I recently visited Haridwar and came back angry and offended at the lack of concern shown towards the sacred city. Haridwar has become a game of loot. Priests and saints, in the name of Haridwar and its holy spirit, are exploiting religious, god-fearing people.
Haridwar is no longer the ‘dwar’ to meet the ‘almighty’. On my visit, I observed certain telling images that transformed my opinion. I think it’s a city of ‘hidden sins’ where its ‘Godliness’ is taken advantage of by the lords of Haridwar.
Let me show you through my eyes what Haridwar is today…
You will suffer the stench even before you enter the city. At the railway station and bus stands, the roads and sideways are laden with garbage of all nature. Reportedly, human bones have been found on roadsides. The people who live in the city will tell you they have become immune to the stink. As an outsider, I bore the brunt. It became difficult to breathe at one point and my friend had to help me settle down.
The Ganges river bank is extremely grimy, mucky. There is no spot at, or around the river bank, where you can sit and watch the river and the setting sun. The place is stormed by hawkers and Pandits who have arbitrarily taken their places at the bank, permanently, leaving no room for pilgrims to perform their own private ‘Puja’. There are beggars all over the place, asking for food and money in the name of God. How can Haridwar be called holy when its people are begging for the most basic of things? Instead filling their coffers, why don’t Pandits and the so-called ‘saints’ use their temple funds to do more for the poor?
People are washing their clothes, rinsing them in the river, polluting it further and further more. The Uttar Pradesh Government, run by Akhilesh Yadav, has allowed filth and grime to accumulate and overtake Haridwar. ‘Swachh Bharat abhiyan’ is not just Narendra Modi’s dream; it should be all of ours.
During the Aarti in ‘Har ki Pauri’, a pundit came by and successfully influenced me into performing a ritual. Once I was done with the five-minute rite, the pundit, with a solemn face, asked me for five hundred rupees as fees/daan. I felt cheated and betrayed in a city where people are expected to have more conscience than the rest of us.
There were finely dressed ladies, who offered us milk for some ritual, making the Ganges even dirtier. They too demanded money for their milk and time. The place has turned into a tourist place, where tourists are fooled around for money earned through illegal means. No one has conscience.
Haridwar has become highly commercialised. This was the most disheartening fact. It had a soul before, it is gone now. Religion has become commercialised.
I had no prior bookings with any hotel as it was a sudden plan over a weekend and the mad rush for tickets was crazy. I knew it would be difficult to find reservations. Every hotel, be it a budget hotel or a luxury hotel, had a board of ‘house full’. The truth is something else. Quite a few rooms are engaged for illegal purposes in the name of God and religion. Black marketing goes on in hidden places. The Vibes and the ambience is no more spiritual and they treat you irrelevantly even though you have paid for the services you demand.
Once the Aarti is over, every Tom, Dick and Harry comes to you with local Aarti and asks for money. In the morning too, the tiny temples at the river bank are filled with pundits who keep asking for donations and money for every little tikka that they apply on your forehead, and to add to disgrace, they abused you if you didn’t give them money.
There is a general perception that no non-vegetarian food or alcohol is served in the city, but there are plenty of places serving them. Just go to the bye-pass road and you will find them all over. Moreover, you will see addicts of weed and hash in the city. The kind of drug addiction in the city made me go bonkers. I could smell ‘grass’ everywhere I went.
The most unpleasant view is that at a distance of every inch, the city has beggars who have found begging an easy route to earn money. I realised his clearly when I saw a Sadhu, who was begging in front of me, riding a bike in a matter of 5 minutes. Begging is yet another way of earning money for these chaps, who shamelessly demand money despite being able bodied and of sound minds.
I hoped and prayed food would be a consolation after a terrible experience. It wasn’t to be and I cursed myself for coming to Haridwar. I lost my appetite after visiting food joints. It was smelly, dirty with no care for hygiene and health. People think ‘Haridwar’ will protect them.
I ate at the Chotiwala, Mohan Ji puri wale and Brijwasi, but none of them maintained even the most basic hygiene standards. We had to eat so we did.
My sincere advice to those who have high expectations of Haridwar is, be careful of all the hazards you will face in Haridwar. It has become a dangerous place to be…