At Haridwar – the Gates (dwar) of God (Hari) – 214km northeast of Delhi, the River Ganges emerges from its final rapids past the Shivalik Hills to begin its long slow journey across northern India to the Bay of Bengal. Stretching for roughly 3km along a narrow strip of land between the craggy wooded hills to the west and the river to the east, Haridwar is revered by Hindus, for whom the Har-ki-Pauri ghat (literally the “Footstep of God”) marks the exact spot where the river leaves the mountains. As a road and rail junction, Haridwar links the Gangetic plains with the mountains of Uttarakhand and their holy pilgrimage (yatra) network. Along with Nasik, Ujjain and Allahabad, it is one of the four holy tirthas or “crossings” that host the massive Kumbh Mela festival. Every twelve years (next due in 2022), millions of pilgrims come to bathe at a preordained moment in the turbulent waters of the channelled river around Har-ki-Pairi.

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