UPPER GANGES, HARIDWAR AND IMPORTANT HINDU TEMPLES AND PILGRIMAGE SITES

GANGOTRI GLACIER: THE SOURCE OF THE GANGES

Gangotri Glacier is one of the primary sources of the Ganges and regarded by many as THE source sacred river. Located in Uttarkashi District, Uttarakhand, India in a region bordering Tibet, the glacier, is one of the largest in the Himalayas with an estimated volume of over 27 cubic kilometers. It is about 30 kilometers (19 miles) long and two to four kilometers km (one to two miles) wide. Around the glacier are the peaks of the Gangotri Group, including several peaks notable for extremely challenging climbing routes, such as Lingam, Thalay Sagar, Meru, and Bhagirathi III. It flows roughly northwest, originating in a cirque below Chaukhamba, the highest peak of the group. [Source: Wikipedia]

The terminus of the Gangotri Glacier is said to resemble a cow's mouth, and the place is called Gomukh or Gaumukh (gou, cow + mukh, face). Gomukh, which is about 19 kilometers (11.8 miles) from the town of Gangotri, is the precise source of the Bhagirathi river, an important tributary of the Ganges. Gomukh is situated near the base of Lingam; in between lies the Tapovan meadow.

The Gangotri glacier is a traditional Hindu pilgrimage site. Devout Hindus consider bathing in the icy waters near Gangotri town to be a holy ritual, and many made the trek to Gomukh, with a few continuing on to Tapovan. One needs to trek from Gangotri to Gaumukh, passing Devgadh, Chirbhasa, Bhojwasa en route. Currently accommodation is available only at Bhojwasa, although forest check posts are present at both Chirbhasa and Bhowasa. The 2013 North Indian Floods destroyed much of this trail, and access is now a little difficult beyond Chirbhasa due to trail deterioration and a two kilometer wide rockfall site.

Gangotri

Gangotri (400 kilometers north-northeast of Delhi, in Uttarakhand, 234 kilometers from Rishikesh) is nestled in the high and majestic Garhwal Himalayas. It one of the char dhams, which are considered an important pilgrimage for Hindus. It is the highest temple dedicated to Goddess Ganga. The holy River Ganges originates from the Gangotri glacier, located here, and is called Bhagirathi. The main attraction in Gangotri is the Gangotri Temple, where Goddess Ganga is worshipped. A 20-ft-high structure, the exquisite temple is made with white granite. Gangotri exudes a surreal and pious aura that attracts devotees and tourists alike. Moreover, the beautiful snow-clad mountains in the vicinity and crystal-clear waters of the Ganges add to the serenity of the place.

In addition to visiting the temples, tourists can also visit the Bhagirathi shila, which is a piece of stone where mythological king Bhagirath is believed to have meditated to seek penance for his ancestors' sins. Head to the beautiful Gaurikund and Surya Kund near the Gangotri Temple as you explore more.

Gangotri offers trekkers and mountaineers amazing opportunities to climb the majestic Garhwal Himalayas. The most popular trek is the Gangotri-Gaumukh trek, which extends to Tapovan and Nandavan. A short trek takes you to an ancient cave popularly known as the Pandava Gufa, where the Pandavas from the Hindu epic Mahabharata are believed to have meditated. Taking a trek to Dayara Bugyal, a charming meadow nestled at an elevation of around 3,000 meters above sea level, is another great option. The meadow offers great views of the mighty Himalayas.

Devaprayag is where two mountain streams rush together about a 100 miles from the Ganges source. Special chains are attached to the ghats to keep the faithful from getting swept away by the glacier-cold current.

Whitewater Rafting on the Ganges (near Devaprayag) is done between the towns of Shibapuri and Rishikesh. The rafting is exhilarating but not too intense. The most difficult rapids are rated only Class III and Class IV.

Getting There: By Air: Jolly Grant Airport is about 250 kilometers from Gangotri and is the nearest airstrip, connected to all major cities of India. By Road: Gangotri is well connected with reasonably good roads to all the major cities of Uttarakhand. By Train: The nearest railway station is in Rishikesh, about 234 kilometers from Gangotri. Rishikesh. is connected to all the major railheads of the country.

