As circumstances panned out, I ended up living 3 months in Haridwar this year, making me quite familiar with the city as a local, rather than as a tourist. In these 3 months, I saw the fading spring, the most scorching summer, a relentless monsoon, the fascinating (if annoying) "Kawad / Kanwar" season (check out my 60-second reel on it) and of course spent many an evening soaking in the Ganga, both literally and otherwise.
If you find yourself with 2 or 3 days in the town, here's your perfect Haridwar Itinerary About the city: Haridwar is stuck between an ancient heritage and trappings of an upcoming modern town These 3 months in Haridwar had me realize that while Haridwar is as old as time itself, it's also trying to navigate the challenges of being a city that's suited for a life of the current times for its local residents. Unlike Rishikesh, Haridwar isn't just for the tourists and spiritual travelers, but is a bustling tier-3 town in its own right. The town is home to BHEL and many other industries, and its local residents live pretty independent of its tourist side. Modernity is just about skimming the surface with a handful of tall buildings, multi-brand outlets and even an IKEA-like store in
Mr DIY. (my saviour!) but it's struggling with issues of low non-seasonal employment, garbage and unorganized traffic.
But in this blogpost, we will talk about how travelers to Haridwar can make the best out of their 2 or 3 days here.
Best way to get around Haridwar: Erikshaws are like the veins of Haridwar and pretty much ubiquitous and it's a good thing as they help keep the pollution and noise levels low. While you can take a shared one for Rs. 10-30 (depending on distance) to pretty much everywhere, for saving time you can just book one for yourself and pay a flat rate according to duration. (Usually 500 for half a day.)
Day 1: Check into a hotel in the Ranipur Mod /railway station area for easy accessibility to all areas. 1. Attend the famous Ganga Aarti at Har Ki Pauri at 6pm
Let's get the most cliched "list of things to do in Haridwar" topper item out of the way at the very outset. Yes the Harr Ki Pauri aarti is special and worth attending at least once in lifetime.
Thousands of people descend down the ghaats of the forking Ganga everyday at the famous Harr Ki Pauri (literally, god's steps) making it as crowded as the once-in-4-years Kumbh itself, but somehow there's still space for everyone.
The Aarti happens between 6:30pm to 7:30 daily, but to grab a good spot, get there an hour early, plonk yourself down comfortably and enjoy the spectacle about to unfold. Behold as hundreds of floral diyas float into the almost-crystal clean Ganga almost to the rhythm of the Aarti being sung by the local priests and chorused by thousands sitting on the steps, looking like mere colourful pixels next to the majestic river. If you're feeling generous enough, you can also sponsor an Aarti for any amount and get equivalent privileges - holding the Aarti thali, doing the whole aarti while holding the thaali, getting a private deck for your family, having a private mantra-chanting ritual with a priest -- you name it!
Post the Aarti, walk around the Har Ki Pauri area for a supper at the many food stalls around. Some of the famous but overhyped eateries in Haridwar are Mohan ji cholewala and the Chotiwala chains. IMHO, it's the little known ones that have better food and less crowds. A rare south Indian cafe (whose board can be seen from pretty much anywhere) is Curry Leaf right in the middle of the Moti Bazaar and Har Ki Pauri square.
Stroll and shop at Moti Bazaar post 7pm
The locally famous "Moti Baaar" is right next to Har Ki Pauri and is worth a stroll if you have nothing more pressing to attend to. The market boasts of hundreds of shops selling religious paraphernalia like idols of gods, their clothes, copper and brass diyas, imitation jewelry, utensils, and more. As always, I wanted to support the local economy so I did pick up a unique shell-lined mirror and a cute 200ml steel can from here that I still consider one of my best buys on this extended Uttarakhand trip of mine.
1. Hike up to the Mansa Devi Temple
The temple is situated at an elevation of around 2000 feet and requires a short hike. Alternatively, one could use the cable car or the Udankhatola to get there. While the temple is ancient and has a deep religious significance for Hindus, the views from the temple are worth a trip in itself. It could be the perfect wake-me-up sunrise trip for your 2nd day in Haridwar.
