I recently saw these nice photos of Haridwar posted by a devotee, which reminded me of a few random things about Haridwar and the coin hunters.
In the first photo below you can see 4 or 5 people searching for coins. Its a common sight in Haridwar. They will even dive for coins when the water is higher and forceful during the rainy season, grabbing handfuls of dirt in search of coins. Some of them drag large magnets, but I don’t know how many of the coins are magnetic. The 5 rupee coins are magnetic, but I’m not sure about others.
People have the custom of sending leaf boat offerings for the Ganga in the evening during Ganga arati. They will always include some flowers, a deepam, and a coin in the leaf boat, which will eventually sink leaving the treasure at the bottom of the river.
Sometimes roaming people grab the boat as soon as you release it from your hands just a couple feet downstream from you, which is very irritating when you are trying to worship the Ganga. They destroy your offering, extinguish your deepam, and sink your boat just to grab the coin you placed in the leaf boat, and they do it 3 or 4 feet away from you. Even if you didn’t put a coin, they think you did put a coin and will destroy your leaf boat looking for it.
One of the devotees who would travel with me repeatedly saw this irritating behavior and came up with an idea.
We would choose the particular location (the very end of one of the “island ghats”) to release the leaf boat where it would float straight to the middle of the river, then he would walk up next to the people who snatch the boats and say, “Did you see that? That crazy foreigner just put 500 rs. in that leaf boat and left it in the river.” At that point 4 or 5 of them would jump into the raging river and try to outswim the leaf boat, which was empty, leaving other people’s boats free for a short time.
Once in the winter I saw a kind of mad looking baba standing waist deep in the cold water at Rishikesh. He kept reaching down and grabbing something and then sticking it in his mouth. I watched him for some time and couldn’t figure out what he was doing, so I asked another baba and he said he is picking up coins in the river and since he has no pocket (or clothes) he was sticking them in his mouth to hold them.
Imagine giving up everything to stand naked in the middle of a river in the freezing winter so that you can find coins and stick them in your mouth. Haridwar and Rishikesh are notorious for the many, many fake “babas” who hide there to escape the police. They form criminal gangs and carry out various crimes, like robbery and even murder.
There are often posters stuck on the walls of Haridwar and Rishikesh saying, “never drink tea from a baba, it can be deadly”. This is because some of them spike the drink with poison, and then rob you before dumping your body in the ganga to wash down stream.
There are many real and powerful sadhus and babas in these areas as well, so we should give them the benefit of the doubt while observing extreme caution for our own safety.