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Haridwar, which translates as “The Gates of God”, is an ancient holy city in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand. Set on the banks of the River Ganges, it is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Hindus and a fantastically engaging destination. With its Himalayan foothills location, it is scenically beautiful as well as culturally rich and we recommend dipping your toes in for a few days to explore the ghats and immerse yourself in Haridwar’s intensely spiritual culture and colourful bustling streets.

Though it is firmly on the pilgrimage tourism route, it is not on the itinerary of most tourists to India and it is still a fairly offbeat destination. Haridwar can be reached by train from Delhi and it less than an hour’s drive south of Rishikesh, another spiritual centre on the Ganges which attracts many pilgrims, gurus and yogis who have set up ashrams here. If you seek some pampering after visiting Haridwar, then the luxury mountain spa resort of Ananda in The Himalayas is a short drive away.

Haridwar’s focal point is the Har Ki Pauri, which is the largest of several sacred ghats in the city and literally translates as “steps of the Lord”. Here you will see an enormously atmospheric nightly ceremony called the Ganga Aarti where worshippers and priests gather to set thousands of tiny flickering lamps afloat along the river as an offering to the Goddess Ganga as they chant, sing and burn incense. Legend says that a stone wall at Har Ki Pauri bears the footprint of Lord Vishnu and that a drop of nectar fell here from a pot carried by the celestial bird Garuda when the world was created.

The city plays host to many major religious festivals, at which time Haridwar is completely flooded by worshippers and best avoided if you are not keen on chaotic and crowded scenes. The largest annual festival is the Kanwar Mela in July when hundreds of thousands of Shiva devotees descend upon the city. Every twelve years the Kumbh Mela draws millions of worshippers and holy men to the world’s largest religious gathering, which is held at one of four sacred places in India, including Haridwar. Every few years there are smaller celebrations called the Ardh Mela, which have more reasonable crowds (still a few million people!) and are attended by sadhus and roaming Hindu ascetics who descend on this sacred part of Ganges to bathe.

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