Mandy and Jon's Journey 2005 travel blog

Waiting for the train.

On the sky-lift above Haridwar MJ smiles.

Holy Cow in the window. Holy Cow!

These bikes brought to you by Pepsi Co.

Husband and wife do their washing in the sacred Ganges.

The streets are alive, so watch your step.

As our train trodded beneath the sunset on a push to the northeastern state of Uttaranchal, bombs were exploding behind us in New Delhi. Terrorism reared its persistent and ridiculous head just hours after we left the capital. Of course, even if we had been in the city any chance of us being in harm's way was slight. Nonetheless, when we began hearing the news - first on the train, and then in our hotel - it was bit eery to know that we had just missed the chaos and calamity of the explosions.

On the eve of the large Dewali celebrations the bombings come at a particularly sinister time. We had not realized what a central hindu holiday Dewali was and is, but it was clear from the reactions of Indians that the strategic timing of this terrorist attack was regarded as offensive and deliberate. In Haridwar people seemed shocked by the news but did not seem frightened as the evening bazaars were in full swing as we disembarked from the train and made our way to the Azure Ganga hotel.

Haridwar is a special and holy city to the Hindu people. The Ganges River (or Ganga) is the most sacred river of India, and it is near Haridwar that it emerges from the Himalyan mountains and becomes accessible to the millions who live in the Indian lowlands. There are religious ghats up and down the river bank where people come to wash away their sins (and sometimes their socks). The town itself is abuzz with people and the labyrinth of bazaars and shops make it an exciting place to wander and take in the people, smells, and sounds.

In the evening people descend to the ghats and temples along the river, lighting small candle-boats made of leaves and wood that they send foating down the river with prayers for dead relatives and souls. Sadhus (holy men) perform prayers and rites along these same banks and women sell small bundles of flowers or food that people leave at the feet of numerous statues. Over outdated megaphones, prayers are called and sung out while the throngs of people push, manuever, and dance around one another. It is quite a sight to behold, but as with most religious ceremonies that you neither fully understand or dare to participate in, can become somewhat overwhelming.

During the day we wander still, and take a cable car right to the hill top temple of Manshi Devi which overlooks the town and river below. The temple itself is not a glorious religious structure like the cathedrals of Europe or temples of Thailand, but rather, a building that resembles a dilapidated shopping mall from the 1970s - tiled, dirty, with iron railings corralling people and small tea shops selling potato chips and soda pop. We find ourselves - after giving our shoes over to the shoe-keeper, barefoot and following the crowd to the inner sanctom where an orange dot is pushed onto our foreheads (for 10 rupees) and then passing before a number of closeted holy men in front of statues of Vishnu and Ganesh where additional rupees are requested. Again, the Hindu practices and asthetics are so foreign as to be comic. We certainly behave respectfully and solemnly, but inside - for me at least - I find the religion incomprehensible. This is only natural, though, as I have studied almost nothing about hinduism. This will invariably, I'm sure, be reflected in my experience of the culture of India which is predominantly Hindi in its make-up. I will hope, though, that my ignorance of the cultural intricacies won't detract from my appreciation of the culture as a whole. It is a vibrant and thrilling country, and Haridwar is a fine example of the way in which religion, commerce, geography, and tourism come together to make a place operate and thrive.

We don't, in fact, see many other tourists, but many come through on their way to or from Rishikesh, just north, which prides itself as The Yoga Capital of the World. Both cities are epicenters of Ayurvedic medicines, herbal medicines, yoga, and meditation. Haridwar, for us, is a further and gentle introduction to India, and the two days spent in it hassle-free streets and along its river bring us closer to feeling comfortable in this new country.

On our final night, after a long day of rambling and getting lost, we begin to think about where we go next. We would like to catch some glimpses of the might Himalayas, but do we go south, towards Nepal, or North, towards Kashmir. As they are fond of saying in Maine, 'ye can't get thayr from here' - it is the journey itself which will dictate the next destination.

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