Ancient Haridwar (the Gateway to God) is one of the seven holiest places in India, and one of the oldest living cities. It's made up of a fascinating and colorful collection of sadhus (holy men), pundits (Hindu priests), pilgrims, guides, and beggars. Every evening, the Ganges comes alive with the magic of the aarti (worship with fire), as lamps are lit, prayers are offered, and small candles are floated down the river.
For Hindus, a visit to Haridwar is believed to provide liberation from the endless cycle of death and rebirth.
Getting to Haridwar
Haridwar is located in Uttarakhand. Trains from major cities all over India stop at Haridwar on their way to Dehradun. For those coming from Delhi to Haridwar, it takes a minimum of four hours to get there by train or six hours by road. The nearest airport to Haridwar is in Dehradun, 40 kilometers (25 miles) away. This makes air travel a less preferable option.
When to Visit
The best time to visit Haridwar is from October to March. Summers, from April to July, get very hot in Haridwar. Temperatures hover around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The clean water of the Ganges is really refreshing though. The monsoon season, from July to September, is unsuitable to taking a dip in the Ganges as the river bank becomes unstable and currents are strong because of the rain.
Winters, from November until February, get cold during the night. As a result, the water is chilly, but there's also mist in the air which makes Haridwar particularly scenic at that time of year.
What to Do
Haridwar's main attractions are its temples (particularly Mansa Devi temple, where the wish fulfilling goddess resides), ghats (steps leading down to the river), and Ganges River.
Take a holy dip and cleanse your sins. As the sun sets, head to Har ki Pauri Ghat to witness the magical Ganga Aarti (prayer) at around 6-7 p.m. every night. Fiery lamps combined with the chanting of mantras, clanking of bells and enthusiastic crowd, is very moving. Haridwar is also a great place to come if you've got an interest in Ayurvedic medicine, as many roots and shrubs that are grown in the Himalayas are readily available there. A visit to this holy city will give you great insight into some of what makes India tick.
The most famous festival to take place at Haridwar is the Kumbh Mela, held there once every 12 years. It draws tens of millions of pilgrims who come to bathe in the Ganges and be absolved of their sins. The last Kumbh Mela was the 2010 Haridwar Kumbh Mela. In addition to these meals, many religious Hindu festivals are celebrated in Haridwar. Some of the most popular ones are the Kanwar Mela (July-August) devoted to Lord Shiva, Somwati Amavasya (July), Ganga Dussehra (June), Kartik Poornima (November), and Baisakhi (April).
The food in Haridwar is mostly vegetarian, and alcohol is banned in the city. Haridwar is much bigger and more spread out than nearby Rishikesh, so auto rickshaws are the best option for getting around.
Bara Bazaar, between Har ki Pauri and Upper Road, is an interesting place to shop. You'll find all sorts of brassware, religious items, and Ayurvedic medicine there.
Where to Stay
Haridwar hotels are all about location, location! There are plenty of options but you'll want to stay somewhere along the Ganga River to really enjoy and appreciate Haridwar. These top 5 Haridwar hotels are all well positioned and decent.
Rajaji National Park offers unspoiled natural beauty only 10 kilometers (six miles) from Haridwar. Its eco-system is estimated to be 10 million years old, and a diverse range of wildlife can be seen there, including elephants. Anyone with an interest in yoga and Ayurveda shouldn't miss visiting Baba Ramdev's Patanjali Yogpreeth, at Bahadrabad near Haridwar. This fascinating educational institution aims to link ancient wisdom with modern science.