We started our first day on our own without someone telling us how to do stuff with a walk around the Karol Bagh Market where we spent our first morning in india 2 weeks ago. We’ve both become more used to the Indian’s approach to trying to sell us stuff although the market was a bit more low key in the run up to Republic day so that might have helped too!
It was nice taking a bit of time to be lazy after the last two weeks of having our bags ready by 7 am and on the bikes by 7.30 am.
The plan was to catch a bus from Kashmere gate to Haridwar in Uttarakand. We were advised by our guide Bhupesh to try and get a Volvo as they are much more comfortable than the other ramshackle affairs heading up the road. As we were sat on the bus waiting for it to depart about 15 separate vendors came on trying to sell us socks. Clearly socks are what you need for long bus rides.
The 5 hours to Haridwar took about 7 hours (Indian time is somewhat flexible) and we walked to our hotel in the dark but managed to find it easily enough. The need for food overruled our requirement for sleep and we found a nice local restaurant where we were immediately asked for a selfie by a couple from Gujarat (Gujatatis seem to want selfies with westerners more than other Indians although I dont’t think our sample size is quite big enough yet to draw any solid conculsions). Anyway, the food was lovely and we spent the rest of the meal in relative peace.
Next morning we decided to go for a walk up a hill to Shri Mata Mansa Devi which is a Hindu with comanding views over the City. We had no intention of going into the temple but on nearing the summit several road side vendors stared offering to look after our shoes while we went in. One particularly enthusiastic chap shoved a plate of flowers and rice(?) into our hands, pointed to a pile of shoes, and shouted: shoes free 100 rupee return! Us being to polite, unconfrontational Brits that we are obliged him and took off our shoes and took his plate (thinking that £1 was a reasonable price to pay to avoid further awkwardness). We entered the temple and somehow found ourselves in a queue for the cable cars which would have returned us to the bottom of the hill unshod. Navigating our way out of the crowds of people trying to decend back to Haridwar we were accosted by a man who tryed to encourage us to throw our flowers (and subsequently money) at a Ganesh. By this point we decided we had had enough and not knowing what to do with our plate of rice, put it down in an inconspicuous place and promptly left. We returned to our shoe guardian who looked annoyed. “Return plate” he repeated in ever increasing levels of exasperation. Seemingly we were meant to have relieved the plate of its flowers and rice and given it back to him. He seemed happy with an additional 50 rupees in lieu of his plate and we were happy to have our shoes returned although somewhat confused by what had just happened. It was a nice view point though…
Once we got down from our hill the Haridwar markets were in full swing. They sprawled across the streets and back alleys seemingly endlessly. Cows and mopeds trying to navigate there way through the tightly packed stalls and pedestrians. The traders were a lot less pushy than the guys in Delhi and Udaipur which meant it was easier to peruse the merchandise which included scarves, chess sets, blankets, plates, infinite numbers of bangles, and chapati stones (a significant slab of marble on which to roll out your chapatis). About 35 years ago Lucy’s mum bought a chapati stone in Agra and traipsed it round India for 3 months. I think Lucy is quite likely to make a similar mistake in Haridwar…
Haridwar is the place where the Ganges leave the mountains and as such is an important place of pilgrimage for Hindus. Every day at sun rise and sun set they have a ceremony on the Har Ki Pauri Ghat on the banks of the Ganges. We went to watch the sunset ceremony from the opposite bank. We found a seat on the ground crammed in amongst thousands of other people. We had scouted it out earlier in the day and watched people submerging themselves the the cold and fast flowing river. We sat cross legged (Not a comfortable position for me) for about 45 minutes listening to the singing and chanting and watching them light torches and sending garlands of flowers down the Ganges. Hundreds of the spectators had their phones in the air with their families on Skype watching it intently. It is obviously a very important thing for a lot of people and it was definitely an impressive spectacle to watch.