Thursday, 8 March 2012

Hardwar, Rishikesh - Gateway To Devbhoomi, Garhwal Himalayas


Hardwar can be called gateway to Devbhoomi and is accessible round the year. It’s easy connectivity with North Indian cities and towns by rail and road make people from all walks of life, spend a few days on the bank of the holy river Ganges. The Har– Ki–Pairi happens to be the focal point for the pilgrims to visit Ganga Mandir, have a holy deep in river Ganges and watch the famous Ganga Aarti in the evening. Mention of Ganga Aarrti, takes me back to the summer of 2008, when we stayed for a day at this holy place. Early morning saw us taking a 2 km trek to Manshadevi temple on the hill. A cable trolley runs for pilgrims to take them to the top, from the town. But, the booking is very heavy, hence never really had an opportunity of riding it, even after half a dozen of visits. On the trek route, the monkeys are a sure shot menace, if you are carrying any food stuff along with you. The view from Manshadevi temple of Haridwar town and Ganga flowing in a number of streams with island in between, is awesome. After darshan, we come down around noon time and enter one of the restaurants near Har–ki–pairi
Manshadevi Temple, Hardwar
Hardwar restaurants, serve mostly vegetarian North Indian cuisine, but one finds that cleanliness is not their priority. The sheer volume of pilgrims, see the eateries make a booming business, in spite of poor get up. Those who have a sweet tooth, will relish ‘rabdi’ dished out by even seedy looking restaurants. As far as lodging is concerned, there are far too many hotels near Railway station, bus depot or Har–ki–Pairi. The GMVNL web site offer online booking for one of the good hotels namely Rahi Motel. This huge hotel is situated in a sprawling compound, full of trees and blooming garden equidistant and walking distance from railway station and bus stand. The double rooms with air cooler are nice and comfortable.
Rahi Motel, Hardwar

When we reached Har–ki–pairi by 5 pm, the place was already teeming with people. We managed to sit in the hot sun, covering ourselves with newspaper, on the man made island, facing Ganga mandir. The climate became stuffy as the crowds swelled, and we were part of a sea of humanity, waiting for the grand spectacle to begin. At 6.30 pm, pujaris holding lamp-stands, with lighted lamps, standing on the steps on the Ganga bank, began Aarti amidst chantings. Barely ten minutes into the Aarati weather turned cloudy and hostile with gusty winds blowing. Expectedly, the heavens opened up. The crowd became restless but held on to their ground, some holding plastic sheets to cover themselves. The ground becoming wet, soon it was no longer possible to be seated. Another five minutes and the Aarti ended some what abruptly and then the race started. Crowd just bolted so fast towards the shelter of the sweet – meat shops near by, putting to shame Usain Bolt’s hundred meter dash in World Athletics meet!
 
There we were, standing under the canopy of a shop selling all types of snacks and sweets one can think of. Just to show to the shopkeeper that we were grateful for the shelter, bought a packet of ‘kurkure’. My camera bag was totally wet; water seeped inside to wet my digicam. We were fully drenched, like wet crows, forlornly watching rain water drops falling on snow white Faluda vermicelli, resting on ice slab. The shop owner, did not attempt to remove the delicacy to a safer place. Water from heaven, can surely cause no contamination to food stuff meant for consumption of pious pilgrims in this holy town! 

Back to Rahi Motel, my first priority was to check my digicam, whether it was fit to be used again? As luck would have it, the device lost non of its potency, such is the ‘mahima’ of heavenly blessings in Devbhoomi!

If Haridwar can be called the Gateway to Devbhoomi, then Rishikesh is the first step. From Rishikesh, one starts climbing the hills, to visit various religious shrines. Having visited Rishikesh at least half a dozen of times in summer,I felt far more comfortable compared to Haridwar. The number of pilgrims was definitely less. The place is well spread out on both sides of the Ganges. There are far too many hotels, and guest houses of various categories to suit the taste of every individual and budget. I prefer to stay at Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam, which has two guest houses, one at Bharatbhoomi, and second one at Muni-ki-Reti, called Rishilok. Bharatbhoomi complex is the new one which has come up within last six years or so. It is a multi-storied cement–brick structure, good air-cooled, a/c or non-a/c rooms. The front portion has a lawn where one can relax in the evenings. However, Rishilok, located at Muni-ki-Reti is ideal retreat, for nature lovers. The sprawling complex is very old but is full of trees, beautiful gardens and landscaped lawns. All the guest rooms are part of two storied structures, has balcony in deluxe rooms, with air coolers (Rs. 1000/- per day). In summer, the first floor rooms, below the terrace, certainly gets heated and air coolers take away some of the heat. In this respect, there is a better option. The economy rooms costing Rs.600/- per day, located on ground floor, with air coolers, is certainly value for money. In day time, rooms have a comfortable temperature, in night, you may require to wrap yourself in blanket, with air coolers on! On the flip side you have to do with Indian style toilets.
Rishilok, Rishikesh

