About 15 kilometers from the sacred ghats of Haridwar is the Patanjali Yogpeeth, a yoga haven built by the famous Indian yog guru Baba Ramdev. Lavishly built with beautiful gardens everywhere, the Patanjali complex houses almost everything that one can possibly want, bank branches, shops, restaurants, hospital and almost anything involving yoga and spirituality.
The Yogpeeth was our pit stop for the night, as we arrived at 1 am and checked into our sparklingly clean, fully air conditioned, Rs. 1100 triple bed room. On the walls in the corridors we saw pictures of the bearded Baba doing various yog-asans. Too tired to explore more, we decided to crash into our beds, and fall asleep watching a boring hindi movie on the 21” box television installed in our room.
Heavy chanting woke me up early in the morning. Right outside our balcony was the Yogasthala which was filled with people, sitting with their legs crossed surrounding a holy fire, humming mantras in Sanskrit or some other indecipherable ancient language. Few minutes later, the humming stopped, the fire was put off and a yoga-guru took stage to engage his followers in yog-asans that involved some weird body movement and postures. Amused at first but bored within minutes, I decided to turn on the TV, and watch something a little less holy but a lot more entertaining.
Har Ki Pauri, the famous ghat on the banks of Ganga, was a short drive from the Yogpeeth, and as soon as we reached, we were approached by beggars of all ages, shapes and sizes, vendors selling flowers and other offerings for the Holy River. We pushed pass the beggars, flower vendors, rickshaw walas to reach the busiest area of the ghat.
The famous Ganga water seemed to contain a lot more sand than usual, probably due to the recent heavy rains in other parts of the state, giving it a dirty muddy look. However, the sandy, cold water of the Ganga did not seem to deter the spirits of the hundreds of visitors that crowded the ghat. We saw them bathing with their families, swimming, chanting mantras and offering flowers to the sacred Hindu river.
As we stood there watching all the spiritual chaos, a small girl dressed in red approached my friend and put a red tilak on his forehead, before he could resist. As the rest of us laughed and joked that he was now married to that girl, she managed to beg and extract a Rs. 10 note from him.
Roaming around the back alleys of Haridwar was quite an experience. There were sadhus and beggars sitting in neat queues asking for food and money from passerbys. There were numerous shops selling pictures of Hindu deities, chandans, vermilion, peacock feathers and anything that a god fearing Hindu family can ever possibly need. Along the way, I saw the Dada Boudir hotel, a family favourite, which served all kinds of vegetarian Bengali dishes. I remember the time I had a meal there with my parents quite a few years ago. Even though, I did not particularly like the food, I forced fed myself because it was “All you can eat”. So what if it was just daal and potato fries.
There were small trolleys offering kachoris, pakoras, and various seasonal fruits. The alleyways were narrow, damp and dirty. The walls had a weird blackish green colour due to the years of accumulated dirt, and moss.
After having some excessively oily paranthas for breakfast at a small restaurant that seemed as ancient as the nearby hilltop temple of Mansa Devi, we got back to the ghat and spent a few minutes people watching. We saw people engaging in small yagnas and pujas, some going to extremes like shaving off all their hair, or getting inked by the numerous tattoo artists sitting on the side of the ghat, with very questionable equipments. F*** Kat Von D.
Not ones with patience to wait for the very famous evening aarti, when the ghat illuminates with lights and soulful vedic tunes, we got into our car, and sped off, listening to Yo Yo Honey Singh rapping about drugs, girls and alcohol.
We found our moksha later that day when we beat the heat and humidity of Haridwar by riding the water rides of the amateurishly managed, terribly unsafe, but surprising popular amusement park, Crystal World, located on the Haridwar-Roorkee highway.
(If that was not unholy enough, I am pretty sure we ran over a puppy on our way back home!)