Saying Goodbye to the Ganga at the Gateway to God
Not exactly the lesser-known neighbor, Haridwar (Dwar of Hari, or "Gateway to God") is even holier than Rishikesh -- according to Hindu mythology, this is one of the four sacred sites where a drop of the nectar of immortality (amrita) accidentally fell (at a point referred to as Brahmakund) while being carried by the mythical bird Garuda (the other three sites are Nasik, Allahabad and Ujjain). This is also the point where the Ganga river leaves the hills to enter the plains. Most time-bound tourists give this sacred site a miss and while it is by no means a necessary stop, it does have a unique atmosphere, with literally hundreds of devotees gathering daily at har-ki-pauri for the evening arti (6:30pm). Unfortunately a tad commercial, you will be approached by seemingly innocent priests and touts who will first seat you comfortably and then ask for donations "if possible" -- make your intentions to refuse clear beforehand. The ceremony isn't as elaborate as the one in Varanasi or as hypnotic as Rishikesh but it's interesting to observe the frenzied crowd, many of whom have traveled for days for this moment of devotion. That apart, the walk to har-ki-pauri, through narrow streets lined with all manner of fascinating shops (food like rabri -- sweetened milk cooked for hours; copperware; traditional white and brown ceramic martabans or jars) and a trip to the many temples to see benignly smiling Gods dressed in loud gaudy colors can make for an interesting day or two. Thankfully, there is also now a fairly decent option to stay: Haveli Hari Ganga (Pilibhit House, 2 Ramghat, Haridwar; tel. 01334-265207; www.leisurehotels.in; doubles from $100 with breakfast) is a traditional old mansion with airy courtyards, a private mini-ghat (steps leading into the river) and a temple with a morning and evening arti. Rooms are quirky -- palace architecture broken by ill-fitting modern amenities, well-sprung mattresses on concrete platforms, original tiles, alcoves and niches; the best rooms have a terrace facing the river -- delightful to watch seagulls pass by every few minutes while the Ganga glides past languidly.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.