If you are a foodie and did not find worthwhile restaurant with good food combined with great ambience in Hardwar, Rishikesh will not disappoint you. If you are holed up at GMVNL, Muni-ki-reti, and care to walk about 20 minutes, you will reach Ramjhoola. If you are crossing Ganges in the evening, via Ramjhoola, reaching the opposite bank, you can not miss two funny looking models!
Model at Chotiwala

They have been positioned there, grease–paint and choti et al, to entice the customers, to enter the Chotiwala restaurants. There are two Chotiwala’s, the real one and the other, a look –alike. We found the second one with a healthy looking model, ‘gol-matol’, to our fancy and take a chance. The ambience is just superb and can vie with famed restaurants of Delhi or Mumbai. There are several halls; we enter the air conditioned one. The cuisine is basically North Indian and South Indian. ‘Thali’ dinner is classified into North Indain, South Indian, Gujrati and Bengali. I could not resist trying a Bengali ‘thali’ which included ‘gawa ghee’ and ‘rosogolla’ and savored the meal. We found the damages not so high, considering the ambiance of the restaurant and quality of food!
  
Rishikesh abounds in Temples and Ashrams, but you can not miss Laxman Jhoola. Walking over the suspended bridge erected in the year 1939, you will observe so many motorboats and rafts criss crossing over river Ganges.  There is a ghat where you can buy ticket and have one of those pleasant journeys in motor boats, over Ganges. Reaching the other side of the Ganges, in a serene calm environs, will be soothing for every soul. The multi-storied temple, Parmarth Niketan, Swargashram and Geeta Bhavan will keep you busy. There are many bunglows, located in green natural environs, air temperature in summer will be a few degrees lower here and you will wish to stay put there, if you had the choice. There are too many stalls selling Rudraksha, gem stones, curios, gift items along Laxmanjhoola road. The walk could be a long and tiring one if one is not used to it. As the dusk sets in, do not be surprised, if you hear a group of rustic villagers singing bhajan, accompanied by dhol, khol and kartal, in a compound. After satisfying their souls and others around them, they have a proper arrangement for having a simple bhojan. After all, in Indain psyche, Bhajan and Bhojan go together!
There is a regular jeep shuttle service in Laxman jhoola road, from Laxman jhoola end to Ram Jhoola end, but then you miss out on the finer elements in this holy town of ‘Rishikesh-on-other-bank’.   

Evening time is ideal to visit Triveni Ghat for Ganga aarti. If you have missed the spectacle at Hardwar, this will certainly impress you. Just doing nothing, and seating on rocks in shallow stretch of Ganges, will give you a calmness which you desperately needed in your daily grind in you home town.

Rishikesh is a place to arrange for your onward transport to Garhwal–Himalayan destinations. Whether you are heading for Kedar–Badri, Gangotri–Yamunotri, Hemkund Sahib or innumerable other destinations, the hotel/guest house receptionists are adept in finding you a transport organizer. If you want to take Uttarakhand Roadway’s rickety buses, head for the bus stand, and you will get the relevant info. There are private buses too for discerning travelers. I have no experience of either. As we were mostly in groups of four, took an Ambassador taxi at a pre-determined total cost, including driver. The advantage of ambassador is the copious space for luggage. The Ambassadors getting extinct, Tata Indica and Maruti Alto, suitable for a group of four will cost around Rs.2,000/- per day. Larger groups can avail of bigger car like Sumo and Qualis, which will cost  Rs. 2,800/- per day.

* Author shot video clips standing on Laxman Jhoola over the Ganges, recording the activity like speed boating and views of temples in the vicinity of river bank which can be accessed through the captioned link: Rishikesh - View From Laxmanjhoola

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