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Each year, there are thousands of pilgrimages to the holy city of Varanasi. At sunrise taking a boat tour along the river is a great way to see the ghats…a dip in the Ganges River is considered to be both, holy and purifying.
My boat cruise down the ganges at 6A felt beautifully special …and not, with reason that at least a 100 of other tourist boats were out on the waters racing to make the length of the Ganges before sunrise!
Table of Contents: Things to Know about Sunrise Boat Rides on the Ganges of Varanasi
Why should you take sunrise boat ride on the Ganges in Varanasi?
By boat is the only way to see the overall bathing ghat life, morning sun salutations, chanting, meditations, yoga postures and people washing their clothes on Ganges. Even Indians do it.
Indian men, women and children are by the ganges river. A dip in the Ganga water is considered holy and purifying, so many lather up and take a baths in it too! Most are so devout and absorbed in their water ritual, they can be nonchalant about the 100+ tourists boats observing and photographing their every move.
After your sunrise boat cruise, take a stroll through the ghats and you’ll get a feeling of what Varanasi means to Hindus. From pundits guiding Hindu pilgrims through devotional rituals to devotees getting their heads shaven, women drying saris, beggars, cows and Hindu tourists, the ghats are a fabulous place for people watching. In the evening, Varanasi holds a glorious puja ceremony- the Ganga aarti.
If you want the flexibility to visit different parts of the Ganges or to get closer to all the ritual taking place, it’s best to hire your own private boat. My boat cost around 250 rupees and the boat man went anywhere I wanted to go. We also got closer to the bathers so I could photograph their worship as well as, he took me to Beharsh Kashi (the opposite side of the Ganges of which I had always wanted to see).
Read my Varanasi City Guide to Plan your activities
A Sunrise Boat Ride sample itinerary:
A highlight of any trip to Varanasi is a sunrise boat cruise down the Ganges River, where you’ll see life and death together. Famous ghats:
- Manikarnika Ghat (the old burning ghat) where families bring their departed to be cremated.
- Dasaswamedh Ghat (main ghat with lots of activity)
- Scindhia ghat (it has a sunken Shiva temple)
- Assi ghat (a peaceful but popular ghat; a 30-40 minute walk from Dasaswadmedh ghat)
- Man Mandir is an old palace with Rajput architecture.
Boat information & Pricing
Many boat cruises start around 7am or before sunrise. Rates fluctuate from 100Rs (group boat) to 250 (single person). My first boat was per Brown Bread Bakery. They operate a 100 Rs sunset boat cruise leaving from Scindhia Ghat, but the boat is at a distance from everything and you won’t see many bathers. It’s best to save that money for an upgraded private boat tour.
Related Blogs : Varanasi’s Stains
Things to Know about Sunrise Boat Cruises in Varanasi
Avoid the burning ghat scam
Many guides or boat drivers will lead you to the burning ghat; some won’t even ask but just take you there! It’s a scam and your guide gets a kickback of some sort. I fell for it the first time to Varanasi. My boat driver took me there and made me get off, where another guide met me, led me into a building with an Indian mafia type of woman who wanted me to donate money to help buy wood. I was alone in a deserted building with these people, so I ended up donating something.
Read about another tout scam I’ve encountered on my first trip to India
Dead bodies floating down the Ganges River
Death is a spiritual and everyday thing at the Ganges, which is governed by Lord Shiva, god of destruction. Many Hindus pilgrimage to the Ganges not only to take a dip in it, but to cremate and sprinkle their dearly departed into the river.
Do not be shocked if you see a dead body floating down the river (Okay, I wouldn’t hold your breath either!) Some travelers witness bodies; others don’t. Often, they’re wrapped in a shroud too.It feels like the exception more than the rule. For instance, I’ve been there twice already and I’ve taken at least four sunset cruises down the Ganges. Not once did I witness a dead body. Most bodies are cremated, but the ones that are not are usually priests/holy men, babies and those who died of a disease like leprosy. More here.
Watch my experiential Solo Trip of Varanasi