh, I sat on the ghat and gazed at the water all through the aarti and felt a lump rise in my throat at the thought of leaving her behind. The lump slowly dissolved into tears soon and I dashed them away with bunched fists. Not that Ganga was moved in any way by my show of emotion; she flows on regardless of the emotions of the pilgrims.

A couple of foreigners were sitting on the step above me and were bemusedly watching the devotees reverentially sprinkle the water over their heads and take a sip. I could see the horror on their faces especially when a western tourist did the same. If the water of the river were so polluted as to be not fit for drinking, how come no one fell ill after consuming it? Or are our stomachs lead-lined enough not to be affected by the pollution?

Ganga Aarti:

Commercialised as this may be, it still is a spectacle worth seeing, if one were to ignore the choreographed show and recorded aarti song. The faith of thousands of believers is enough to give this ritual a spiritual significance. I look at the waters of the river and imagine the goddess presiding over the proceedings and this simple thing brings instant peace that my clamouring mind craves for. The other aarti at Rishikesh’ Parmarth Niketan ashram (that is telecast on Sanskar TV) is live – the aarti is sung by the Swamiji and the devotees and bhajans follow it. I had spent several weeks at this Ashram the last time I had come here and this was my favourite activity of the day.


Though Haridwar boasts of many modern temples which can be found anywhere in the country, the pracheen or ancient ones can be found only on mountain tops at Manasa Devi and Chandi Devi in Haridwar or in Kankhal just outside the city. We took the cable car to both the temples and had a hassle-free darshan. At the Chandi Devi temple, the priest gave me a coin after he tied the thread round my wrist as prasad and told me not to spend it. Did I feel blessed by the unexpected prasad!

The government levies entertainment tax on the cable car tickets. I found this unacceptable because the majority of the people going to the temples are pilgrims who are all not well-to-do. The climb is arduous for aged and ailing people, who belong to all strata of society. Going off at a tangent, I would like to draw your notice here to the neighbouring state where Behenji has waived off the tax on the F1 race. If multimillionaires can get a tax waiver, why not poor pilgrims or is there a tale behind it?

On the way to Nilkanth

The taxi ride to the Neelkanth temple 25 kms into the hills from Rishikesh was a picturesque one but we couldn’t get a single shot – the L&M was too tense because the driver drove pretty fast for his comfort. When he did take pictures, they probably were taken with the camera in the ‘off’ mode because not one shot was recorded. All I can conclude is that Lord Shiva probably didn’t want us to carry back any film, but imprint the trip in our minds.


Coming back to Haridwar, the city is gearing up for a massive congregation. Shanti Kunj, a global spiritual organization is celebrating the centenary of its founder Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya, in the first week of November. Touted as another Kumbh mela in its scope and attendance, the landscape of the city has been transformed into a sea of tents for the occasion with followers in their signature yellow clothes pouring into the city by the thousands. Were we glad to be leaving the city on Diwali day beating the crowds!

The days without TV and newspapers calmed me as always. I could spend hours and days just gazing at the Ganga and finding solace in her rhythm and flow. Like a kid who knew that the fun of an outing is going to be over soon and so turns cranky, so did I become super sulky driving the L&M up the wall. But no matter how sulky I was, there was no escaping the return back to the hurly-burly of daily life.

But I am looking forward to some time in the future to be able to spend all my  time by the banks of my soulmate.

(This is a personal post but if you want excellent coverage of the places and the river, do read Arti and Sudhagee, who have covered the cities and the river extensively in their blogs.)


  1. Haridwar is my second home(literally!) and whenever I go there, we stay out of the usual places…prefer to visit Kankhal and the other temples there…

    but yeah once in a while har ki pauri is very nice…especially early mornings!!!!

    rishikesh i love…..go there whenever im in haridwar :)….


  2. You reminded me of some wonderful memories of the Ganga, whom I have not set eyes on for the last 4 years! there was a time when we went to hardwar and rishikesh often, and i also spent more than a month at varanasi once! makes me wish i could go back there… in spite of the crowd, the dirt and the mess, these places still manage to inspire! as u say, its probably all a matter of faith.. like u, i too like to visit the ancient temples or simply sit by the river….. new temples beautifully inlaid with marble and decorations somehow dont seem to call out to me, no matter how beautiful they are… on the other hand, even temples falling apart and scary at times seem to take me back in time and i actually come back happier!


