Stretching from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, the River Ganges is the backbone of India and an integral part of the Hindu religion. It supports one of the most densely populated regions on earth and is the lifeblood of the people that farm, worship and live along its banks. There are so many aspects to this majestic river that planning a visit can feel a bit daunting, so we’ve put together this beginner’s guide to help you get started. Read on and become inspired.
1. Take a river trip
One of the best ways to experience the magnificence of the Ganges is by taking a cruise. As you drift along, you’ll see day to day life; people perched on the riverbanks, making offerings for better karma, or just doing the weekly wash. For something a bit livelier, a rafting trip will get your pulse racing, as well as giving you the chance to enjoy the natural beauty of the river.
2. Visit Varanasi
A place of pilgrimage for Hindu and Jain religions, a visit to Varanasi is a great way to immerse yourself in the art, music and culture of India. As well as being a tourist hub, it’s an industrial city, famed for the production of muslin, silk, perfume and exquisite sculpture. It’s one of the holiest sites in India, and one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world. It’s a magical place that will challenge and delight in equal measure.
3. Stretch your Yoga skills
Made famous by the Beatles in the 1960s, Rishikesh is a hub for yoga retreats where visitors can practise their poses and connect with the power of the river. If the tourists of Rishikesh are too much, head to Haridwar where you’ll find a more authentic experience, and learn alongside locals as well as tourists. If you’re here at nightfall, you’ll see the river come to life with the flames of floating offerings from the pilgrims that flock to bathe in the sacred waters.
4. Reflect on the Ghats
These stone steps jut out into the river at various sacred points along the banks. You’ll see people engaged in ritual washing, making offerings and washing buffalo. One of the most significant roles of the Ghats in Hindu practice is to allow the cleansing of sin from the body, before cremation. Seeing the reality and ritual of death is a powerful experience and one that many visitors find unforgettable. The Ghats are at their most beautiful at dawn, bathed in the glow of the rising sun.
5. Explore Bharat Kala Bhavan museum
Housed in Banaras University in Varanasi, Bharat Kala Bhavan museum is a must-see for anyone who wants to explore the creative culture of India. You’ll find archaeological artefacts, textiles, and costumes, as well as examples of Indian literature. The museum is most famous for its collection of Indian paintings, and is regarded as one of the best university museums in India, drawing scholars and visitors from all over the world.