Ancient Haridwar (the "Gateway to God") is one of the seven holiest places in India, and one of the oldest living cities. Located at the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand, it's particularly popular with Hindu pilgrims who come to take a dip in the holy waters of the fast flowing Ganges River and wash away their sins. Unlike Varanasi, the water is clean and fresh in Haridwar. The evening Ganga Aarti holds special appeal.
Haridwar is located in Uttarakhand. Trains from major cities all over India stop at Haridwar on their way to Dehradun. For those coming from Delhi to Haridwar, it takes a minimum of four hours to get there by train or six hours by road. The nearest airport to Haridwar is in Dehradun, 40 kilometers (25 miles) away. This makes air travel a less preferable option.
The best time to visit Haridwar is from October to March. Summers, from April to July, get very hot in Haridwar. Temperatures hover around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The clean water of the Ganges is really refreshing though. The monsoon season, from July to September, is unsuitable to taking a dip in the Ganges as the river bank becomes unstable and currents are strong because of the rain. Winters, from November until February, get cold during the night. As a result, the water is chilly, but there's also mist in the air which makes Haridwar particularly scenic at that time of year.
Haridwar's main attractions are its temples (particularly Mansa Devi temple, where the wish fulfilling goddess resides), ghats (steps leading down to the river), and Ganges River. Take a holy dip and cleanse your sins. As the sun sets, head to Har ki Pauri ghat to witness the magical Ganga Aarti (prayer) at around 6-7 p.m. every night. Fiery lamps combined with the chanting of mantras, clanking of bells and enthusiastic crowd, is very moving. Haridwar is also a great place to come if you've got an interest in Ayurvedic medicine, as many roots and shrubs that are grown in the Himalayas are readily available there.
The most famous festival to take place at Haridwar is the Kumbh Mela, held there once every 12 years. It draws tens of millions of pilgrims who come to bathe in the Ganges and be absolved of their sins. The last Kumbh Mela was the 2010 Haridwar Kumbh Mela. In addition to these melas, many religious Hindu festivals are celebrated in Haridwar. Some of the most popular ones are the Kanwar Mela (July-August) devoted to Lord Shiva, Somwati Amavasya (July), Ganga Dussehra (June), Kartik Poornima (November), and Baisakhi (April).