Gangotri Temple

Gangotri Temple (in Gangotri) enshrines the goddess Ganges. The water gathered from here is thought by pilgrims to be especially sacred. Pilgrims march here during the summer to gather water from the holy site and five or six sadhus (holy men) holed up in caves enclosed by two meters (six feet) of snow watch over the site during the winter. To keep warm they mediate and pray and light small fires. Gangotri Temple is located at an elevation of 10,300 feet can be reached by a winding road. Along the way are signs that read “After whisky, driving risky” and “Don’t race, don’t rally, enjoy beauty of the valley.”

Located at a height of 3,100 meters in the Himalayas, the Gangotri Temple is one of the char dhams, which are an important pilgrimage for Hindus. Dedicated to Goddess Ganga, the temple holds a very special place in the hearts of devotees. It is the highest temple dedicated to Goddess Ganga in Uttarakhand. Built in the 18th century by a Gurkha commander, the temple is an exquisite 20-ft-high structure made of white granite. It is located near a sacred stone where mythological king Bhagiratha is believed to have worshipped Goddess Ganga. According to legend, Ganga had touched earth at this spot. According to another legend, Pandavas performed the great Deva Yagna (a fire ritual) here to atone for the deaths of their kinsmen in the battle of Mahabharata. The Gangotri Temple is open from May and is closed on the day of Diwali.

Tapovan, or the forest of penance, comprises a rocky terrain, huge mountains and small streams. Perched at an altitude of 14,640 feet above sea level, it is the destination of the famous for the Gangotri-Tapovan trek. The trek is a great option for first-timers who are keen on experiencing the majestic Himalayas in all their glory. It takes one through picturesque routes, diverting beyond lush forests and into craggy mountains. If trekkers wish to explore further, they can head to the nearby Nandavan. The best time to visit this place is from April to May. The natural hot springs of Tapovan are another attraction.

Gaumukh and the Amazing Treks There

Gaumukh (reached by hiking from Gangotri Temple) is an ice cave fed by waters from the source of the Ganges, the Gangotri Glacier. Located at the mouth of the glacier, it is reached by a two-day, 11-mile hike through a stunning gorge, with views of creaking glaciers, and 20,0000-foot peaks above the raging Ganges as it twists and turns in the gorge below. The hike ascends from 10,300 feet to 13,100 feet and passes herds of wild Himalayas blue sheep and passes through forests of juniper, spruce, cedar and pine. The first camp sits below the Bhagirathi peaks, which have shear rock faces, glistening glaciers and peaks that reach 22,300 feet. Horn-like Mount Lingam is particularly stunning.

The hike to Gaumukh is also a major pilgrimage route. Among the pilgrims are many saffron-robed, barefoot sadhus. Some reportedly live year at Gaumukh and go years year without saying anything. The goal of the pilgrimage is to bath in icy waters a hundred or so feet from ice cliffs of the glacier’s mouth. Sahdu chant for the bathers. The uninitiated are shown what to do and taught the sacred mantra, given a smear of vermilion on their forehead and handful or marigold petals which they toss in the water. Bathing here, it is said, not cleanses your own soul of sin but also the souls of of seven generations of your family.

One of the classic treks of the Garhwal Himalayas is the Gaumukh-Tapovan-Nandvan circuit. A great experience for both first-timers and experts, the trek passes through the Gaumukh glacier. The Gangotri-Gaumukh trek to the place where the Ganges gushes out of a snout-like opening in the glacier can be completed in around eight hours. The trek can get tricky at some points and the last few kilometers involve passing through rocky terrain. However, a major part of the trek is fairly easy with few steep inclines.

The Gangotri-Gaumukh-Tapovan trail is rated as moderate, which means that both mountaineers and non-mountaineers can undertake the trek given they are in good health. You will pass through a number of beautiful glaciers like Gangotri, Meru and Kirti Bamak, on the way. The trek also gives an opportunity to witness some majestic peaks like Mount Lingam Peak, the Gangotri group of peaks and the Kedardome Peak. Stop at Bhojwassa for a panoramic view of the Bhagirathi group of peaks. Mount Lingam peak is one of the most amazing looking mountains in the Himalayas. Viewing the mountain in its entirety from its base to summit at Tapovan is a experience, which can be enhanced by camping at the point. If you are lucky, you will also get to see herds of blue mountain goats, known as bharal, grazing on the verdant mountains.

