India in Images: Life in the Holy City of Haridwar

Aarti Haridwar India

On Monday, the 55-day Maha Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India came to an end. It seems like ages ago already that I was there, camping on the sand inside a thatch hut owned by a famous, dread-locked sadhu, and photographing the ritual bathing on the most auspicious day of the entire event – February 10, 2013. That experience will live with me forever, I’m sure, but before I even knew what the Kumbh Mela was, I visited another one of the four cities where the world’s largest religious gathering is held: Haridwar, in the state of Uttarakhand.

Like Allahabad, Haridwar is located on the banks of the river Ganges and is considered one of the seven holiest cities in India. And, like the rest of India, even cows are considered gods. In a hierarchy of importance, cows come second only to the birth mother, for they provide milk when the mother dries up, as well as manure, which is used for cooking. It amazes me still, however, that these highly revered animals largely live on trash.

Nobody claims them. Nobody feeds them.

India holy cow
Holy cow (!) on a trash pile.

Then again, some people can barely afford to feed themselves. In the morning, I wandered aimlessly with my camera, as I often do on my first day in a new place, and found myself walking past the slums built along the railway tracks where children fly paper kites tied to a single white string…

India kids play

…mothers nurse their babies amidst the dirt, trash and drying laundry…

India Mom Haridwar

…and both men and cows laze in the middle of the tracks with nothing better to do.

Slum life India

Cows in India

I walked through the housing community on the other side, snapping photos of eager children and lounging shopkeepers – those slightly better off than the folks they looked down at on the tracks below.

India children Haridwar

India children Haridwar

life in haridwar india

I strolled past ladies washing clothes and grandmothers relaxing.

Haridwar India laundry ladiesIndian Woman

life in haridwar india

I continued up the hill toward one of the city’s largest temples, fending off wild monkeys as I went.

India crowd

At the top, I joined a massive crowd waiting to enter. We lined up between guardrails meant to guide people, and instantly those behind me were pushing and hollering, while those in front were also impatiently shoving their way through. I had no choice but to go with the flow. I felt more like a cow in the chute at branding time than the holy cows wandering freely down on main street would ever know.

Cows in India

Later I joined the nightly, sunset aarti, a religious ceremony along the banks of the river where locals gather to pray, bathe and set burning candles placed inside banana-tree leaves to float along the fast-moving water. As I stood amidst the crowd of almost-entirely Indian tourists, I felt less like a cow than I had before for I had nothing left to give and they, despite their malnourishment and mistreatment, continue to provide.

Aarti Haridwar India

It would be weeks before I would decide to drastically change my India travel plan to see the fantastic Kumbh Mela, which became the most religious event I’ve ever witnessed, but this brief stopover in Haridwar was a strong taste of what was yet to come.

Haridwar view from the temple.
Haridwar view from the temple.
Tourists headed back home.
Tourists headed back home.

India in Images: Life in the Holy City of Haridwar
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

25 thoughts on “India in Images: Life in the Holy City of Haridwar”

  1. still following the stories from PZ. Love this small town Chinizhen. You are right about the PZ Bubble, Most teachers never leave the campus. 11 trips now to Chilin, can’t get a single teacher to go with me. Many think that some teacher was attacked walking to this small town? Don’t get that feeling at all. Any thoughts?

    1. I did hear of several cases of theft, including one teacher no had his laptop stolen. I think it’s okay as long as you don’t take anything valuable with you!i never had a problem, even with my camera, and I’m a firm believer that you can’t let fears keep you from living life.

      1. It’s not clear on all about the pollution in regard to skin care. I will keep a close watch on the subject. Job pressure, air, water, diet all contribute to skin health. It’s very complicated to say the least. The canteen of the teachers was the worst food I’ve ever ate in China. The canteen outside the gate over the walkway is good. If you ate the teachers cafe any length of time, you you would be died by now! Just joking.

  2. I love the pictures, the stories and adventures……….can not wait for more. You make one feel like they actually were there.

  3. Fabulous collection of photos which truly depict the life in India! I love the cow on the garbage pile! It was hard for me to get used to so much garbage on the streets and in the rivers in India.

    1. It took a really long time for me to get used to it to. Actually, I’m not sure I ever did. I could never get myself to let the garbage fall from my own hand, despite a ridiculous amount of locals telling me to do so! I’ll be interested to hear if it’s worse since your first trip.

    1. Thank you, Candace. Yes, the Kumbh Mela was completely unreal. It was worth having to make another (future) trip to see the south! Have you been to India?

  4. I too would not take the risk of bathing in beyond Haridwar, till this place though, the river manages to keep herself unpolluted. Just about an hour further upstream towards the mountains is Rishikesh, where Ganga is even more beautiful. The place more exciting because of two suspension Bridges (Lakshman Jhula & Ram Jhula), traditional temples, calm and peaceful ashrams and adventure sports (white water river rafting, bungee jumping). The place was a big hit among the rock-stars adn Hollywood celebrities during the swinging 60s and 70s. Beatles too stayed there for a while 🙂

    1. I loved Rishikesh! In fact, I have a post coming soon. I agree, it’s the only place I actually would have jumped in the water as it looked fairly clean and inviting, despite the very cold January temperatures outside!

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