wa22nd February 2016, Monday….Day (3) Haridwar to Pilibhit, 309 km
Although I slept very late and there was noise all through the night, had a nice uninterrupted sleep for six hours in the car parked inside one of the lanes near Ganga Temple. This was an auspicious day, ‘Magh Purnima’ (full moon night) when ‘Ardh Kumbh Mela’ (fair held every six years) takes place at Haridwar. Had morning tea from a nearby shop. Just a little walk around and I knew I would not be able to make it to ‘Har Ki Pauri’, it was way too overcrowded.
‘Har Ki Pauri’, a ghat on the banks of River Ganga, is a very sacred place for Hindus. It is believed that Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva visited Braham Kund near here in ancient times. It is considered to be the exact spot where River Ganga enters plains after leaving Himalayas and considered auspicious for taking bath on the occasion of Kumbh Mela which is held after every twelve years, Ardh Kumbh every six years and Vaisakhi every year.
I was able to watch sadhus and devotees take bath at ‘Har Ki Pauri’ from the other side of the ghat. The faith and enthusiasm on the faces of devotees were a treat for the eyes.
Haridwar is an ancient and one of the seven holiest cities of Hindus. It is also believed to be the place where a drop of elixir fell and is one of the four holy cities where Kumbh Mela is held.
This is one place which I remember since childhood. My Nani (My mother’s mother) was very fond of travelling. She had her parents at Saharanpur. Every time she visited her parents, she would visit Haridwar. In one of the visits she brought me here along with my mother. She would get rupees converted into coins and would distribute among army of beggars on our way towards Har Ki Pauri. Things are more or less the same even after a gap of 40 years.
Another occasion, I visited Haridwar with my dadaji (my father’s father). We stayed for the night with our purohit (Priest), the famous hindu genealogy record keeper at his home right on the banks of River Ganga near ‘Har Ki Pauri. It was Kumbh Mela 1986. There was huge rush.People were pushing each other. Suddenly there was huge chaos, people screaming and running here and there. We fled to a safer place. Later we came to know that there was a stampede and 50 people died that day.
Coming back, the scenes around were quite interesting. This sadhu was deep into a newspaper, I wonder what he was looking for. May be he has not fully renounced the World.
While some lucky one’s had already taken early morning bath some were still arriving and were looking for a place to take bath.
This family had slept under this tree and just had their morning meals. While the woman was sipping her last sip of tea, the man seemed reluctant to go for days work. May be he was peddling his rickshaw the whole night and was too tired. But it was Ardh Kumbh, too many customers, difficult to let go of the opportunity. The girl did not seem to bother all this, nor any school, she was already into her playful mood.
These people have migrated to this holiest of holy cities with the hope of better days and better life. Living in makeshift tents on vacant land fighting to survive every day. They seem to be unaware of the size of the family and future of these children.
There were not just one or two families like that but many. Not only people were living miserable life, some of them were sick and handicap. Being there, among them, life seemed very sorrowful and saddening. Momentarily it filled my heart with a sense of guilt. But I knew I too faced challenges in life and have fought my way out of it. Somehow they will too.
Moving on, I parked the car at a safe place and walked close to a ghat opposite this beautiful temple in the picture and watched life around. I saw people bathing with gay abundance and hope. Unlike the miserable faces of the people living in those tents these people looked cheerful, happy and hopeful.
Originating from Western Himalayas, River Ganga, one of the largest rivers in the World, empties itself into Bay of Bengal after enriching the plains of Northern India. It is a lifeline of millions of people and most sacred river for Hindus.
Sadly it is also one of the most polluted rivers in the World and is a major threat not only to human beings but also to so many endangered species. Perhaps popular hindi movie ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili Ho Gayee‘ was one of the first to bring this to the knowledge of common people.
The river is the cleanest here and the first place where it starts getting maili (polluted). Coupled with this, the atmosphere created by ringing of temple bells, hymns, prayers and immersion of lighted flower decked earthen diyas in the river just after Ganga Aarti at Har Ki Pauri makes it a once a lifetime experience. For this very reason I will keep coming here again and again.
While some chose to beg and depend on others, few took charge and decided to do something about it. This lady was preparing this place for selling flowers and incense to pilgrims in order to make her living.
After walking on the Ganga ghat, watching pilgrims and sadhus take bath and people struggling to make their their day, I decided to move on to the next destination for the day. I was not sure which one was it going to be. This picture was taken on a bridge across River Ganga on the way to Najibabad.
Just across the bridge there is a 3 kilometer trek to Chandi Mandir situated at Neel Parvat. These rickshaws were waiting for customers at the end of the bridge from where the trek starts. Another important Mansa Devi perched high up on the hill can also be seen in the picture.
Few kilometers from the place, I saw this punjabi dhaba. Had nice mix paratha and milk. It was good to know that the owner of the dhaba was from Punjab and had shifted to this area many years ago when opportunity presented itself.
Lalpari waiting for me on NH-74 across that Punjabi dhaba.
A few kilometers drive later I came across this board and could not resist following detour to Jhilmil Jheel Wetland just before Chidiyapur forest range.
Just 1-2 kilometers detour to the right on NH 74, I saw, what looked like, few dogs playing right on the road. On reaching nearer I saw a pair of spotted deer playing merrily. Seeing approaching Lalpari they galloped into nearby jungle. It was an amazing sight.
I stood there alone for several minutes watching those lovely beauties watch me with equal curiosity until they lost their patience and eloped into the forest. I drove back on the main road to continue my journey to the next destination. What a wonderful experience it was.
The road and drive was just amazing. These boards made me expect sighting wildlife any moment.This kept me interested, the quality of the road was good too. Except for a patch of 10 kilometers, the entire road was wonderful. From the dress of the people (men wearing salwar kamiz and cap, women wearing black burka) I guessed I was driving through muslim dominated area. There were lot of kutcha hutments all along the road indicating prevalence of poverty in the area.
Driving through Moradabad was a pain. It was more like driving in my own city. Wrong side driving, honking, encroachment of the road, no traffic rules, free for all…leaving Moradabad was such a relief.
Moradabad-Bareilly drive was a sheer joy, wide roads, big farms, it was like I was driving through Punjab. On the outskirts of Bareilly I met a driver from Ludhiana. He advised me to drive through Pilibhit on the old Assam road and that it was safe. He cautioned me not to drive in the night through Eastern UP and Bihar.
Pilibhit lies near the border of Nepal, known for origin of river gomti, it is one of the most forest rich area of north India. Pilibhit was also known as Bansuri Nagari – the land of flutes, for making and exporting roughly 95% of India’s flutes.
My interest in Pilibhit was to know why so many people from our area shifted here in the 1980’s in the wake of terrorism in Punjab. When I began driving from Bareilly, Pilibhit was still 60-70 kilometers away. It fell dark, the road was bad too. It was my first drive in the area, still managed to reach Pilibhit by 8pm. It looked like a nice happening place, a mix of Punjab and UP.
Spent some time walking around here and there. Had nice time watching a marriage party with a live singer, bride sitting on a multi horse driven chariot and people dancing merrily.
Place looked good and safe. Had few drinks and nice simple food from a dhaba. Parked the car in front of a home where already few cars were parked on the main road. Pulled the covers over and slept inside the car!!!