Kedarnath and Kedarnath Temple

Kedarnath (10 kilometers southeast of Gangotri as the crow flies, much further by road) is a prominent pilgrimage spot. Ensconced in the snow-capped Garhwal Himalayas, surrounded by a lush cover of alpine meadows and brushed by the pristine and holy Mandakini river, it is one of the char dhams, which are considered important pilgrimage destinations by Hindus, Kedarnath is said to be the abode of Lord Shiva, who is worshipped in the main shrine. Thousands of devotees from all over the country, undertake an arduous but devotional journey to reach this 3,584-meter-high temple, which is the highest of the 12 jyotirlingas (devotional shrines of Lord Shiva) in India.

Crystal clear lakes, curative hot springs and colorful valley beds of rhododendrons, make Kedarnath delightful for its nature as well as spirituality. For those who want to hike their way into the heart of the Himalayas, there are many trekking options. The most popular of these is the trek from the sacred Gaurikund to the temple and from the temple to the serene Vasuki Lake.

One of the char dhams, the Kedarnath Temple welcomes lakhs of devotees every year. The pilgrims undertake an arduous but devotional journey to reach this 3,584-m high shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is one of the 12 jyotirlingas (devotional shrines of Lord Shiva) in the country, and is thus considered specially holy. The sanctum sanctorum houses a conical rock formation that is worshipped as Lord Shiva’s Sadashiva (ever auspicious) form. This 1,000-year-old temple is made out of giant stone slabs arranged over a rectangular platform. There are inscriptions in Pali language on the steps leading to the sanctum sanctorum. The inner walls have sculptures of various gods and scenes from Hindu mythology. It is said that the temple was built in the 8th century by sage Adi Shankaracharya and has undergone several renovations over the years. Every year in November, the idol of Lord Shiva is shifted from the Kedarnath Temple to Ukhimath since the entire temple gets covered in snow during winters. In May, the idol is reinstated in Kedarnath.

There is an interesting legend behind this religious place. It is said that Lord Shiva turned himself into a bull to evade the Pandavas when they were looking for him to seek atonement for their sins after fighting the epic Mahabharata battle. When the Pandavas spotted Lord Shiva, he hid inside the ground, leaving only the hump visible on the surface of the earth.

Pilgrims trekking to the Kedarnath shrine often take a night halt at Gaurikund. The hot water spring of Gaurikund is one of the holiest sites for Hindus, who come to take a dip in it. It is believed that taking a dip in the holy water of the pond will make a person pure. Surrounded by panoramic views, Gaurikund also serves as the starting point of the famous Kedarnath temple trek. The spring lies at a height of about 6,000 feet in the Garhwal Himalayas. Devotees also visit the Gauri Devi Temple dedicated to Goddess Parvati. It is believed that this was the site where Goddess Parvati had meditated for a long time to win Lord Shiva as her husband. The area is also associated with the legend of Lord Ganesha acquiring his elephant head.

Triyuginarayan Temple temple is famous as the site where Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati. An eternal flame burning in front of the temple is said to have been a witness to this notable wedding. The temple looks a lot like the Kedarnath temple. Its sanctum houses a silver idol of Lord Vishnu, accompanied by idols of Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Badrinarayan, Goddess Sita, Lord Ramachandra and Lord Kubera. The Brahma shila in front of the temple marks the exact place of the wedding. Three sacred ponds called the Rudra Kund, Vishnu Kund and Brahma Kund are also located in the temple premises. Known for their medicinal properties, these ponds source their water from the main Saraswati Kund. It is believed that the water in the Saraswati Kund springs from the navel of Lord Vishnu. Outside the Triyuginarayan Temple lies another small shrine dedicated to Panchanama devatas. A 2 kilometers walk from the temple leads you to a cave dedicated to Goddess Gauri. An annual fair is held every year at the temple during the months of August and September, and is a vibrant affair.

Getting There: By Air: Jolly Grant Airport Dehradun is the nearest, 238 kilometers away. By Road: It is well-connected by road to Rishikesh, Haridwar, Dehradun and Delhi. By Train: The nearest train station to Kedarnath is Rishikesh that lies at a distance of 216 kilometers.

