Varanasi – Ganges River boat trips

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ December 19th, 2007. Updated on December 12th, 2010. Published in: Travel blog » India.

Travel Journal Overview: Varanasi had me won over on India. And things were only going to get better.

The Ganges Nightly Celebrations (click to enlarge)

The Ganges Nightly Celebrations (click to enlarge)

It was 5.30am when Bob, a fairly big Canadian guy arrived at reception. I was waiting for the Italians to appear before our dawn river boat trip on the Ganges. We struck up a conversation. He was attempting a round the world by surface trip, taking boats and all manner of overland transport, so we had something in common.

The Italians appeared, and although tired from his overnight trip down from Nepal big young Bob decided to join us too. For 150 rps we were in for a good show. For the first time in forever I was not apprehensive about getting into a boat, or floating along in the water. Indeed our little row boat and rower were quite nice, both quiet and genteel.

Morning life on the Ganges

Morning life on the Ganges

We rowed in near silence, only the gentle lapping of water against the paddles broke into the darkness. There were no burning ghats this morning. Bob, a photojournalist by trade began shooting away with his Canon EOS. The boat. The rower. The shore. I tried the same. I got masses of blurry images.

Morning Prayers on the Ganges

Morning Prayers on the Ganges

Dawn approached in a magnificent golden hew. The river came to an incandescent life. The shores were lined with people starting out their day. There were no gory sight. Instead people washed clothes, bathed and prayed as the new sun seemed to raise them up into a dreamlike state. The colors of this dawn were fantastic. Was it the river? The area? The day? I did not know. But it effected us all.

We paddled along. With the new golden rays my camera at last began to take good photographs. Other boats started to pass by in the opposite direction. Some, our boatman told us, were called ‘floating shops’. From bracelets and other touristy items to bags of salt and fish; smiling gaped toothed floating shop salesmen waved to us. Tourists sailed by, cameras clicking as people pointed to the shoreline of temples and life. Locals sailed by, no cameras or pointed fingers, just silent gazes at life on the Ganges.

We headed back as the golden dawn took on a more colorful and average look along the river. We settled in on a huge breakfast before cramming ourselves into Waseem’s little white car and headed off to see some temples. All still included in the price. The Italian guy declined to come, he was too sick with the flu. It was now I felt my own itchy sore throat. The temples were all good, made better by a good combination of travelers.

The night boat trip departed at 17.30, it was just bob, me, and a silent Bulgarian guy. Somehow

Empty boats on the Ganges

Empty boats on the Ganges

the evening trip did not hold the magic of its dawn counterpart. There were more boats in the river, and the burning ghats were in full smoulder. We paddled up a little along the shore, looking on as a boat of tourists began pointing their cameras at the funeral piers. While no one seemed to mind, I would have to side on those that see it as disrespectful. People were in mourning, their relatives and friends in a state of entry into the most holy of rivers.

Up ahead were were surprised by the bright neon celebratory lights beside a large temple. Accompanying this smoky light display was the sounds of traditional drums, sting instruments and horns. When Waseem had told us of the nightly celebrations that take place every evening I was not imagining such a festival to be taking place.

Above a harbour like area there were 5 20 foot poles spaced evenly along a platform, all adorned with lights. At the bottom of each pole there was either a man or woman dresses in traditional looking orange robed outfits. In choreographed unison they went through a routine of playing symbolized music while in the back ground and scattered around were several musicians that accompanied them.

Every night they celebrate on the Ganges, Varanasi, India

Every night they celebrate on the Ganges, Varanasi, India

The men and women interchanged their display with brass candle sticks held high. Little flames flickered as they were swung in unison. We climbed out of our boat and unto the dock area for a better view. It was now we could see that seated in front of this theatrical display were about 200 local people. The usual amount of 20 or so tourists. And some flower sellers. To think that every night there was a celebration like this is quite impressive. Even more impressive is the thought that it’s not profit oriented towards tourism.

Morning flower sales on the Ganges, Varanasi, India

Morning flower sales on the Ganges, Varanasi, India

Back at the hotel after a nice chicken Manchurian I realised I had all the signs of a bad sinus infection, just what I needed before a trip up to the snow bound plateaus of Nepal.

Some related links on this website that  you might like: (including a lot more photographs from India)

Stories: The Dealing with the Delhi Post Office

Stories: Accomplishing Something on the Ganges

Video: On the Ganges Ceremony

India Travel Guide


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