    1. The reason why we like being in ancient temples is because they are built to strict spriritual standards — the steeple, the pillars, the masts — all have been meticulously calculated and built to maximise energy levels. And ages of pilgrims and their faith imbue these temples with special healing powers. Just sitting inside the temple is enough to give us peace. Which is why I don’t like any of the Birla Mandirs across the country. These have become tourist stops and nothing more as are other temples which resemble a polyclinic — a shrine for every god and goddess! And Ganga is a river but also a temple in herself. Did you stay in Varanasi as part of some ‘anushthan’ or just like that? Were you alone?


  3. Nice post…Hope you had a nice break…Always wanted to see the aarti at banares…Some day I will also go..

    I am not deeply religious but somehow these temples have always attracted me.


    1. We had a nice break, but the L&M has been down with viral fever since we came back and I am busy tending to him! The Varanasi aarti is more choreographed for effect. The Ganga aarti at Haridwar and Rishikesh are better. Better still, catch all of them 🙂 You need not be religious minded to enjoy the peace.


  4. Hello Zephyr,

    I’ve been a lurker for a long time. But I recently commented on Sudhagee’s travelogues and now I had to read your post on Rishikesh and Varanasi and of course, had to delurk. I’ve been to Varanasi when I was very young. I have also been to Triveni Sangam since we lived in Allahabad on 2 separate occasions. I have had the opportunity to bathe in the Triveni when I was 6 years old. Even at that age, I felt the pull of the mighty rivers. To dunk your head in the cold waters during Allahabad ki sardi is what I remember about those trips. But the quiet that pervades the rivers in the morning. People chanting prayers while they bathe in the Triveni, that has stayed with me for close to 3 decades. Thanks for making it all seem like it happened yesterday 🙂


    1. Nice to have you delurk here Meera! I am touched to know that the memory of people chanting and the calm that prevailed has stayed with you for so long. Goes to show the depth of spiritual power the sacred rivers of our country hold, doesn’t it? Glad that it brought back those days for you. Do visit again and please don’t lurk 🙂


  5. lol, I can imagine many “travel bloggers” squirming in their seats.

    nice piece.

    Could you remove the “smiley” setting or provide an option to the commenter to use the standard text smileys instead of automatically changing them to graphical ones? I hate those darn graphic smileys. *rant*


    1. I told my readers at the outset that it didn’t pretend to be a travelogue, so I think no one mistook it for one. Anyway, the emphasis was on the Ganga and the emotions she evokes; the other things are incidental. Glad you liked it.


  6. Wow! What a wonderful post! After reading it, I closed my eyes for a few minutes, and could actually feel myself sitting besides Her and experiencing all of it!

    I have been to these cities several times, also seen the Ganga at various points.. from Gangotri to Gangasagar (the place where She meets the sea).. What amazes me most is that though she has a different avatar at these places, the magnitude of Her love and the peace that one feels is just the same everywhere! There is something so powerfully magnetic about Her, that the more I travel, the more I meet Her, my fascination for Her just keeps on growing and growing..

    Have you been to Gangotri? Since you have so much affinity for the river, try meeting Her at the source, the experience is just blissful!

    I really loved your account Mam and feel truly honoured to be linked in one of your posts, that too alongside such a fabulous senior blogger! Thank you for everything 🙂 I apologise for the delay in my response. I was on a trip, hence couldn’t revert back 😦 Also thanks for such a sweet comment on my blog, you dont need any of my permissions, you can use them all, wherever you want them, all at your free will 🙂


    1. Hey Arti, I have not even attempted to write a travelogue! It is just a collection of thoughts and feelings mostly about Ganga, though the other things have also come in due to their proximity to Her. Only the other day the L&M and I were discussing about doing the Char Dham yatra this summer. Gangotri has been in my mind too for a long time now. You are so lucky to have seen Ganga right from her birth to her joining the oceans and I can believe that She radiates peace in all the places. So typical of Ganga. I will pester you about the Char Dham yatra before planning it 😀

      So sweet of you to offer me your photographs 🙂 It was but natural to link back to you because no one has covered these places as extensively and beautifully as you have done. I am so used to seeing your comments on my posts that I miss it when you don’t! It is fine if you are late, as long as you commented 🙂


