A drop of heavenly nectar and the footprint of Vishnu



Posted on 25 March 2010  | 
After a while living in Delhi I plucked up the courage to travel further afield and take weekend trip to visit Haridwar and Rajaji National Park. I was originally planning on travelling by train as it is quicker and probably much more comfortable, but it turned out they were all booked up and there was a ‘waiting list’ so I got the details for bus transport instead. I knew it would be a long journey and I wanted to arrive in time to enjoy the day so I woke up early and left my flat in South Delhi when it was still dark outside. The streets were very quiet but luckily I managed to find and auto quite quickly and started my journey.

When I arrived at the station it was bustling with people and there were buses everywhere. Apparently there was a particular stand for buses to Haridwar but I had no idea where that was so I just asked around and gradually made it in the right direction and found myself sitting on a bus. I had been told that there were different grades of bus from ‘general’, to super deluxe, to Volvo......but I didn’t see any off the ‘good’ buses and so got on the only thing available which was definitely a ‘locals’ bus. It was rather old and rusted with slide across windows and no other non Indians, but I was comfortable enough and settled down for my long journey. I saw towns and villages and forest and agriculture, and even a big buffalo market. Guess how much this 6 hour bus journey cost me?......you’ll never believe it.....Rs 125!!! Which is equivalent to £1.65!! How crazy is that – the best thing about general buses! What also amazes me is that on a map of India I only moved a tiny distance, this country is so HUGE!!

When we arrived I straight away felt the difference from Delhi, almost no cars, very few autos, but loads of cycle rickshaws, horses and cows. All the streets were lined with shops and market stalls and were bustling with people. Delhi is so big that every area is really different, but here I felt that I could really soak up the atmosphere of the town from just walking down the street. It is said that in the place where Haridwar stands the god Vishnu dropped some heavenly nectar and left his footprint so it is the destination of many Hindu pilgrimages. Some way along the road there was a side street, which led up to the base of a hill. At the top of this hill is a Hindu temple called Mansa Devi and running up to it is a cable car. I decided to take this trip and bought my temple offering and my cable car ticket and set off. Everyone moved through the temple in a procession line going through various stages of ritual that I didn’t really understand. I had my head marked with one thing, then another, prayers said, my forehead pressed, and ash thrown around me. We then moved forward to give the offering which consisted of a coconut, some incense, and a few other random things which I had no idea how they would use.

Once back in the town I made my way to Hari-Ki-Pari a famous temple on the Ganges. When I eventually emerged down at the river side I saw where the central life of the town was. Throngs of people were walking around, bathing in the water or sitting in small groups and there were brightly coloured saris everywhere. It was now early evening and lots of people were arriving for an evening ritual which takes place on the river called an Aarti. Hundred of people lined the water side and a loud speaker from the temple called out various prayers. Lots of people were lighting the puja offerings and sending them down the river and all of the colours and lights and people were amazing to see.

The next morning I was up before it was light again to get ready for my drive to Rajaji National Park. The sun gradually came up as we drove towards the park and I decided that I love driving at dawn and seeing everything wake up and come to life. It was the first day of opening the park for the new season after the rains so there were lots of officials and journalists around. As soon as we had entered the park I straight away saw some spotted deer which were lovely – just like Bambi. The early light was beautiful and the landscape was stunning. We drove for almost three hours and the park seemed to stretch on forever. It was unlike any wildlife drive that I’ve been on before as although there were some open areas, a lot of the driving was through thick forest which was very dramatic – but also very hard to spot wildlife. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see any elephants but I did see a tiger pug mark, more spotted dear, Sombar deer (the biggest in India), wild pigs, peacocks, eagles, hornbills, and lots of other birds.
Worshippers bathing in the River Ganges in Hardiwar
© WWF / Hannah Chisholm Enlarge

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