Varanasi River Cruise, The Residency, Uttar Pradesh, India

A dawn rowing boat ride along the Ganges is a quintessential Varanasi experience. The early-morning light is particularly inspiring, and all the colour and clamour of pilgrims bathing and performing puja unfolds before you. An hour-long trip south from Dashashwamedh Ghat to Harishchandra Ghat and back is popular, but be prepared to see a burning corpse at Harishchandra.

Early evening is also a good time to be on the river, when you can light a lotus flower candle (₹10) and set it adrift on the water before watching the nightly ganga aarti ceremony (7pm) at Dashashwamedh Ghat directly from the boat.

The official government price of boats is ₹250 per hour for two to four people, but it is not enforced. Count yourself lucky if you manage ₹300 per person per hour and be prepared for some hard bargaining. And be warned: it’s best to arrange a boat the day before. If you show up as the sun is about to rise, you’ll find yourself in a Varanasi Standoff: a battle of wills between yourself, a boatsman and the unforgiving rising sun – to the tune of ₹1000 per person.

Many guesthouses offer boat trips, although they’re more expensive than dealing with the boatmen directly. Brown Bread Bakery can arrange a hassle-free ride in their own boats for less than riverside (₹150 per hour for one person, ₹50 per hour per additional person) with some à la carte coffee and cakes to boot.

Visit India Epic India Route © Monika Newbound

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