Day 4: March 17th, 2017
Earlier, while drawing up our Uttarakhand tour programme, Rishikesh and Haridwar were proposed to be covered on our return trip from Dehradun for Gurgaon.
We had 3 days of truly relaxed, wonderful time at Dehradun, visiting Mussoorie and spending a full day amidst hills was an experience that’s simply unforgettable and right in Dehradun amidst iconic FRI and IMA imbibing the freshness of greenery and the surrounding fresh air, was the kind of get away we were looking forward to for a long time.
As planned for the final leg of our tour, we intended to check out from FRI guest house early morning after breakfast. However, by the time we were actually able to complete the formality and settle our bills, it was well past 9.00 am.
Returning from Dehradun, we needed to take a different route for Rishikesh and Haridwar. Leaving behind this city, driving on the state highway for miles together with thickly populated areas confronting us almost all along the way, made the driving less pleasurable; more often Anurag needed to slow down and drive with caution. This stretch, we realised, was quite in contrast to the one we had travelled earlier while on way to Dehradun; national highway linking the ascending ghat road offered a beautiful and enjoyable drive all the way which we found altogether missing while driving on this route.
After nearly an hour’s drive, however, we came across a place where a road sign pointing to the road on the left side read, the way to Dehradun airport. This domestic airport Jolly Grant Airport, is about 22 km from Dehradun, 20 km from Rishikesh and 30 km from Haridwar. It, in a way, meant that the traffic congestion all along we came across since we had left Dehradun had resulted in covering this sector in nearly double the time than under the normal circumstance. It also implicitly seemed suggesting the government to take immediate steps for widening and upgrading of this road from airport to state capital to have much faster and better link.
Talking of Dehradun airport, one is reminded of a critical role it had played as center of operations for rescue efforts in evacuating pilgrims from Kedarnath and surrounding pilgrimage sites during 2013 Uttarakhand floods. This airport otherwise handling just over a dozen flights a day was pressed into service to handle over 100 flights daily and aircraft movement on some days, most comprising Indian Air Force aircraft, chartered flights and private jets ferrying VIPs. This may go down in the record book of this airport as the most significant achievement ever in rescue operations following a massive natural disaster.
From this place, in the final stretch to reach Rishikesh we passed through a few kilometers of forest areas that served to provide us with a welcome relief after the grind we had driving through the crowded roads. Reaching Rishikesh around 11.00 am, we noticed, the small hilly place that used to be sparsely populated some 30 years ago during our earlier visit, this time round seemed somewhat bursting at its seam having developed into something like a small compact township. The roads, however, continue to be narrow as before, and at many places police constables were seen deputed to regulate traffic movement while at other for diversion of vehicular traffic to ensure one-way movement to avoid traffic jam.
Rishikesh is the starting point for yatra to four Chhota Char Dham – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The sacred Ganga River flows through this place and in fact, here the river leaves the Shiwalik Hills in the Himalayas and flows into the plains of northern India.
Rishikesh sometimes nicknamed ‘Yoga Capital of the World’ has numerous yoga centres for tourists. The tourists from all over the world are attracted to this place for yoga, river- rafting and travelling beyond to other locations in Himalayas.
Our aim was to reach ‘Lakshman Jhula’, a land mark iron-rope suspension bridge of this place in existence for a very long time now. Passing through the narrow crowded roads, we often needed the assistance from local residents for the route to follow till we reached the road running parallel along the banks of river Ganga. Driving further on this road towards river’s upstream wasn’t smooth either, it was too crowded, the road being single just wide enough for allowing vehicles in a row to move along. Finding a car parking space on this road posed hell of a problem. However, on reaching the site of ‘Ram Jhula’ (a replica of Lakshman Jhula lying further upstream) relatively recently built, we found a paid car parking site here to our great relief.
On getting off the car, we realised that for reaching the ‘Ram Jhula’ meant one needed to negotiate several steps downhill leading up to it as the road level is approx at a height of 30-40 feet from this bridge. Two of us decided to stay back and consoled ourselves for having been to Lakshman Jhula during our earlier visit. Joining a small stream of other tourists Shweta, Anurag and Shubhika ventured to visit it, they had the feel of this new suspension bridge, had some photos taken before returning and rejoining us after about half an hour.
