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Travel bucket list idea:

Cruise the River Ganges

  • West Bengal, India

  • Bucket List Experience

Last updated: 06 February, 2024

A slow boat along the Ganges is a chance to experience rural India at the same time as touring temples, mosques and battlefields.

Voyages usually start and finish in Kolkata, sailing the Hooghly, a tributary of ‘Mother Ganges’. Trips ashore take place in horse-drawn carts, trishaws and on foot. You’ll need a sense of curiosity – and also a degree of preparation for sights of extreme poverty among the chaos and vibrancy of India. Tourists are objects of interest and large, friendly crowds often gather when the boat ties up alongside a village.

At Murshidabad, you’ll visit the enormous Hazarduari Palace Museum, while the village of Baranagar is dotted with extraordinary, overgrown 18th-century temples. At Mayapur, there’s a chance to see the headquarters of the Hare Krishna movement.

To many, though, the real joy is sunrise yoga on deck, watching the dazzling birdlife, or taking a stroll through rural fields, absorbing the slow pace of daily life.

Logistics

Price from: £Varies
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around
Duration: Min 7 days

Getting there & doing it

Cruises start and finish in Kolkata. Many cruise companies add on a land tour of the Golden Triangle – Delhi, Jaipur and Agra – pre or post-cruise, a good idea if you want to mix India’s star attractions with a more off-the-beaten-track experience.

Highly recommended is to add on a few nights in Varanasi, India’s most spiritual spot and an assault on the senses like no other, as devotees gather to worship, chant, meditate and attend the funeral pyres of loved ones, burning day and night along the banks of the Ganges.

Independent travel is possible, of course, but a car and driver is much safer than self-drive and quicker than bus travel.

When to do it

October to March is the best time to travel, when it’s less oppressively humid. Smog can be an issue in December and January so travel in February if you have respiratory problems.

Who to go with: tour operators

3

Our writer’s recommended tour operators to book with

Assam Bengal Navigation

  • India

Long-established company offering affordable seven-night Ganges cruises with the possibility of sailing all the way to Varanasi when water levels permit.

Avalon Waterways [The Ganges]

  • Richmond, Surrey, India

River cruising specialist with smaller, intimate but luxurious ships; larger than normal rooms with open-air balconies. They offer seven-night voyages on the colonial-style Ganges Voyager, with add-ons to the Golden Triangle, Varanasi and Kathmandu.

Uniworld [The Ganges]

  • Los Angeles, California, India

River cruising specialist operating a fleet of 21 cruise ships serving the major rivers of the world. They offer luxurious voyages from Kolkata on the sumptuous, 56-passenger Ganges Voyager II, with most packages including the Golden Triangle.