Haridwar is a sacred city in India, so many of the activities here revolve around Hinduism. While you can participate in various activities without being Hindu, it is important to show respect for the culture. This can be done in several ways, but one you need to consider before leaving is the way you dress.
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Dressing for Haridwar, India
People in India dress modestly, so you should do the same during your visit. One option is to wear long pants and a shirt (short sleeve or long sleeve, both are fine). I personally wore t-shirt dresses and thick (not-see through) leggings every day. I would also recommend wearing good walking or hiking shoes. My family all bought Keen waterproof hiking shoes before our trip because we knew we were going to do a lot of walking and we did not want anything from the streets seeping into our shoes.
Make sure you wear socks and bring a Buff or something similar that can cover your head. When going into temples, you are almost always required to take off your shoes, and occasionally you are required to cover your head. In Haridwar, we did not go in a temple that required us to cover our heads, but we did have to take off our shoes to enter a temple.
Maa Chandi Devi Temple
While there are several temples in Haridwar, the Maa Chandi Devi Temple is the most well-known. This temple stands high on a hill overlooking Haridwar, so it’s hard to miss. To get to the temple, you ride a cable car (gondola). The temple has shops and restrooms right outside of it. When you go inside the temple, you must take your shoes off and follow the rest of the line through. Sometimes people steal shoes outside of temples, so I recommend half of your party watches everyone’s shoes while the other half goes through the temple, and swap when the first group gets back. The temple goes in a semi-circle, and you follow the person in front of you. This is the only temple I personally went in where someone painted a small dot on my forehead which I thought was cool.
People working at the temple also asked for donations as you walked through. At first, we gave a little money to everyone who asked, but then a local informed us we only had to give money to one person. As we walked through the rest of the temple we told people we had already given money and they were fine with that.
The Ganges River is sacred to in Hinduism because it is thought to be the goddess Ganga (1). Hindus bathe in this river to rid themselves of their sins (1). I visited the Ganges River on New Year’ Eve which is a particularly crowded night on the river. On the walk there, be sure to pick up a flower boat as part of the ceremony. People along the river can walk you through the ceremony in which you put your feet in the river and release your boat. This is another time people use to steal shoes and pickpocket, so have half of your group participate while the other half watches. We had people come up to us asking us to sign something while other people came around trying to pickpocket while we were distracted. This is a common technique around the world, so keep your belongings safe.
Where to Stay
During our visit we wanted to stay right on the Ganges River, so we stayed at the Hotel Ganga Sadan. This hotel is close to the walking bridge and has great views of the river. If you wanted a more private experience stepping into the river, this hotel, and many others near it, provide that opportunity. Many hotels along the Ganges have an enclosed deck where you can step into the river. People from all across India come to Haridwar to step in the river and it’s a spiritual experience for them, which is why hotels provide this more intimate option for guests.
Haridwar is a great city, and I learned more about Indian culture here than anywhere else on my stay. If you enjoy learning about cultures and the way people in other countries live, Haridwar is definitely a place for you. Before going anywhere in India, you will need to know these tips.