The night train takes you from Delhi to Haridwar in less than 5 hours. You could also drive down by road if the weather is pleasant.
Haridwar is fast emerging a business destination as well with the incentives being offered by the Uttarkhand government to set up manufacturing facilities there. This is also evident with the presence of a Ginger hotel there.
In Rishikesh, the places popularly frequented are the yoga centres and the jhoolas- Lakshman and Ram jhoola. Jhoolah literally means swing and the bridges are “hanging” bridges, there are gigantic cables holding them up and it depresses with the growing weight of users on the bridge. The Ganges is huge but not glorious – far from sparkling and pure- it looks muddy and dirty as you can see in this picture.
There are ropeways to get you to the 2 main temples on the hills and I was surprised at how temples differ by region. Temples in the South are exquisitely carved and mammoth in size as well. These temples looked like modern concrete slabs in comparison. The deity is usually metal or black stone in the South versus marble in the North. In the South larger temples at least use genuine jewelry and adorn the deities with silks or cotton whereas I was amused to see synthetic fabric on the Goddesses there. Here is a pic of an imposing Shiva on a road side.
The lighting of lamps at the end of each day, at Har ki Pauri, in prayer by countless devotees in Haridwar is really mesmerizing. It begins soon after sun set and thousands of diyas make their way across the river.
As for “paet puja” you will find a number fo sweet lime juice vendors all through the one hour drive from Haridwar to Rishikesh. Also try and catch up with Chotiwala in Swar Ashram – a much touted restaurant near the lakshman jhoola- it is truly value for money and even has a garish chotiwala who ushers you in. Alcohol and non vegetarian food is banned in the city.
The colour of the river, the number of guides, touts and obviously drug addicted sadhus made me very uncomfortable. I was left feeling that one would have to be a very firm believer of God to like these two places.
Or you could be a rafting ( at Shivpuri) or a yoga enthusiast ( like the Beatles).