Amritsar to Haridwar By Train.
After a long train ride, we joined the Ganga Aarti Ceremony – an ancient Hindu ritual performed at Har Ki Pauri ghat in Haridwar at sunset. “Ganga Aarti” means “prayer for the River Ganga” and is a devotional ceremony to the sacred Ganges River which is believed to be the divine mother of India. The Ganga/Ganges is a holy river in India. It is worshiped as a goddess. It is providing life in the form of water to India. At the Ganga Aarti, candles are set on the water to drift downstream. A large number of people gather on both the banks of river Ganges to sing its praises. Pilgrims make symbolic offerings of cotton, milk, honey, refined butter and curd into the Ganga before taking their blessings from priests. The priests hold large fire bowls in their hands, the bells in the temples at the Ghat start ringing and the chants flowing out of lips fill the air. Sanskrit chanting and poems follow. The ceremony concludes as pilgrims place “diyas” (small candles) and floats of flowers in the river as a final offering to the Goddess Ganga.
Back at our hotel New Year’s Eve celebrations were very noisy – a lot of chanting & went on late into the night – I love my noise cancelling headphones!
We set off very early to visit the Rajaji National Park which is situated along the foothills of Shiwalik ranges in the Himalayan foothills and spans an area of 820sq km. The park is home to an abundance of wildlife including 400 birds species alongside mammals such as Cheetal, Barking deer, Asian Elephants, Jackal, Hyena and some more exclusive species such as the Royal Bengal Tiger and Leopards. We saw a lot of deer & peacocks, elephant footprints & poo as well as tiger footprints. It made a nice change to see a park with absolutely no plastic rubbish anywhere.
We visited Rishikesh, a town in the lower Himalayas, which is surrounded by hills on three sides with the Holy Ganges flowing through it. The town is sacred to Hindu pilgrims and the Yoga capital of the world. Mum could not persuade Dad & I to do any yoga.
We crossed a very busy old suspension foot-bridge and had to fight our way past people, cows and motorbikes.
Then we caught an equally busy boat back across the river but this time without the cows!
We explored Laxman Jhula, the older part of Rishikesh, Ram Jhula, which is the latest addition, and visited Parmarth Niketan Ashram, where you can stay, attend the International Yoga Celebrations & which has adopted many deprived children (educates them and helps them find jobs).
In the evening we again witnessed the aarti ceremony at Triveni Ghat; a smaller, ceremony than the previous night.
We visited the Maya Devi Temple, which is a Hindu temple dedicated to goddess Maya. It is believed that the heart and navel of goddess Sati fell in the region where the temple stands today and thus it is sometimes referred to as a Shakti Peetha.
Back at the ghat it was interesting to watch the immersion of cremated remains into the holy River Ganges. The rituals also include the head shaving of usually the eldest son of the deceased but sometimes other male members of the family.
We also rode a cable car to see the views over the ghats from up high. If the painting of the machinery was indicative of it’s general level of maintenance, then I think we can say it was very safe indeed.