  7. I have read that even during British days, water for use on the ship for use during their travel to Britain from India and back, used to be filled from Ganga as the water would remain fresh for months on end. They tried to test the reason for the water to ascertain the reason for remaining pure for days and years. Unless there is some spiritual power behind that, it would be impossible for the water to remain fresh always. As for the filth, one should train one’s mind to just concentrate on the good and in this case the pure Ganga. All other things will then vanish. A true saint receives & blesses all who come for his darshan. He does not treat them differently though there might be good, bad and incorrigible people among them, as he sees only the good in the devotees who come to have his darshan. I am talking of a TRUE SAINT not the ones we find all over today who are just interested in living in style. One should go to Kanyakumari and see the three oceans merge there and distinguish them by their colour. The peace & serenity is something one should experience. When everything is silent, the sound made by the waves is something which cannot be explained but experienced. They have their own tale to tell. It is said that a crore rivers meet the sea in Dhanushkoti, a song sung by the great poet singer Thyagaraja mentions that. He says when a crore rivers come and mingle in the sea, why does the mind go here and there. I would need to take another birth in order to visit either Hardwar or Dhanushkoti but listening to people who visit such places would take one to those places mentally. You have done that through your post.


    1. This is an amazing country with an even more amazing heritage and culture. We need to only experience it to know. Like the feeling of the seas converging in Kanyakumari. Somehow, the sea has not been able to evoke the same calmness as Ganga does. Even other rivers like Narmada or Kaveri are different. I don’t feel the kinship that I do with Ganga. Maybe because I lived alone with her for some weeks. I don’t know. The reason behind Ganga water remaining fresh is nothing but a matter of supreme spirituality. I have a bottle of water that is three years old and the water is crystal clear without any trace of putrid smell. I am glad I could give you a glimpse of the holy city and river through my post. 🙂


  8. Wow! Happy to see a post about Haridwar and Ganga! It has been loong since I’ve been there. Moreover, staying in Mumbai keeps me even mor distant from the dream of visiting the plea anytime soon.

    Hari-ki-pauri, the cable car, Raam Jhoola and the Lakshman Jhoola, they all just bring back those fond memories I’ve always had of my childhood. Amazing!!


    1. You just have to take off and go. That’s the only way to visit the places of one’s childhood memories. Though the places are getting dirtier and more crowded by the day, Ganga retains her purity, regardless of the pollution that uncaring humans dump into her. I am glad my post evoked fond memories for you.


  9. My dear friend Manju Joglekar, is unable to post comments here, so I am posting it which she has sent by email.

    Do hope you are able to fix the bug soon Manju! Here goes:


    I’m still not able to comment on your blog. So here’s my comment on your latest post-

    ‘What a lovely post! I am glad that you were able to experience seeing the Ganga where the waters were relatively clean. The calmness and affinity with the river that you felt, has come out wonderfully in this post.

    A few weeks ago my husband and I were fortunate to go to the banks of the Ganga, too- in West Bengal. I have never been to Haridwar or Rishikesh though. Hope to some day.’



    1. You saw her just before she joined the sea? How was she? I can imagine her trying to rush into the larger water body, tired but relieved at the same time of being able to clean herself of all the actual and figurative filth that she must be carrying. You must go to the mountains from where she descends, when she is fresh and clean like a young girl, at least as far as Rishikesh, if your health does not permit higher altitudes.


  10. After reading your post, would like to visit these places again to see the changes because when I visited these places dirt & filth were as prime as the pilgrimage places.


    1. I have not said that the filth and garbage are absent. But at Har ki Pauri and all through the stretches in Rishikesh, Ganga is clean. It made me feel good to see her like that. Otherwise, it is as if my mother/sister/friend is draped in a dirty saree. The post was more about Ganga and Rishikesh though I wasn’t able to articulate all my feelings. I will soon 🙂 But do visit the places and sit by Ganga. She will take all your prayers straight to Shiva, no need to visit any temples, especially if you are planning to go during the season. We went at an off season.


  11. Zephyr lovely post.
    Ganga indeed stirs up many emotions -It is more than moving water .To see her Broad breasted and langurous in the plains – almost like a sea – or wanton ,forceful and playful in Rishikesh is one of the most memorable sights ever !


    1. Even in Rishikesh, you can see her in several avatars and revel in them. I spent a good length of time there some years ago and that’s when I forged the bond with her.


  12. Ho
    Nice post. I studied in Varanasi for four years. I can relate to the filth and dirt that you mention. But the river Ganga more than makes up for it.

    Sadly I went to ghats just a couple of times. I was busy educating myself! Looking back, not taking in the city was easily the biggest mistake I did in my college.


