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Ganges River (Ganga)
Ganges River (Ganga)

Ganges River (Ganga)

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Varanasi, West Bengal, India

The Basics

The ancient city of Varanasi is the most visited of the pilgrimage spots along the Ganges. Considered India’s religious capital and home to about 2,000 temples and around 100 ghats—riverside steps where pilgrims bathe in Ganga’s water—the city is a must for those wanting to experience the sacred river at its most colorful.

Take a sunrise boat ride to see the ghats and bathers, and book a wider Varanasi tour to explore the city’s places of worship, such as the Golden Temple and bustling Dasaswamedh ghat. Other choices include walking or boat tours to view the evening aarti ceremonies, when the faithful float burning lights on the river. Some Ganges-focused excursions stop by religious sights in Rishikesh and Haridwar, and multi-day cross-India tours touch on Varanasi, Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, and sometimes Himalayan towns like Darjeeling.

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Things to Know Before You Go

  • Be ready for some challenging sights along the Ganges at Varanasi and other cities (e.g. funeral pyres burning at the ghats).

  • Be respectful when photographing religious rituals.

  • Wear shoes with good treads to negotiate the often-slippery steps at the ghats.

  • Most Ganges boat tours aren’t accessible to wheelchairs.

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How to Get There

The Ganges flows through several north India cities before reaching the sea and Varanasi, the most popular place to see it. The easiest way to reach its banks is by rickshaw, taxi, or tour that includes round-trip transport and guided commentary.

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Trip ideas

When to Get There

The cities along the Ganges tend to be extremely hot from April to October, with monsoons sometimes hitting between June and September. The best time to visit is the cooler October through March period—although April and May have numerous religious festivals, if you can stand the heat.

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Bathing in the Ganges River

Don’t miss the chance to watch devotees bathing in the Ganges River at sunrise. The Hindu faithful consider Ganga a goddess, and immersion an act of purification. Dunking three times—to eliminate the sins of the past, present, and future—is believed to liberate you from the endless cycle of birth and death, ensuring salvation.

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