Can you persuade tourists to shell out Rs 6,000 per night for a room in a hotel that does not serve non-vegetarian food and liquor?
It may be difficult to imagine, but many willingly part with such sums in the holy town of Haridwar during the Kumbh mela.
Kumbh Mela starts on January 14 and ends on April 28. Three months in advance, all the rooms are booked, at Haveli Hari Ganga, a Heritage hotel located on Ram Ghat in one of Haridwar’s congested lanes.
“Already all the rooms in the hotel are fully booked during the three months of Kumbh Mela,” said Parthi Krishnan, general manager of the hotel that is adding to its capacity, like many others in the town.
The hotel is the renovated version of a 97-year-old summerhouse of the royal family of Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh. Developed six years back, the 20-room property is an example of how the Gateway to Gods (that’s what 'Haridwar' means) is getting transformed.
“We are going very big on Kumbh. Another four room Ganga-facing property, a 30,000 square feet property and 18 rooms belonging to the erstwhile Tehri royal family are being acquired. We will also set up 100 camps on a river island for our guests,” said Parthi Krishnan said.
Other hotel chains like Ginger and Country Inn have also converged on Haridwar in the past few years. Haridwar would witness an inflow of 60 million to 70 million devotees and tourists during Kumbh mela.
Besides, constructions by official and civic bodies, ashrams,are getting renovated and dharamshalas, hotels, apartment blocks and malls are springing up all over the town.
The construction boom in the town is changing this nearly 3,700-year-old town forever.
While the local administration is yet to complete works like widening of roads, toilets, sewer lines and water supplies, the private sector has sprinted ahead. The 34 prominent ashrams, dozens of dharamshalas and 50 important hotels are all ready to cater to every category of foreign and domestic tourist.
Range of facilities on offer is wide – from simple lodgings to five-star comforts, choice of continental or oriental cuisine. Some even allow guests to do their own cooking.
Take Swami Ramdev’s Patanjali Yog Peeth, which has 115 rooms on offer from Rs 50 per bed in the dormitory to Rs 1,100 per bed for a triple-bed room with AC. And like any good ‘hotel’, guests are provided with shampoos, soaps and towels.
“We have a Kumbh-like atmosphere in our Yog Peeth all through the year and we are all geared up for next year’s Kumbh as well,” said Acharya Balkrishna, Swami Ramdev’s close associate. In April this year, another 1,000 rooms were added to the second phase of the project completed in just nine months.
“Nearly 100,000 people are expected to come to our ashram during the Kumbh from India and abroad. All the 600 rooms we have would be filled to capacity during January to April and many would be staying in open areas as well,” said Ramji Bhai (78), caretaker of Prem Nagar Ashram.
The ashram, which is owned by spiritual guru-cum-politician Satpal Maharaj, is building a large prayer area where nearly 20,000 people can be accommodated. The premise also has 460 toilets under one roof.
Once you step out of the ashrams, dharamshalas and hotels, you can saunter in to Pentagon, Uttarakhand’s first multipurpose mall spread across 7,50,000 square feet, which will open during the Kumbh mela. Like its peers in other parts of the country, this mall will also have gaming zones, food courts and multiplexes and, of course, shops.
For those who want to own a piece of Haridwar, real estate firms are offering plots, villas, and luxury and premium apartments to suit all budgets. One such is the Jurs Country project -- the largest modern township coming up in the town -- by Vardhman Developers.
But not all seem happy with the makeover of the town. “Nowadays, ashrams have become means of business, while earlier only basic fare and simple facilities were provided,” commented Dr R.K. Pandey of Shantikunj, one of the largest ashrams in Haridwar, which does not charge anything from any guest for stay or food.
1. Kumbh Mela will start on January 14 and end on April 28
2. There are 11 auspicious days for people to take bath in the Ganges.
3. Nearly 60 million people are expected to visit Hiridwar during the mela.
4. Haridwar has 34 prominent ashrams and 50 hotels.
3. The entire mela area will be divided into 31 sectors with 31 police stations, 41 police posts, 36 fire stations and a central control room.
4. The government will provide 1,20,000 beds to tourists in an area spread over 120 million square feet.