Having visited India a number of times, I think that we are fairly "savvy" about the country. Well aware of the pitfalls of accepting help from strangers, we were very relieved when our hotel managment suggested that we use their "guide" to take us to the ghats to see the nightly Aarti ceremony. This should have been a lovely experience.
All went well until we reached the ghats- once there, our "guide" promptly ordered us to wait- and then brings along a "priest" who then orders us to buy a little offering for Ma Ganga. Fine - so far. We then get told where to sit- NOT with the crowds - because they will"hassle" us. OK.So we sit. ALONE. No one near us. Our official "guide" has by now disappeared.
30 mins later he brings along yet ANOTHER new "priest" who now drags Richard ( I would not budge) down to the river. I meanwhile, am watching this with trepidation. Richard is by now NOT in a good mood. The guy does not look remotly like a priest of any sort.
I watch them,, and every few minutes the "priest" gives him some information regarding the health & safety of our family, after which a flower is tossed into the Ganges.
Richard is getting redder & redder in the face. Finally, this farce is over- Richard tears up the steps- mad as hell. This "priest"has just demanded R3000 from him. (our Guide is still awol)
Now I know that these things happen- we have been to Varanasi- but its the WAY that this happened. Being passed from one stranger to another,and then having to pay to toss some flowers into the Ganges. And R3000 is WAY oveboard- its the principle here.
Whe we were in Varanasi, we placed offerings into the river ourselves. Help is not needed for this.
But what really was the last straw was when Richards "priest" tells him that our family will NOT be blessed or lucky unless he pays up. OMG- that guy has NO idea how close he came to becoming a gift to Ma Ganga himself. Richard was about to toss him into the river, had he said one more word.
This little tourist trap is obviously well construed and has a cast of many. Starting with our hotel reception desk,who recommended the guide. He is the main character, the others follow on. They felt the heat when we made it back to the hotel- no holds barred.
So- GO ON YOUR OWN to see the Aarti- no help is needed. Its easy to find the Har-ki-Pairi Ghat!
Fun Alternatives: Go on your own and sit with the crowd. Take no advice from anyone. There are genuine Priests there, but they will not be hassling you. The trouble is-how to know who is genuine?
We surely don't need help to do the obvious. Watch- be respectfu l- place your offering yourself. Pray if you like. Enjoy. Its very beautiful.
Beware of the Pandits, Dont fall for them or there sweet words. The problem is once they get hold of you, there is no turning back unless you are willing to give a fair bit of quarrel. So the best thing is AVOID them as much as you can with least words.
Just Fold your hands and do a NAMASTE and move on.
When they will strike you :
1. When you enter Har-Ki-Pouri first time, i dont know how they do it but they come to know that you are here for the first time.
2. When you are about to take bath,they will come and ask you to do a small custom or puja.
3. When in the evening aarti, if you wish to give an offering to the ganges by afloating a DIYA(kind of light or a candle with a flower bucket make of leaves). First always take a MATCH BOX with you to light the DIYA. They may offer you to light it and they will again start the holy ritual. So light it yourself,match boxes are easily availalbe.
4. When you are about to afloat the offering or DIYA, they will take some flowers off your offering and start puja, you can stop them as well and ignore them if they dont listen to you.
Unique Suggestions: For me god is inside you and you dont need any representative for that. If you want to pay your homage just remember your god from your heart and he/she is definitely goinng to listen to you.
1. If you want to do a puja while you are taking bath at ganga. Dont agree to a "dakshina", dan, (DOnation) of more than Rs. 101 .. they may say anything but stik to this. At they end they will ask you for "Braman Bhoj RS 40 each for Bhraman"(feeding the bramans are supposed to be a holy act) Dont agree for more than 5. Which means Rs 200.
So a total of Rs 101+ 200 =Rs 301
2. While you do the offering to the ganga in the evening, light your DIYA YOURSELF and when you reach to the bank down the stairs, there are PUJARIS who will do a small prayer for you and complete the ritual. You can give them an (offering, Donation, dan ) of RS 11 - Rs 51 or if you not been caught once by any pujari, you can give him 101 :)
Fun Alternatives: Try to see what others are doing this will help you avoid any traps. If you want to do any ritual checkout how others are doing it.
Before starting the ritual get to know the exact cost with the pandits. Once everything is considered start the puja to avoid later conflicts.
There is a liquor shop just outside the city of Hardwar and enroute to Rhishikesh.
Here thereare arrangement for you to buy or consume hard drinks and beer.
But try to avoid buying and storing the liquor or carrying it intact with you.
The reason is these guys tip off the police who would come and stop you in about 5 mins or so.
They would start with talking about putting yyou to jail, but if you can hold tight they ultimately come down to being brined with a botle.
Elseway, a couple of hundred ruppes should do the trick.
( I amanged with a pack of cigarettees 12 years back. :) )
Unique Suggestions: KEEP ONE EXTRA BOTTLE OF RUM/WHISKY WHICH YOU CAN DONATE TO THE COPS.