    1. The reason why many of us (including me till a decade ago) avoid the river and the pilgrimage centres is because we believe we are agnostics and atheists. But the spirituality is much above religion, though religion can be a part of it. I have figured this out only recently. So don’t knock yourself. There is time yet to discover Ganga and the sense of spirituality that she inspires in people.

      Btw, what happened to the Mahabharatha series?


      1. I am thinking of starting Mahabharatha again. It isn’t just that will is not there. The audience isn’t there either 🙂


        1. Do start it. As a blogger, isn’t it your duty to write for the readers who come to your blog, even if there aren’t so many as you might expect? I enjoyed it, because it made me LOL and the stick cartoons 😀


  13. Written with your soul….it certainly touched mine ! I felt myself being transported to the shores of Ganga experienced the peace and tranquility through your post !


    1. Thanks Chitra. The sense of closeness to the river is so overwhelming that if I just close my eyes I am transported to her banks. I think it was the rekindling of my kinship with her from the time I stayed at Rishikesh.


  14. The eyes see what the heart wants it to see. My only fond memories of the twin holy cities is when I was part of the Gandharva Choir that performed at the Sivananda ashram.

    And now all is see is filth and squalor and the unbearable chaos.

    But today when I saw Haridwar and Rishikesh through your eyes, it felt tranquil, almost beautiful.


    1. Awww that’s so sweet. The eye doesn’t see anything when it is near Ganga. The heart feels, swells with love and weeps when it has to leave. I am still suffering from withdrawal symptoms, if you can all it that!


  15. I have visited these places once. But I was too young to remember any of these. Just remember one grand Aarti happening and me crying because of the crowd around me.

    Now a days such places have become way too commercialized. I’d rather stay away from them especially at the time of festivals when they are way too crowded.

    Nice travelogue.


    1. Children certainly feel stressed out with crowds and confined spaces in temples. That’s why in the olden days, they said that the older ones gets, one should go on yatras and pilgrimages. 🙂 I agree with you about the crowds during festivals. My idea of a temple visit is when it is empty and I can have some quiet time with God.


  16. I Still remember the first time we all went there, of course Vikki was not there. Had a good time!


    1. That had been a short trip and didn’t give me enough time alone with Ganga. But we had a great time didn’t we? Our hotel overlooked the river in all her glory.


  17. hey Z, that was a nice change. Its been years I visited Hardwar and Rishikesh. Honestly the fear of walking through crowded streets and filth all but negates any thoughts of planning a visit. Anyways, what with an atheist bent of mind, I do not find much passion to visit temples but for my love of travel and culture. The ganga in rishikesh is beautiful, I wish she could stay the same as she traverses the journey to the sea. Did you go onto Ram Jhoola.. the swinging bridge!


    1. The crowds can be discouraging, but as I said, it is Ganga that draws me there. When I am near her, the crowds vanish, the noise and pollution disappear.It is just me and her. I can’t explain 🙂 Ganga at Rishikesh is clean because of the efforts of the ashrams and the people there. As for going to temples, I only like to go to the really ancient ones because of all the positive energy I get from them. Like you, I had stayed away from temples for the most part of my life but discovered their energy levels recently. Avoid the modern ones at all costs. And even in ancient ones, stay away from the pandas who are there to fleece you. I commune with God. Period.

      Better than the Ram Jhoola is the Lakshman jhoola which is longer and also built over very deep waters. I stayed near Ram Jhoola both the times I went there.


  18. Ganga is being hourly stung by mock devotees, pseudo ashrams and mountains of filth generated by humans, dead and alive. That she can still hold her head high and move sensitive souls, is but a sliver of her greatness. I believe billions are being spent to cleanse the Ganga. But I don’t even wonder where all that is going.

    Having spent my childhood so close to her banks, I am naturally attracted to most writings on Ganga. However, I find them superficial or even hypocritical, most of the times.

    You have somehow managed to put a soul in your post. I almost sat with you on the banks and saw you crying as you left.


    1. Thanks Umashankar for the lovely compliment. I just wrote the post in one sitting and only corrected the typos. No editing. It had come straight from the heart and that is why you found it infused with soul. Believe me, I was one reluctant woman leaving the ghat that night.


  19. alkagurhalka · · Reply

    I remember Har Ki Pauri too…the evening Aarti is magical.

    And since I was born in Varanasi I felt nostalgic reading this post.


    1. Were you born in Varanasi? Do you still have your maika there? Har ki pauri feels sacred to me. Maybe the faith of the millions who visit the place gives it its spirituality.