2. Relax by a less busy ghaat
Haridwar has no dearth of Ghaats (banks of river Ganga that have steps and can be used for sitting.) Personally for me, I couldn't deal with the crowds of Har Ki Pauri beyond the odd once in a year visit, and preferred going to less-crowded ghaats like the Sri Govind Ghaat or the Vishkarma Ghaat in Kankhal for a more peaceful time by the Ganga and myself.
3. Visit the Daksh temple and other antiquities in Kankhal
Haridwar is home to hundreds of temples, ashrams and ghaats and almost all are located in the Kankhal area. Kankhal is technically a part of larger Haridwar, it's more ancient than Haridwar itself. The two famous temples that draw a slew of devotees and pilgrims here, especially in the month of Saavan are Daksh temple and the Buddhi Mata temple. Kankhal is also dotted with shops, havelis and houses that seem frozen in time. Adjacent to Daksh temple is the Sheetla Mata temple and the best part about this temple is the semi private ghaat that flanks its courtyard making it a soothing yet divine visit. If you're lucky enough, there'd be a Bhandara or Jaagran happening closeby and you can get your hands on a freshly prepared hot halwa and chana prasad!
4. Check out food stalls in Jwalapur and call it a night
Haridwar isn't a nocturnal city and most establishments shut by 9pm. There's also no nightclubs, cafes of significance or much else do in the city. 2 days are more than enough for ticking off the touristic highlights of Haridwar. Also, my biggest gripe with Haridwar is its stark absence of restaurants or cafes by the Ganga, unlike Rishikesh, which has some of the best cafes I've been to in all of India. Still, you can still get yourself a picnic by the ghaat or rely on the many hawkers for some chaat and tea at once. And if midnight munchies strike, head over to Arya Nagar in the Jwalapur area for late night food stalls serving up everything from pizzas to momos to pav bhaji at under Rs.100!
For a more upscale experience, the Terrace Cafe in Ranipur Mod is a good option for a good rooftop ambience and continental food that compares to any standard cafe in a metro city.
Alternative, health and wellness focussed Itinerary for Haridwar
If you've already done the above or not particularly interested in exploring temples and aartis in the Holy town of Haridwar, there's an alternative itinerary that focuses on the spiritual and wellness aspect of the town which is no less significant than its religious one. Haridwar is the original Yog Nagari, and while it doesn't boast of the highest number of yoga schools, it's the OG birthplace of Maharishis and yogis who've spent years by the Ganga practising the art.
Healing retreats at Patanjali Wellness
Haridwar is home to the famous Baba Ramdev and his massive yoga empire that has long branched into a billion dollar FMCG behemoth. While the massive Patanjali complexes house the company HQ and a university, the wellness arm of Patanjali offers short-term wellness retreats that span across yoga, Ayurveda, and more in a rather idyllic setting. Most people come here for residential week-long wellness retreats that include offerings of rationed Sattvik foods, medical consultations, yoga and meditation sessions and various panchkarma treatments that cater to personalized yet holistic health plans.
Holistic spiritual experience and free one-night stay at Shantikunj Ashram
If you have another day to spare in Haridwar, I'd recommend going out of the city a bit and checking out the Shantikunj ashram. It's one of the few of the hundreds of Ashrams in Haridwar that allows a free stay for a night even to non-devotees amongst other activities like talks by spiritual gurus, satsangs, yoga classes, wellness sessions and more. According to its website, Shantikunj invites seekers to "have a spiritual trip for a day, 1-2 hrs or 2-3 days to feel the divine atmosphere, intense spiritual energy & rejuvenate your life."
While I've spent 3 months living in Haridwar, if I had to spend just 3 days or a week here, this is exactly the itinerary I'll follow. I'm working on a similar 3 day itinerary for Rishikesh and will soon update this blog with a link to that, but meanwhile, check out my post on the best cafes in Rishikesh that should keep you busy for a month, not just 3 days!
About the author: I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession.