If there’s one “must-do” experience in the ancient city of Varanasi, it’d have to be a Varanasi Ganges River boat trip for sunrise. Here’s a quick guide to finding the best Varanasi morning boat tour of the Ghats, what to expect, and how not to get scammed.
Varanasi is arguably one of the world’s most fascinating destinations. According to some sources, this ancient, holy city is said to be more than 5000 years old. If true, this would mean it is the oldest city on earth!
However, what draws both Hindu pilgrims and international tourists to the city en masse are the famous Varanasi Ghats on the Ganges River. These are the holiest cremation sites for Hindus in India. Best estimates indicate that about 100 000 people’s ashes are cast down the Ganges here every year.
To truly experience the beauty, wonder, and power of the ghats and the holy Ganges River, I’d highly recommend not skipping a Varanasi morning riverboat ride. In this guide, I’ll quickly detail everything that you need to know about booking a boat, what to expect, where to go, and a few tips on making the Ganges sunrise boat ride an enjoyable experience.
- Booking a Varanasi Sunrise Boat Tour
- Is it worth it?: Varanasi Sunrise Boat Ride on the Ganges
- What to Expect on a Varanasi Ganges River Boat Trip for Sunrise
- Varanasi Ganga Aarti From a Boat
- A Final Note About Photography on the Varanasi Ghats
- Where to Stay in Varanasi
- More “Must-do” India Travel Articles and Blogs
Booking a Varanasi Sunrise Boat Tour
Let me cut right to the chase. The best value and highest-ranked Varanasi Ganges River boat trip is this sunrise tour. You can book the trip online and ensure you get the best price without needing to haggle.
Alternatively, you can also book a Varanasi sunrise boat trip by speaking to your accommodation. They will arrange one for you. If you're staying at a reputable hotel or hostel, they should organize an enjoyable tour, but be aware you might need to pay extra to make up your hotel's cut (and they probably use "Varanasi Boats" anyway).
Is it worth it?: Varanasi Sunrise Boat Ride on the Ganges
The short answer is yes. The long answer is that it will depend on which sunrise boat tour you book.
Something that you should know before booking a Ganges river boat trip in Varanasi is that it's one of the most popular things to do for tourists - especially during sunrise. Inevitably then, you would expect there to be loads of boats lined up waiting to get you to book, and that's definitely true.
Unfortunately, the spiritual vibe of the holy Ganges can get tainted by over-eager tour salesmen and booking agents. And, the truth is that they're not all honest or obligated to provide an enjoyable experience. There have been a few scams that I'd heard from other travelers and on blogs whereby the "Varanasi Ganges sunrise boat tour" would just be a quick row out to a "burning Ghat," where tourists would hop off the boat and be pressured into donating money for wood.
For this reason, it's recommended to either book a sunrise Ganges boat trip online in advance (scroll down below for the best one), or ask your hotel/hostel to organize a good one for you.
Sunrise Boat Trip Highlights:
- Experience rich Hindu culture and traditions on the Ganges River
- Witness rituals performed by Hindus on the ghats during sunrise (Hindu puja ceremony)
- Experience the best views of the Varanasi Ghats from the water
- Enjoy the sights of the Varanasi temples and buildings as the sun rises
- A great choice for small groups and families
What is the Best Varanasi Boat Tour?
This sunrise Ganges boat trip is one of the only tours online that reflect a reasonable price. This trip includes a 2-hour rowboat journey with a guide. Furthermore, you'll also get a guided tour of Vishwanath Gali and Vishwanath Temple at the end.
Another great part about this sunrise boat tour is that you don't have to pay any additional entry fees for any of the ghats or temples! The guide that we had was a very bright and intelligent Hindu man that explained the intricate details of life in Varanasi, the meaning behind certain ceremonies and traditions, as well as the significance of the ghats.
If you're traveling solo or as a couple, then you may be grouped in with other travelers. This helps keep the price low. Of course, if you'd prefer a private rowboat tour, you'll need to pay extra. However, if you're in a larger group of 6-8 people, the chances are that you'll get the boat to yourselves.
I think it's important to let you know that I did not get paid to recommend this boat trip. I only do so because I personally had a great experience - all views are always my own.
More: "Varanasi Boats" is the best-reviewed tour operator in Varanasi (check their reviews here). They also offer evening Aarti tours and a really great value full-day Varanasi tour if you're looking to fill our your Varanasi travel itinerary.