Haridwar

Haridwar (200 kilometers north-northwest of Delhi) is were hundred of thousands of pilgrims come each year to worship a depression in a stone believed to be the footprint of Vishnu, the God of Preservation and one most important and loved Hindu deities. The footprint is found in the Hari-ka-Charan Ghat, which itself is located on a small island in the Ganges. Every twelve years many pilgrims attending the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad also come to Haridwar to commemorate a fight between gods and demons for the possession for the "nectar of immortality." During the struggle it is said several drops of the nectar fell to the earth — in Haridwar and Allahabad — making these places sacred to Hindus. Every six years pilgrims come for Ardh Kumbh festival. Every day they take a holy bath at Har-Ki-Pauri in the evening.

Situated in the foothills of the Himalayas, on the right bank of the Ganges with the Shivalik mountains in the background,Haridwar is considered a Gateway to the Gods and is filled with ashrams and religious institutions. Places of interest include the Canal Centenary bridge, Bhimgoda Tank, Parmarth Ashram, Sapt Rishi Ashram, Daksh Mahadev temple, Pawan Dam Temple and Mansa Devi temple (reached by a trail and rope bridge). Rest houses arrange elephant safaris into the jungle.

Getting There: By Air: You can fly to the Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun, around 37 kilometers from Haridwar. The nearest international airport is New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, around 222 kilometers away. By Road: Haridwar is well connected by road to all the nearby states including Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and much of Uttarakhand. There are frequent buses (state transport as well as private) available up to Haridwar from most nearby cities and the tickets are reasonably priced. From Delhi it is about a five-hour drive to Haridwar. By Train: The Haridwar Railway Station is connected to most major cities of the country including New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Indore, Jaipur and Ahmedabad.

Hinduism and Yoga Medicine in Haridwar

Bustling with devotees, its air filled with the sweet smell of incense sticks and clanging of temple bells, Haridwar is one of Hinduism’s holiest destinations. Hundreds of thousands of people come to the city come to take a dip in the holy waters of River Ganges, which emerges from the Himalayas here. Pilgrims, devotees and sadhus (saffron-clad holy men) gather at Haridwar’s ghats (stepped banks), to take a dip in its sacred waters and, according to Hindu beliefs, wash away their sins. The most famous ghat, the bustling and colorful Har ki Pauri, sees a large number of bathers throughout the year, but more during festivals.

Haridwar is among the seven Indian cities considered sacred by Hindus. It is also one of the four venues for the holy Kumbh Mela that is organised once in 12 years. A visit to the city during this time is a must. In addition to having the much-revered temples, there are many ashrams as well, which provide meditation and yoga sessions. The city is also considered a gateway to Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, which together form the Char Dham, a set of four pilgrimage sites that are considered especially auspicious by Hindus.

Patanjali Yogpeeth is an ancient practices that aims to free people across the world from diseases as well as medicines. They are encouraged instead to rely on the wisdom of sages and saints including Maharishi Patanjali, Charak and Sushrut. At the institute, practical and functional training in Astang Yog, Raj Yog, Dhyan Yog, Hath Yog, Ashan and Pranayam, among others, is encouraged. The aim is to achieve peace, good health and extreme happiness. There are regular yoga classes organised in the institute as well as outside for all and they are also broadcasted on television.

The institute conducts courses in yoga and promotes research on this ancient practice. It also has the aim of spreading awareness – books, international conferences and the like are the tools used for the purpose. There are departments of ophthalmology, ENT, dental and surgery, along with a section for physiotherapy and acupressure in the institute. It is well-equipped with latest machines and equipment. Accommodation is also available for tourists who want to stay over. It also has a modern library, with several manuscripts and literature on yoga, Ayurveda and botany, along with an internet surfing center. Swami Ramdev ji Maharaj and Acharya Balkrishna ji Maharaj founded the Patanjali Yogpeeth (Trust) on February 4, 2005.

Bazaars and Food In Haridwar

Kachori is a favored snack in not just Haridwar but the whole of North India. The kachori is a round flattened ball made using fine flour (maida). It is filled with a mixture of yellow moong dal or urad dal (types of lentils) with besan (gram flour), black pepper, red chilli powder and several other spices. It goes very well with green and red chutneys. Kachori goes well with a lassi, a sweet drink made using dahi (curd), milk, sugar, saffron and cardamom powder. It is garnished with almonds and pistachios and served chilled.