  20. I was very small when we visited Varanasi and yet I remember the ‘Ganga’ effect. Your post rekindled my desire to visit both these places. Thank you


    1. I am happy that the post brought back memories for you. But the best way to feel close to Ganga is to go there alone and find her soothing companionship.


  21. During my boat ride to see the ghats of Varanasi, the city-bred, superior, condescending me asked the boatman, ” You worship the Ganga. And yet you dirty her Why? How can she take all the filth and the dirt?” The boatman answered simply, “Because Ganga is a mother. She will take all the filth for her children”

    Not surprisingly, that effectively shut me up.

    At the risk of sounding irreverent or trite, I want to say that, “There is something about Ganga”. Now while I have not visited Haridwar or Rishikesh yet, I can imagine what it must be like after reading your account. Thanks for linking to my blog, Zephyr.


    1. The boatman’s reply is typical. Ganga like those of her sex is taken for granted. No one asks a mother whether she is happy to take all the filth for her children but assume it of her. But the fact remains that a mother does take everything in her stride. I wouldn’t have felt so strongly about Ganga had I not spent some tumultuous weeks on her banks. She had calmed me and given me an inner strength. Do go there when you find the opportunity.


      1. I do wish to visit Ganga again, but also Narmada, and Godavari, and Cauvery… In fact all the holy rivers. I hope that I do get the chance to do that one day.


        1. Narmada is another beautiful river. She is more boisterous than Ganga but also very mysterious and deep. She is in fact a young woman in all her enchanting moods. Do go to Hoshangabad and Jabalpur and of course Amarkantak if you want to see Narmada in all her glory.


  22. This is a wonderful travelog!
    Enjoyed it thoroughly!


    1. I do hope sincerely that you are not pulling my leg about it being a travelogue 😛 But I will take the comment at face value! Glad to know you enjoyed it.


  23. I, so toally, agree with what you said about sipping Ganga water and not getting infected. I think that says something about faith. A few years back, I went to Varnasi with my brother and found the city not so clean and what not. But there is something more to the city and Ganga than the filth that you see around you and that is what makes your experience surreal, IMO. One of my pet dreams is to move to a small town in Uttaranchal and stay near Ganga Ma…

    On that note, you might want to read/listen to this NPR story done a few years back on Ganga: It is a 6 part story that not just talks about Ganga & its spiritual importance, but also why the water from Ganga is one of the only one (atleast that I know of) which when stored in a closed container for ages does not putrefy. A nice listen, when you have the time.


    1. Meant to say, “A nice listen, if you have the time”.


    2. Faith is what makes humankind go on, whether it is in a Higher Being, oneself or someone whom we trust. Varanasi makes you feel a part of aeons of our country’s heritage and culture, doesn’t it? when I go to these places, I like to go to the ancient temples but sitting by the river is what I really love. Living on the banks of Ganga, especially before she comes down to the plains is not such an unreachable dream after all. All the best!

      I will surely watch the video. And the correction to the comment was not needed: it should be ‘when’ and not ‘if’. 😀 Thanks for sharing.


      1. I agree with you; being in Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in the world, makes you feel connected and you bask in the glow of spirituality/bhakti just by your mere presence there. Thank you for your wishes and hopefully, one day will get there!

        🙂 It is not a video but just an audio feature.


        1. I still haven’t got round to opening the link. So the mistake 🙂


  24. Very nicely written!!! I was there a few months ago… and you are right!!! The feeling is really surreal and blissful… Amazing post… Loved Nilkanth as well and the most beautiful experience was the evening prayer at Rishikesh, Parmarth Temple… Maha Aarti there is so peaceful.. Isn’t it/


    1. Thanks Srinivas! The peace and tranquility has to be experienced first hand. It was but a feeble attempt to chronicle the emotions. Ganga is truly amazing.


  25. HI, lovely post and I can so relate what you have written about Ganga. I went there in February this year and I felt very similar.

    I think spirituality is such an abused word and yet it holds so many myriad meaning for us in our own unique and very personal ways.

    by the way, I listened to you and uploaded my picture as the header on my blog. have a look when you are free.


    1. Ganga is truly amazing and one has to experience the feeling. No amount of writing will do justice to the emotions one feels on her banks. You are right about spirituality being a much abused term. It has mostly been reduced to mere ‘rituality’ today.

      I will hop right over to your blog and feast on your smile 🙂


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