Note: dates out of sync w/ last post.  Delayed posting due to lack of Internet connections

(November 7) — It feels a bit like speed touring the last few days. 1. I wasn’t feeling well, but we’ve been trying to see a lot so that leaves us just 1-2 nights in some locations.  The last 3 nights we’ve been in Rishikesh then Haridwar.

 

Rishikesh is the yoga capital of the world, built along the sacred Ganges river, which divides small villages and communities in half, connecting them by foot bridges.  Each night at sunset, people gather along the river, bathe themselves and provide offerings and artis and puja.  In many locations, there are steps that flow directly into the water.  In most places, they set flowers and candles afloat inside banana leaf baskets that symbolize prayer, blessings and cleansing.  When you provide puja (an offering), you are often marked on your forehead in red dye powder, which you can see emblazed on us in some of the pictures.   

 

The day I was tied to the bathroom in Rishikesh, Brad went on a walk high above the river and ran into monkeys and sauhdus (holy men). You can see some of his shots.

 

On Nov. 6, we made it to Haridwar, which is one of the holiest places in all of India.  People make pilgrimages here from across the country to soak in the Ganges and make offerings.  At 6 p.m. each evening, the river banks fill with thousands of people – visitors, pilgrims, locals, and the destitute. After prayer and rituals, people make their way to the river’s edge and release their banana boats.  There are also scores of people walking through the crowd with oil pots burning and people put their hand in the flame then touch their head.

 

Haridwar is also a place where people make alms to those who are less fortunate and destitute.  As such, there are hundreds and hundreds of beggars here, many of whom are maimed, deformed and close to starving.  I wasn’t quite prepared for this and it was a bit overwhelming because everywhere we stepped near the river, we were approached by someone wanting something.  We also saw the grotesque practice by many women to use small babies to their advantage.  I talked to friends who live here and they say the practice of “renting” children to exploit locals and tourists for money had been done for years.  In some cases, these kids will be intentionally burned or scarred to make it more “emotional.”  They are also drugged to look more pathetic. It was awful and really hard to stomach.  Then there were people who were more reserved and would take offerings given to them without aggressively asking for it.   It makes you realize a lot of the stuff we get so worked up about is meaningless to people just trying to survive day to day.

 

While Haridwar isn’t on most tourists’ itinerary, many companies take groups to Varanasi, which can be significantly magnified, due to the size and number of tourists, according to Brad.

 

The evening prayer was interesting and beautiful so I’m glad we made the trip. If you’re going to Rishikesh, Haridwar is worth the evening stop – just be prepared for the other elements that come with it.

 Namaste.

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