Aloo Puri is an evergreen favorite that comprises flattened wheat dough balls that are deep-fried. These are eaten with potato gravy made using tomatoes, curry leaves and mustard seeds. Parantha is a flatbread, usually made using wheat flour, can be stuffed with a variety of vegetables, including potatoes, onions, cauliflower, radish, lentils, paneer and even eggs. The dough balls are flattened out, and then cooked on both sides on the tawa (a flat pan) with a bit of ghee (clarified butter). One can have it with curd, butter and pickle at any time of the day.

Bara Bazar is popular with foreign travelers and is little more expensive than other markets as it is a bit pricey. Though a variety of products are on offer here, the major highlight is Ayurvedic medicines that see a huge demand, along with organic food and seeds. The bazar is also known for its delicious milk sweets, the most important being the peda. Stroll through the winding alleys of the market and see vibrant displays of goods, while biting into a mouthwatering peda.

Kankhal Market is popular for objects like rudraksha malas, pendants, images of the lord and other religious symbols. It is said that wearing rudraksha is necessary for sages and those who wear it will have many benefits. The market is located about 3 kilometers from the city center.

Moti Bazar is a perfect place to pick up puja samagri (items of worship), Moti Bazar is one of the most visited markets of Haridwar. It is dotted with shops selling diyas (small candles), sandalwood paste, culinary items, Ayurvedic medicines and pickles. There are other articles available as well like bangles, idols made of brass and copper, vermilion, lamps, colorful glasses, cane baskets etc.

Jwalapur Market is one of the best shopping spots in Haridwar. It is a good place place for buying vegetables and fruits. One can also pick up souvenirs to take back home. There are many shops selling delicious sweets that you would be hard-pressed to stop gorging on. It is the ideal stopover for street shopping in Haridwar.

Kumbh Mela and Festivals in Haridwar

Almost every time you visit the holy city of Haridwar, you’re sure to find a fair going on. Many of them are organised around the important bathing dates of the Hindu calendar including Somwati Amavasya, Karthik Poornima, Shrvan Poornima and Ganga Dussehra. In the month of Shravana (the fifth month of the Hindu calendar – beginning in late July and ending in the third week of August), there is the popular Kanwad Mela. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Kanwad Yatra is the annual pilgrimage of the Kanwariyas (devotees of Lord Shiva) to Hindu pilgrimages including Haridwar. In fact, the city sees lakhs of Kanwariyas coming to take a bath in the holy River Ganga. Then there is a Haridwar Mahotsava that the district administration has taken the onus of organising every year. This cultural festival, held on the banks of the Ganga, goes on for up to four days and sees enthusiastic participation. At the Dargah Piran Kaliyar, Urs is observed annually, and cutting across religious and caste barriers, thousands come and pray for the well-being of their loved ones.

The grand Kumbh Mela is organised on a massive scale every 12 years and sees millions of people visiting Haridwar (the figure has gone up as high as 10 million). The Ardh Kumbh, held every six years, is another mega event along the same lines. There is an interesting story behind the origin of this popular festival. The gods (devtas) and demons (asuras) were fighting over the pot of nectar (kalasha of amrit) that they had found during the churning of the primordial sea (Samudra Mathan). Since the demons were more powerful, the gods entrusted the pot of nectar to four devtas - Brahaspati, Surya, Chandra and Shani, who ran away with it to keep it safe. The demons chased after them for 12 days and nights around the earth. During the chase, the gods kept the pot at Haridwar, Prayag, Ujjain and Nashik. Another legend says that a fight ensued between the gods and demons in which the pot tipped over, and the nectar fell at these four places.

Today, the Kumbh Mela is held at these four destinations, once every 12 years. It sees the participation of saints, yogis and priests from across India. From the Naga sadhus who do not wear clothes and smear their bodies with ash, the Urdhwavahurs, who are willing to undergo severe austerities in their pursuit of the Almighty, the Parivajakas who use bells to communicate as they have taken a vow of silence, the Shirshasins who stand on their heads to meditate for hours on end to the Kalpvasis, who spend the Kumbh month mediating on the banks of Ganga, bathing in it thrice and performing religious rituals, all are in attendance at the mela. During the Kumbh, the waters of Ganga are said to be charged with positive healing effects with enhanced electromagnetic radiations of the sun, the moon and Jupiter.

