Located in the northern part of India, archeologists place the existence of civilization in Haridwar since 1700 BC. The reason for its religious significance is the holy Ganga River (Ganges River). Haridwar is one of the first places that the Ganga emerges from the mountains and touches the planes. Therefore, the water is crystal clean and cool. The ancient scriptures of Hinduism convey that the river is sanctified by the presence of Hindu deities. This brief religious background stresses the importance of Haridwar to Hinduism and Indian culture.
It was the summer of 2007, my family and I along with close friends, took a summer trip to India. Usually when we travel to India, it is to visit family, friends, and to shop. But this year, my mom wanted to do something special together as a family. So we decided to go sightseeing…in our own home country! At first thought the notion seemed ridiculous, but by the end of the trip, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The trip included stops all over northern India. We traveled from the low-leveled coastline, all the way up to the Himalayan Mountains, and back down finishing at the mighty Taj Mahal. Along the way, there was one stop though that particularly stood out to me. Halfway through the eighteen day journey, we reached the city of Haridwar.
Two intensely hot, busy days were spent by our party in Haridwar. The entire first day was spent traveling to temples all over the city. Following a tour guide who we had hired earlier in the day from Haridwar’s Tourist Center, our expedition began. We traveled from high ground to low ground, riding the creaky white monorails as a convenient method of transportation. On one specific turn, my friends and I wished to see how flexible the moving monorail was. QUITE A FRIGHTENING EXPERIENCE. We ended up on the ground of the lift with our heads between our knees sitting in the fetal position scared stiff. The monorail operators at the end of the ride were laughing hysterically at our experiment and its unexpected outcome.
The following morning we rose early to participate in something very few Hindu believers get to do in their lifetime. Exiting our hotel, the early sun was still rising in the east as we headed towards the banks of the Ganga River. We could have had the luxury of riding the tour bus, but the parents decided to enjoy the setting and walk there. It was not far, but convincing 8 youngsters to go walking at 6 o’clock in the morning was quite the challenge. Upon reaching the banks, we stripped down to just our shorts and got into the water. Then a Hindu pundit (priest) came and showed us what we had to do. The process of bathing in the Ganga is one that makes an individual “pavitra”, or sin-less. It is the equivalent of being baptized. While we took turns submerging our bodies underwater, the pundit recited ancient mantras on dharma.
Every evening, it is customary for all the visitors and residents of Haridwar to gather on the banks of the Ganga River and do Aarti. Aarti is the lighting of an oil lamp when offering prayers to God. Even though the setting sun was darkening the city, the banks of the river were as bright as day. As every family did Aarti and sent it down the river, the light shining was that of God’s own brilliance. It was a beautiful sight that I don’t think I will ever forget.
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