Ganges Boat Ride – What’s it Like?

One of the classic things to do in Varanasi is to take a sunrise boat ride down the Ganges River, nicknamed the “Soul of the holy city”, and to quietly reflect on the moment floating on the river, gazing upon the busy Ghats lining the Ganges river. As tourists in India, we had to do it, it is quite literally “the thing to do” in Varanasi. Thinking about the Ganges boat ride I feel that it was actually pretty interesting. It was the first time that we had seen the Ganges in the daytime and while we walked to the Dasaswamedh Ghat we were distracted by the crowds of people and the interesting things that competed for our attention. But from the sunrise boat in the Ganges River, we were relatively alone. Able to fully take in each Ghat that we passed with quiet contemplation and to appreciate what sets them apart from each other. Without further ado, I give you the Ganges Boat Ride.

Who should take a boat ride in the Ganges River? People who want to see the Ghats as a whole, people who prefer to walk less on their trip, and people who get up early.

Who should NOT take a boat ride on the Ganges River? People who are afraid of water, people who prefer to sleep over doing something unique, and people worried about Zeus taking vengeance on them while they are on the boat.

Where is the best place to take a boat ride on the Ganges River? Dasaswamedh Ghat

The crowd at Dasaswamedh Ghat - Ganges Boat Ride

Walking to Dasaswamedh Ghat

In the very early morning before the heat of the day, we walked through the thin alleyways and across many Ghats along the river to the Dasaswamedh Ghat, where we met up with our prearranged boat. The walk over to Dasaswamedh Ghat will always have a special place in my heart because the Ghat was very crowded and yet the spirit of the people around me was focused and seemingly excited with the morning activities. There were some people selling small items like “toothbrushes” that were simply small branches among other vendors but no vendor jumped out to try to get us to buy anything. Instead, everyone there seemed to be at ease with the surroundings and relatively peaceful among the chaotic number of people.

Starting the Ganges Boat Ride – Varanasi

Once we reached our boat captain, I use the word boat loosely as it was a simple canoe and he would be rowing it, we put the life jackets on – a new thing for us in India – some required safety and we hopped into the canoe. I strictly remember looking over the boat to consider how many leaks there might be during our ride, but happily, it did not leak.

Our captain’s oars appeared to be made from a natural, unmodified, freshly cut bamboo tree, with a board of wood strapped on the end that went in the water. Please note, I was not concerned about this in any way, in fact I thought it was amazing that instead of something you might buy in a store, these were made locally and from available materials.

Sunrise boat  - Ganges Boat Ride
Bathers - Ganges Boat Ride

Bathers from the Ganges Boat Ride – Varanasi

As our boat kicked off of the riverside, I had a moment to observe the bathers. There were a lot of them, but the closest ones to us were a group of women. They took turns dunking their heads under the water for morning bathing and took care of each other throughout the entire process. Watching it made me think about home, family, and friends as it was clearly a bonding experience.
I will note that the Ganges River is considered the fifth-most polluted river in the world. So I was not planning to jump into the water myself

Ganges Boat Ride – Cremation View

If you read my prior post, then you know that when walking along the Manikarna Cremation Ghat that photos are discouraged because loved ones are watching their family members be cremated. From the water however, photos are allowed to be taken and in this photo, you can see the architecture behind the cremation sites, the logs that will be used for the cremation and if you look at the buildings, you can see that some of the buildings are even full of logs.

After seeing this, I believe the act of Luke Skywalker giving his father a Jedi funeral was inspired exact spot along the Ganges River.

Cremation sites - Ganges Boat Ride
Long view of a Ghat with a lot of stairs from the Ganges River in Varanasi - Ganges Boat Ride

Stair-filled Ghats – Ganges River, Varanasi

After the cremation sites, the boat continued down the river where we got to see more Ghats, which are essentially sites where activities happen. Unfortunately, there was not much activity at those Ghats at this time of day. But, it gave us a fantastic view of the riverside.

This one in particular highlights the stairs and the architecture of the town.

Should you go on the Ganges Boat Ride?

The answer is that if you made your way to Varanasi, then heck yeah! You came to experience the Ganges River right? The boat ride, while some may consider it a touristy thing to do… it’s also THE THING to do as a tourist. It would be like going to the bottom of the Eiffel Tower and not bothering to go up it or it would be like seeing Machu Picchu from the ground and deciding that was enough. Go out there, get on a boat, and see the town from just offshore on the Ganges boat ride!

Ganges River Boat Ride – Photos