Har-Ki-Pauri: the Holiest Ghat of Haridwar

Har-ki-Pauri is the holiest ghat of Haridwar. It is visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. The ghat is the spot where the River Ganges, after winding its way through the mountains, touches the plains for the first time. Countless people bathe in the waters of the river to wash off all their sins, according to Hindu beliefs. There are several temples next to the ghat and one can always hear the soothing chant of mantras and temple bells. The main attraction is the evening Ganga arti (a fire ritual). One can see the ghat swarmed with priests carrying three-tiered lamps of fire, and devotees immersed in a spiritual fervour, while the sound of mantras and gongs reverberates through the surroundings. During the arti, the devotees float lamps in the river, creating a beautiful scene.

It is said that king Vikramaditya’s brother, Bhartrihari, had meditated on the banks of the holy river Ganga for several years. After his death, the great king built this ghat in his memory. It was known as Hari-ki-Pauri after Bhatrihari. Lord Vishnu’s footprint is said to be etched on one of the stones here and it is believed that Lord Shiva came here during the Vedic period.

Another legend goes that there was once a battle between the gods and demons for nectar (amrit), which was extracted from the manthan (churning) of Sheer Sagar. On seeing the battle, Lord Vishnu took the guise of a beautiful woman and charmed the demons to get the nectar for the gods. When the demons got to know the truth, they chased after Lord Vishnu to get the urn containing the nectar. It is believed that during the chase, a few drops of the nectar fell out of the urn at a place that is now called Brahma Kund, which lies at Har-ki-Pauri.

Every morning and evening, the ghat witnesses the Ganga arti (a fire ritual), which also attracts devotees and tourists. The evening ritual being more popular, it makes for a mesmeric sight to see the river being venerated with loud and rhythmic chants and tall lamps, their lights lightening up the darkening waters. Soak in the spiritual fervour of the city, as you watch the spectacular sight of thousands of small diyas (earthen lamps) floating on the river.

Temples in Haridwar

Maya Devi Temple is dedicated to Goddess Maya Devi and is one of the three shaktipeethas (devotional shrines where the severed body parts of Goddess Sati fell) in Haridwar. The other two are Chandi Devi and Mansa Devi temples. According to legend once king Daksh Prajapati hosted a holy yajna (a fire ritual). However, he failed to invite his son-in-law Lord Shiva to the ceremony. Offended, his daughter, Goddess Sati immolated herself in her father's yajna. Lord Shiva was grieved and enraged and began pacing the universe and performing tandava, his dance of cosmic destruction. Fearing that he would destroy everything in his path, Lord Vishnu severed the body of Sati with his chakra. It is believed that the heart and navel of the goddess fell at this temple. The temple premises host the idols of Goddess Maya, Goddess Kamakhya and Goddess Kali. The temple is particularly crowded during the Navratri festival (a holy nine-day period) and the Kumbh mela.

Daksh Mahadev Temple lies to the south of Kankhal town and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This temple is named after king Daksh Prajapati, the father of Lord Shiva's wife, Goddess Sati. According to legend once the king hosted a holy yajna (a fire ritual) at this site. However, since he did not invite Lord Shiva, Goddess Sati felt insulted and immolated herself in his yajna. Out of anger, the ganas (Lord Shiva’s followers) killed king Daksh. Lord Shiva then brought him back to life and put the head of a male goat on him. The king later realised his mistake and repented before the lord, who declared that during the month of Saavan (June-August), he would live in Kankhal. The Sati Kund located on the banks of River Ganga is also considered sacred and has been mentioned the epic Mahabharata.

Sapt Rishi Ashram is located at Sapt Sarovar, the spot where River Ganga splits into seven different streams. According to legend seven sages, Kashyap, Vashist, Atri, Vishwamitra, Jamadagni, Bhardwaj and Gautam were once meditating here. And in order to avoid disturbing their prayers, the holy river separated itself into different streams and flowed on. Today, an ashram, called the Sapt Rishi Ashram, stands at this place, about 5 kilometers from Haridwar. The ashram acts as a retreat for many sages and saints who come here to meditate in the peaceful surroundings. It was established by Goswami Guru Dutt in 1943. There are several rooms available for accommodation for those who want to stay over and have a more immersive experience. The spot is both spiritual and serene and ideal for meditation.