Several temples – ancient and new – were seen along the banks of river Ganga here.
We decided to skip visiting Lakshman Jhula as it was getting more crowded on this road with both domestic and foreign tourists thronging this area every passing minute. A few mid- sized vehicles were seen carrying over their roofs the modern small plastic fibre boats and related appendages, thereby suggesting that the river- rafting season was very much on.
For us, going further ahead up to Lakshman Jhula would have meant spending here an hour more in the least and consequently getting delayed for our next stop.
We headed for Haridwar around 12.15 pm. The distance of approx 25 km, all along in the midst of busy traffic on a narrow road and through the crowded localities, could be covered after nearly 45 minutes drive. Later, someone pointed it out that we should have taken NH 58 while driving out from Rishikesh for Haridwar to save on time and to avoid traffic of the old route.
Rishikesh – Haridwar, as it is, located adjoining side-by-side may simply appear to be wearing a tag of twin holy places and the visiting tourists often prefer to visit both.
Haridwar is the place where river Ganga enters in plain areas of northern India after flowing through some 250 km from its origin in Gaumukh (Gangotri Glacier). It’s an ancient city and is one of the most sacred cities in India. This place, the Shaivaites (devotees of Lord Shiva) prefer to call it as ‘Hardwar’; the Vaishnavaites (devotees of Lord Vishnu), as ‘Haridwar’ while a general perception is that it derives its name as ‘Har ka Dwar’ (gateway to Lord’s place) meaning thereby a ‘belief’ that after one takes a holy dip in river Ganga here and thus washing off all his sins, goes straight to heaven on one’s death.
Haridwar is one of the four sites of Kumbh mela every 12 years (the others being Prayag, Nashik and Ujjain). History of Haridwar Kumbh mela dates to early 1600s and the last Kumbh mela here happened in 2010.
On entering Haridwar and on our way to ‘Har ki Paudi’ – the traditional venue for taking a holy dip in river Ganga and for offering puja – we noticed the work of widening of the existing road to make the same 4 lane, in progress in a big way in this sector. Apparently, over the years, it may seem, this small holy city that has continued to attract the visitors in large numbers – both domestic and foreigners – thus compelling the administration for developing and upgrading infrastructure facilities to keep pace. Many new hotels and Dharmshalas have since come up apart from the roads linking to river banks also getting spruced up.
For reaching Har ki Paudi, unlike in the past, we needed to take a route leading to the newly constructed road flyover running parallel to far end of the river bank; at the end of this flyover is a huge newly built covered vehicles parking site. It seemed to have a capacity to park approx 1000 cars at a time. This, in a way, also seemed suggesting about the ever rising volume of tourist traffic and the number of devotees visiting this place almost round the year. This, we felt, quite in contrast to a situation decades ago when we could walk leisurely on city roads; spend hours, sitting on the steps along the river bank and gazing at the fast flowing crystal clear river water and later joining the evening ‘Aarti’ in a small temple located here.
From this vehicle- parking- site walking across under the flyover we reached Har ki Paudi; climbing over the steps of the bridge connecting the river banks, we reached the other side that’s in the closer proximity of the township. This river bank is where visitors and pilgrims largely prefer to take holy dip and offer puja.
Around mid day we were on this venue, with sun shining bright the number of visitors and those taking holy dip in river were seen to be relatively less. We took a stroll here, spent some time and reverentially felt the holy Ganga water before collecting it in a few bottles to be taken back home.
Looking at the nearby Mansa Devi hill we could notice that the facility of electrically-operated cable cars ferrying pilgrims to this temple and back that we had availed of during our earlier visit, was no longer there, perhaps withdrawn altogether. A void was, therefore, felt for not being able to visit this temple.