Why Should I Book a Boat Ride on the Ghats for Sunrise?
You'll often find that the majority of the Varanasi ghats boat trip tours operate during sunrise. There are a few good reasons for this.
- Spiritual ceremonies like the Gange Aarti and puja are performed during sunrise and sunset
- The light is magical on the Ganges for sunrise
- A morning boat ride will allow you to dodge the midday heat
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How Much Should You Pay?
As with all things in India, prices tend to vary by season. If you walk around the ghats during the day, you can expect to pay between 900 rupees to 1500 rupees per person. Again, if you do decide to wing it and book on the ghats, just be careful to avoid getting scammed.
The Varanasi boat tour that I recommended above cost me 1150 rupees per person. Which, I think is excellent value considering it's a 3-hour tour.
Expect to pay roughly 6000 rupees for a private rowboat, including a guide.
What to Expect on a Varanasi Ganges River Boat Trip for Sunrise
All Varanasi Ganges River boat trips begin at the agreed ghat, where you will board your rowboat and meet your guide.
You will then be rowed out onto the Ganges river to admire the beauty of the temples, ghats, and golden sandstone steps from the water. Your boat guide will explain the significance of each ghat and talk you through specific Hindu ceremonies and customs. Your boat will also row by one of the largest ghats in Varanasi, the Assi Ghat. Here you can be lucky enough to witness the incredible Ganga Aarti from the Ganges River for sunrise.
After approximately 2 hours, you will disembark and head for Vishwanath Gali. This is the most famous street in Varanasi and surrounds the holy Vishwanath Temple.
The tour ends back at the river banks, where you are free to either head back to your accommodation or continue exploring the nearby ghats.
Related: Best Things to do in Rishikesh
Varanasi Ganga Aarti From a Boat
Witnessing the incredible Ganga Aarti is another must-do experience in Varanasi. This is a sacred Hindu fire offering ceremony specific to the Ganges River. It celebrates the significance of the river in Hindu religion and history and the relationship between life and death and day and night.
The biggest and most well-known Ganga Aarti (Hindu Ganges River fire ceremony) is performed at the Dashashwamedh Ghat every evening at approximately 6:30 pm.
Since the largest Aarti at the Dashashwamedh Ghat only runs in the evening, you won't be able to spot it on a morning boat ride. However, you might be lucky enough to pass the morning Aarti at the Assi Ghat.
If you'd prefer, you can instead admire the Ganga Aarti from the river on a sunset tour. If so, consider this trip: Varanasi Ganga Aarti from a boat.
Related: Overnight Sleeper Buses in India
A Final Note About Photography on the Varanasi Ghats
As a photographer, my instinct is always to whip up the camera at every opportunity. However, it's important for people like me to consider the holiness of this place and to respect that the cremation at the Varanasi ghats are funeral celebrations.
Generally, always avoid photographing dead bodies or pointing the cameras at burning ghats. Otherwise, photography on the Ganges River boat trip is not frowned upon but encouraged. Just remember to use common sense and show respect.
Where to Stay in Varanasi
Most of the higher-end hotels are in the cantonment area of Varanasi but I recommend staying somewhere close to the Dashashwamedh Ghat or the river. This way you will be closer to the main attractions in Varanasi and you will be able to walk pretty much everywhere.
- Where I stayed: Zostel Varanasi - The Zostel chain of hostels are known for cleanliness and good vibes all around. I had a great time staying at Zostel and found the location really good for such a cheap price. It's also one of the best-rated hostels on Hostelworld for location and vibe.
- Best hotel for location: BrijRama Palace - The BrijRama is a Heritage Hotel that was constructed in the 18th Century and is considered one of the oldest structures in Varanasi. The location is perfect and you'll get the celebrity treatment if you can fork out the $180 per night for a deluxe double room.
- Best 5-Star Hotel: Taj Ganges - Spread over 40 acres of tropical gardens, Taj Ganges, Varanasi is one of the top-rated luxury accommodation options in India, offering an outdoor pool and a spa, a fitness center, and fine-dining restaurants.
More "Must-do" India Travel Articles and Blogs
If you enjoyed this quick guide to a Varanasi Ganges River boat trip for sunrise, then make sure to check out some of my other must-do travel guides from India.
If you have any updates, questions or feedback, please let me know in the comments too!
I hope you enjoy your Varanasi sunrise boat ride, let me know how it went!