Chandi Devi Temple is situated on top of the Neel Parwat and is dedicated to Goddess Chandi Devi. The main statue was established by Adi Shakaracharya in the 8th century, while the temple was constructed by Suchat Singh, the king of Kashmir, in 1929. From Chandighat, one needs to trek 3 kilometers to reach the temple, or take a trolley on the ropeway. According to legend once demon kings Shumbh and Nishumbh had taken over Lord Indra’s ancient kingdom and had thrown the gods out of the heavens. Chandika Devi, a goddess who was created with the cells from Goddess Parvati’s body, was desired by king Shumbh. When she refused his advances, the kings sent their army chiefs Chanda and Munda to kill Goddess Chandika. However, Chanda and Munda were killed by Kalika Devi, who was born out of Goddess Chandika’s anger. Chandika Devi went on to kill the two demon kings as well. Tired after this long battle, the goddess is said to have rested on Neel Parwat and the Chandi Devi Temple was built in her honour.

Mansa Devi Temple is situated on the Bilwa Parwat, offering beautiful views of Haridwar. It has two impressive statues of Goddess Mansa Devi – one with three mouths and five arms and the other with eight arms. Goddess Mansa is believed to be a form of Goddess Shakti, who came from the mind of sage Kashyap. This temple is among the 51 shaktipeethas (devotional shrines where the severed body parts of Goddess Sati fell) in the country. There are two other shaktipeethas in Haridwar: Chandi Devi and Maya Devi temples. One can go via the ropeway in a trolley to this temple or simply trek up the hill. It is said that the goddess grants all wishes that are made by tying a thread on the branches of a holy tree in the temple. One must also come back to untie the thread once the wish has been fulfilled.

Yamunotri Temple

Yamunotri (150 kilometers north of Haridwar) is one of the major spiritual destinations in India and lies on the western side of the Garhwal Himalayas. Situated at an elevation of about 3,293 meters, it boasts high mountain peaks, glaciers and the pristine Yamuna river. Yamunotri is the place from where the second-most sacred river of India, Yamuna, originates, and thus Yamunotri makes one-fourth of the famous Char Dham pilgrimage taken by Hindus. River Yamuna starts from the Yamunotri glacier that has a height of about 6,387 meters. From here, the river flows into Saptarishi Kund and then gushes southwards in a series of several waterfalls.

The major attraction in Yamunotri is a temple dedicated to Goddess Yamuna, who is said to be the daughter of the sun god and the twin sister of Yama (god of death). A sacred idol of Yamuna Devi has been placed in the inner sanctum. The idol is made of polished black ebony and has intricate carvings on it. Two lovely springs, Surya Kund and Gauri Kund, flank the temple. It is a common practice among devotees to dip rice and potatoes into the boiling water of the springs and offer it to the Yamuna idol. This food is later distributed as prasad to devotees.

The temple was built in 1839 AD by Sudarshan Shah, a famous Garhwal monarch. It was later destroyed in an earthquake and was rebuilt by Maharani of Jaipur, Gularia Devi, in the 19th century. The temple boasts the Nagar pattern of architecture and is built with granite. The top of the structure hosts a medium conical-shaped minaret, highlighted by pale yellow with a bright vermilion border.

Kanpur

Kanpur (80 kilometers from Lucknow, 300 kilometers southeast of Delhi) is a major industrial center and railroad junction situated on the Ganges River in Uttar Pradesh State in northern India. Home to about 3 million people, it is connected to almost all parts of India by express trains, and is an important stop on the New Delhi-Kolkata train. There isn't much to see in Kanpur, but many people stay here anyway to take a break from the trains.

Even though Kanpur (Cawnpore) is located on the right bank of the holy Ganges there is not much of religious significance here. It is more of a place to observe everyday life in a typical Indian city, with a cluster of tanneries and where chewing betel nut is the main activity. One of the largest cities in Uttar Pradesh, it has a few temples, churches and mosques. Kanpur was founded by Raja Hindu Singh of the Sachendi state and was at the heart of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the first Indian uprising against the British rule.

Getting There: By Air: The Kanpur Airport is well-connected with all the major cities of India and flights ply regularly from here. By Road: The city is well-connected with good roads. By Train: Kanpur Central Station connect all major cities of the country.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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