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How to Plan a Varanasi Ganges Row Boat Trip For Sunrise

How to Plan a Varanasi Ganges Row Boat Trip For Sunrise

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

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 what you need to know.

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 5,000 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, here’s how you can plan a morning boat tour of the Ghats, with tips on what to expect and how not to get scammed.

How to Book a Ganges Sunrise Boat Tour in Varanasi

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 (trust me, this is not fun here).

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).

Crowds lining up for a varanasi boat trip
Booking a sunrise boat can get a little frantic

What to Expect on a Sunrise Ganges Row Boat Tour

All boat trips on the Ganges begin at the agreed ghat, where you will board your rowboat and meet your guide. Since we planned this in advance, we met our guide and he showed us to our boat.

We were then rowed out onto the Ganges River to admire the beauty of the temples, ghats, and golden sandstone steps from the water. The boats are small wooden row boats that fit approximately 6 people comfortably.

Our boat guide explained the significance of each ghat and talked us through specific Hindu ceremonies and customs, which was very informative.

Tip: On our trip, we also passed by one of the largest ghats in Varanasi, the Assi Ghat. I highly recommend asking for this as we were lucky enough to witness the incredible Ganga Aarti from the Ganges River during sunrise, with some of my favorite photos from the trip!

Varanasi ghats for sunrise

After approximately 2 hours, we disembarked and headed for Vishwanath Gali. This is the most famous street in Varanasi and surrounds the holy Vishwanath Temple.

The tour ended back at the river banks, where we were free to either head back to our accommodation or continue exploring the nearby ghats. We decided to get some breakfast and talk about how incredible this experience was.

Boat rower in varanasi

Seeing the Ganga Aarti From the Ganges River

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.

Ganga aarti ceremony
Ganga aarti ceremony

Review: Is a Sunrise Boat Trip worth it?

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 ride on the ganges river in varanasi
Typical sunrise row boat in Varanasi


  • 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
Sadhus sitting on a concrete pillar at the varanasi ghats

What is the Best Varanasi Boat Tour?

The Varanasi Boats 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. Here's more.

  • 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 who 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 people, the chances are that you'll get the boat to yourselves.

Tip: "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 out your travel itinerary.

Varanasi ghats bathing
View of varanasi from a row boat on the ganges river
Row boat on the ganges river during sunrise

Should I book a Sunrise Boat?

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
Ganges river sunrise boat ride in varanasi

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 1,500 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 1,150 rupees per person. Which, I think is excellent value considering it's a 3-hour tour.

Expect to pay roughly 6,000 rupees for a private rowboat, including a guide.

Men on a row boat at sunrise in varanasi

A Final Note About Photography on the Varanasi Ghats

As you know, I'm a big fan of travel photography. 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.

Bathing in the ganges river varanasi
Sadhu holy man on the varanasi ghats
Bathing in the varanasi ghats

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.

Bedroom at the taj ganges varanasi

1. Taj Ganges Luxury

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.

Bedroom at the brijrama palace

2. BrijRama Palace Mid-Range

The BrijRama is a Heritage Hotel that was constructed in the 18th Century and is considered one of the oldest structures in Varanasi.

If you enjoyed this quick sunrise guide! If so, 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!

Varanasi ganges river boat trip
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

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