After having spent some time at Har ki Paudi, taking a look at the nearby hotels and restaurant for lunch we found many of them in a row quite close to and facing the river bank. The one, however, that easily caught our attention was ‘Chotiwala Hotel’, a small budget hotel that had got into prominence and popularity by making its presence felt first at Rishikesh decades ago. This time round finding its presence in Haridwar was a pleasant surprise. It has a seating capacity for approx 100 and around the time we reached it was nearly one-fourth full. Its decor is too simple and furniture the most modest one but what counted more for us was the very prompt service and reasonably good preparations of the veg food items served on the table.
While leaving this hotel after settling the bill noticing an old lady managing the cash counter left everyone of us immensely impressed; presumably she appeared the owner (or perhaps part of the owners’ family) who seemed to believe in taking up responsibility and in taking up a leadership role at that – this perhaps also seemed suggesting as an instance of women- empowerment in modern day parlance.
At the time of conclusion of our 4-day- long tour of Uttarakhand, while at Haridwar it was getting 3.00 pm, it was time for us to get on with our return journey to Delhi. Driving on a national highway out of this holy city, in its outskirt on either side of the road for miles, one could see almost continuous row of buildings – both commercial and residential – in different stages of development. Driving further ahead, we could see a chain of yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s various establishments – farmlands, factory, medical college & hospital et al– all bearing a brand name of ‘Patanjali’. Ancient small Haridwar city lying at one end seemed all set for its other end to develop into a modern township in a foreseeable future.
The road all along was in a good shape that made the driving relatively relaxed and comfortable. Passing through Roorkee, unlike none- too happy experience earlier on our way to Dehradun, this time was an easy comfortable drive as it seemed bypassing the main city area.
By the time we reached Ghaziabad it had started getting dark and that made the driving a little slower through the busy traffic. On entering Delhi, we needed to further slow down as vehicular traffic during evening hours here is otherwise known to pick up. Our target to reach Gurgaon by dinner time apparently went for a toss while struggling to drive through the Delhi roads. Therefore, on reaching south Delhi area we had some quick bite at McDonald’s and we could reach our home in Gurgaon around 10.00 pm, say, after over 12 hours ( including nearly 4 hours of stopover at Rishikesh and Haridwar ) since having left Dehradun in the morning around 9.00 am.
At the close of our short trip of a newly carved out hilly state, Uttarakhand, a day later, sitting quite at ease at home we were obviously keen to reflect on and to have our own appraisal of the days spent; we exchanged notes of our individual experiences. We all agreed that this hilly state has on offer to suit the varied interests of tourists visiting the four places that we had covered.
Close to Dehradun, Mussoorie in particular provide an ideal family get away almost round the year; to escape from heat during summer; to continue enjoying the walk on Mall road during snowfall in winter; to have a feel of having a great time during spring season; to have a distinctive feeling during rains; and above all, soaking in an eco-friendly environment all the while any time of the year – all combine to make Mussoorie truly justifying a tag of ‘Queen of Hills’ given to it.
Rishikesh for its numerous yoga centres takes care of the tourists keen on having healthy exercise regime and an ideal escape away from the strains and stress of the day-to-day life. The pilgrims visiting this place have their hands full while aiming to cover all the temples over here.
The younger lot of tourists keen on adventure sports have an elaborate facility available here for river rafting during months of March – May till the monsoon arrives.
Haridwar is a holy city having its history dating back to centuries and draws a regular flow of pilgrims round the year. During the 12 yearly ‘Purna Kumbh’ and 6 yearly ‘Ardh Kumbh’ periods, it wears a festive look for weeks together.
All in all, therefore, closing our travelogue we are inclined to part with our strong recommendations for tourists of varied age groups and/or of diverse interests to go for the quartet of: Dehradun – Mussoorie – Rishikesh – Haridwar to include in their itinerary when thinking of a family or a group get away.
Neeraj, our youngest son who is an Architect, having been unable to join us on this trip owning to his prior commitments, joining our conversation was keen to know as to how was Anurag behind steering wheel throughout. Getting to know that it was largely hassle-free and smooth, he was seen nodding in appreciation.