Rishikesh and Haridwar…immediately my mind raced to the twin Gangetic town of Uttarakhand. The TV documentary on the growing religious fanaticism in India startled me and my mind raced back to the Uttarakhand holy towns. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps because it had found peace there or answers to this disturbing fact. I am intolerant of religious intolerance and firmly believe that shouting one’s religious views from the rooftops is the antithesis of what religion is supposed to teach: discipline, spiritual enlightenment, and abstinence from vices. Moreover, it’s nobody’s business, and anyone in organized religion, who claims to know the secrets of pleasing god is either a fool or a fraud.

The slow death of India’s diversity

Thus it is no wonder that the recent spate of virulent religious extremist propaganda taking place in India pains me a lot. It bothers me to see the country‘s usually placid nature getting so spoilt, and I often wonder how the action of one or a handful can be held against entire communities. These fanatics in their fits of passion defile the true meaning of their faith along with the identity of India, that is her wonderful diversity. Very few countries on earth offer the array of natural and human diversities as India and it is sad to see this getting diluted every day. Sitting so far away from my country, I often wonder if these are mere media-created hypes. My own travel experiences in India point out something quite different. The general vibe of India is usually primitively communal and it is most gloriously blended.

The extremes of Rishikesh and Haridwar

These unpleasant incidents stirred up a lot of memories of India in my mind and many of them were associated with religious spots or festivals. In both, I have experienced the true blue soul of India and it contains a lot of chaos, brilliant shows of colours, deep faith, and harmony. They also came along with the quintessential Indian annoyances like rude monkeys, immobile cows, scattered garbage, indisciplined crowd, lack of civic sense, and nearly nonexistent empathy for the environment, hygiene, and what is generally considered good manners. Nonetheless, they are beautiful glimpses of the vibrant beating heart of India and in them, my country seemed innocent and still very child-like. My most gorgeous memories hail from the holy towns of Haridwar and Rishikesh and both were very intense experiences.

The two extremes of spiritual identities

Nestled on the bank of the lovely Ganges, Rishikesh, and Haridwar are twin holy towns which are separated by a mere 20 kilometers. This distance, which is usually covered in 30 minutes by road not only separates the two holy spots but also creates a huge world of difference that exists between them. While, Haridwar is more gritty, grungy, and Indian pilgrim-oriented, Rishikesh relates to wellness, zen, yoga, rock and roll, and rafting. Beatles made it famous internationally and nowadays every spiritual leader, holy man, yoga expert, wellness guru, bio/organic farm, and social do-gooders worth their salt, have some enterprise up and running in Rishikesh. Needless to say, this attracts huge crowds of foreign tourists seeking respite from the maddening Indian pace and there are a lot of funky cafes, bakeries, restaurants, accommodations, etc.

The connecting line

Good old Haridwar on the other hand, has lots of temples, strict yoga ashrams, devout religious institutions, and a lovely (and very popular) evening Ganga Arti, or prayers for the river. The crowd flocking to both the towns could not be more different in their looks, mentality, and attitude; but what connects them, is their faceless nature. Despite, being the two most important holy sites in India, both Rishikesh and Haridwar warmly embrace people of all faiths, nationalities, beliefs, and financial statuses. This often makes me wonder if religion is indeed such a harmony killer as it is tagged or is it the result of nonusage of the highly sensible advice of “Live and Let Live”.

To grunge, holy cows, and the river Ganges

Presenting a three-part series of photo essays on the twin towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar; holy and deeply spiritual places, the real beauty, grunge, charm, and soul of India can be captured there. This is where real India exists.