Ganges Darshan from Rishikesh and Haridwar

Ganges, the life line of North India, starts at a humble origin from Gangotri glacier from the Dhouladhar range of the Himalayas! Mythology describes Ganga as the Consort of Lord Shiva and the epic Mahabharata says Ganga is the mother of Bhishma. 

Stories from the great epic Mahabharata stays evergreen for me, mainly because it brings back vivid memories of childhood, where my grandpa used to tell us stories in such a way that we could feel as if it was happening in real-time! It was no wonder that the first time I saw Ganges flowing majestically at the foothills of Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world, it was like dejavu. 

Ganges - from Rishikesh - Lakshman Jula bridge in the background
She leaves the mountain terrain and enters the Indo Gangetic Plains at Har Ka Pauri in Hardiwar, Uttrakhant and travels more than 2500 KM in India and merges in the Bay of Bengal. Unfortunately, the crystal clear water starts getting polluted as it flows down the mountains. But, At one end of the spectrum, people keep polluting and at the same time they offer tribute to her at several places twice a day. Ramblings apart, it was a great experience to see the tribute, popularly known as Ganga arathy. 

We planned to see the Ganga arathy at Har ka puri, Haridwar. There is also a temple for Ganga.

Though the ritual takes place in a canal of Ganga, she flows with great force. There were thousands of people waiting in both sides of the bank. We were on the side of the bank where the priests and the deity were. 
Ganga canal @ Har ka Pauri, Haridwar
As the crowd was heavy, we were wondering how to get closer. At that time, we were approached by a local who was offering to take us nearer. Having traveled to several cities in this part of the country, obviously we knew that he was a tout who would be leading us to a local priest. So, we told him that we were not interested in any pooja, but he said that it is enough if we bought the lamp and flowers for Rs 10. Though we were aware that we may have to pay more once we get closer, we took a chance in the hope of watching up close. Well, the tout handed us over to a local priest, who said we can pay anything we wish to perform the pooja.
Pandits of Ganga Sabha chanting slokhas before Ganga Aarthi
The Ganga arathy is performed twice a day, at sunrise and sunset by the priests of Ganga sabha. The timing differs during summer and winter. While the priests chant slokas in praise and thanking her, rituals happen in front of the idol of Goddess Ganga
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The whole ritual takes about an hour. As we attended the evening session during winter, it started and around 5.30 PM and after the chant, the priests offered auspicious things like haldi, milk, honey, sugar, curd, ghee and flowers in small quantities. At the same time, the local priest made us do sangalp and asked us to light and float the lamp. 

Now, the aarthy too started. The whole place looked divine and heavenly. The aarthy is performed few times, using tiered wick lamps.
First round of aarthy

Maha aarthy
As the ceremony was coming to an end, the local priest started demanding high fee and after haggling we ended up paying Rs 200. 

Even after the end of the ceremony, we could feel the positive vibes and lingered around the banks for a while. It was a spectacular experience. 


Mussoorie Musings

When I started exploring on places to visit in and around Haridwar I came across the term gharwali food. First, I thought that gharwali food must be homemade food as 'gharwali' means homemaker in Hindi. Then I stumbled upon Gharwal range of Himalayas! This intrigued me and further reading led me to Mussoorie.

Gharwal pronounced as ghaduwal refers to ethnic people who live in and around Gharwal or Mussoorie range of Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Mussoorie, locally pronounced as Masuri is a beautiful hill station nestled in the Gharwal range, which is part of Shiwalik range of Himalayas and the Doon valley. Allured by these geological factors and tempted to try the new gastronomical delights, we decided to visit Mussoorie along with our Haridwar and Rishikesh trip. 

Mussoorie is just about 35 KM from the Uttarakand state capital Dheradun. Due to the rough terrain, the roads leading up are very narrow with some sharp hairpin bends and takes about 2 hours to reach the town. The drive is through one of the best scenic routes in India, which covers lush green forests, valleys and endless mountain ranges.   

View of Mussoorie 
Mussoorie happens to be on the Indo Tibetan border and oversees the Doon valley and the altitude is about 6000+ ft., so the weather is cool throughout the year with chill winters. We reached Mussoorie around 3.00 PM and it was very cold with low visibility, still I was able to capture decent pictures of the beautiful Doon valley.

There are few tourist spots, but we had planned just a day, so we were interested only in a couple of spots. Out of the two, first we went to the Mussoorie Lake, which turned out to be a big joke. About 5 minutes of trekking down through steep steps led us to a minuscule dirty pond with few ducks and pedal boats. Since morning, we had driven for more than 6 hrs., that too via poor roads. Therefore we decided to call it a day and relax.    

Mussoorie lake/pond
By 5.00 PM, it started getting dark and we headed to our resort, which was another 4 KM uphill. We followed the Google map towards the resort. To our dismay, we were stuck in the traffic. All the cars were trying to reverse due to a roadblock ahead. By then it was completely dark and our mobile signal was too weak and GPS refused to load the map. We were unable to locate the alternate road that the resort help desk told us. Finally, resort staff agreed to come down and get us. Our room was very cozy and had a great bay window, but we could not see anything, as it was pitch dark. We ordered Gharwali food, Phari Rajma and Phari fish. The food was too good, tangy and spicy. Next day, we woke up very early and while sipping hot tea, we watched a beautiful sunrise from our bay window. Slowly, the Gharwal Range came into view and it was a bliss! 

Gharwal Range view from the resort
Our plan was to go to Lal Tibba (red mountain) in Landour area, which was another 7 km uphill from Mussoorie. The roads were too steep and narrow. Twice we faced roadblocks and had to retrace the way up. It was all worth, because the views were breath taking!

Lal Tibba is the highest point in Mussoorie and it has the Indian military base station. At the viewpoint, military base has installed telescopes to view the majestic Himalayan peaks. 
Gharwal Range in the foreground
A friendly volunteer helped us to identify the chaar dham (4 pilgrimage) in the snow-clad Dhouladhar Range! 

Snow-clad Dhouladhar Range in the background
The snout seen in the above picture is the Goumukh, the starting point of the holy Ganges from the Gangotri glacier. The peak on to the left is Yamunotri. We also watched Kedarnath and Badrinath. 

I was spell bound for quite some time after viewing these gorgeous beauties. Now, there is a yearning to do the chaar dham yatra. 
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