Last updated: 29th July 2023
Part of our small group tour of India included a budget 2 day boat trip on the River Ganges with an overnight camping stay. We really had no idea what to expect, other than it was going to be a bit of an adventure! The camping was fun and the boat trip was really relaxing sailing down India’s most spiritual river to Varanasi in a simple wooden rowing boat.
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Getting from Prayagraj to Our River Ganges Departure Point
After taking an overnight sleeper train from Agra we arrived at the Allahabad station in the city of Prayagraj. We were bright eyed because we had slept so well after been up since 5am the day before to see the Taj Mahal. Our tour included a chance to have a quick shower and breakfast at the Hotel Star Regency, but we would not be staying the night here. We soon left the hotel by minibus to go to the Bhualpur Shivala Ghat – the departure point for our budget 2 day River Ganges cruise.
The minibus journey took 2.5 hours past some amazing sights like the Kumbh Mela. A Hindu religious festival, where 120 million pilgrims come to bathe at the Sangam – the intersection of 3 rivers, the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Saraswati. It’s actually the world’s biggest gathering of people held every 12 years. All we could see were rows and rows of tents that seemed to go on for miles.
En route Garth loved all the highly decorated lorries on the roads and we even passed an elephant on the motorway! As our journey reached the countryside we drove through some remote villages and the sights got more rural and much more interesting. So many farmer’s fields of yellow flowers, not rape seed as we thought but mustard seed. One thing was obvious and that women work really hard out in the fields. They looked like they were doing everything by hand, no tractors or heavy machines.
Other sights included children playing cricket with makeshift stumps in the streets and fields. Men peeing everywhere on the side of roads and some sad sights of horses pulling carts packed full of people.
Sailing Down The River Ganges
On the bank of the River Ganges at Bhualpur Shivala Ghat we boarded our small boats off on an adventure for 2 days drifting down the River Ganges to Varanasi with one night of wild camping. We were each given a lovely garland of marigold flowers, something Indians do to welcome new visitors. The boating crew provided 3 boats for our group and they had a kitchen boat to sail alongside. The boats are simple wooden rowing boats that hold 6 people. There was us, 2 crew members plus Malcolm and Marisa from our small group tour, they were a hoot and we all had fun together. There’s no seats, instead everyone lays out on a mattress.
It was so relaxing as we lay down and covered ourselves in blankets and just watched the world go by. We passed kids playing cricket, people bathing on the ghats and plenty of fishermen going about their jobs. Everyone we passed from a distance gave us a wave and smiles which was lovely.
The River Ganges is at the heart of Indian culture as it’s considered to be a holy river, but it’s also one of the most polluted rivers in the world. We saw lots of plastic and other bits and bobs float past, plus dogs tearing apart rotten flesh at the side of the river. On the plus side Garth saw some endangered river dolphins popping up their heads in and out of the water.
Eating on our boats
Each day the kitchen crew freshly prepared cooked dishes for us. For lunches we ate rice, aloo gobi, dal, cheesy spinach and chapatis served with pots of chilli and pickles. All absolutely delicious. On our last day we noticed they washed some trays in the Ganges! OMG! Garth got a spot of Delhi belly when we arrived at our hotel in Varanasi. It must have been down to that.
Wild Camping on The River Ganges
In the early evening the crew pulled up the boats on an empty sandy island, right in the middle of the River Ganges opposite a small village called Churamanpur. We were expecting to see a campsite but no, there was absolutely nothing here, this was wild camping! The crew lit us a fire and within half an hour had built a whole camp site for our group complete with a private pop-up toilet tent.
The worries of camping soon disappeared as the experience turned magical when we all sat by the fire, telling stories, watching the sunset and the gazing at the stars. It’s really cold in the evenings so the crew hospitality continued and gave us blankets to keep warm. They used the open fire to cook us a dinner of rice, aloo gobi and even served us a plate of chips! such service in the middle of nowhere!
We brought with us some Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate and Diet Pepsi to snack on, you can’t buy Diet Coke anywhere so Garth was suffering withdraw symptoms. As for the Indian version of Dairy Milk it tastes like Marmite, yuck!
Our guide Pema wished us all a goodnight as we retired to our beds and told us to be careful of crocodiles coming out of the water during the night! WHAT?! we found out later he was just teasing us! 😂
The next morning we were woken up by the sounds of the bells calling people to prayer at the temple on the other side of the water. Phil opened our tent door and we witnessed the amazing sunrise across the River Ganges from our bed. It felt magical because the sun was looked so big and red. Garth thought it looked like a Tatooine scene from a Star Wars movie, isolated and surrounded by sand.
Breakfast followed and we were treated by the cooking crew to a cup of hot chai followed by porridge, omelettes plus hot toast and butter! fabulous. Before we knew it the campsite was packed up, the boats loaded up, and we set sail again. We only left footprints but took away lots of memories.
Sherpur Village School
Later that morning we stopped off at a remote rural village called Sherpur right next to the river. We visited the primary school and got the chance to ask the teacher and pupils questions with the help of our guide Pema interpreting. The school was very basic, no computers or any technology just back to basics with books and pens. We all contributed some money for Pema to buy some books and colouring pencils. It was nice we could contribute something for the kids to use.
With some time left to explore and wander around the village, one lady caught our eye. She was making ‘dung cakes’ – hand rolling cow dung into shapes which are left in the sun to dry and then used as fuel to burn.
Sailing To Varanasi
￼As we sailed closer to Varanasi, we started passing some burning ghats. This is where people are cremated on the steps right next to the river and their ashes scattered in the Ganges. Hindus believe that the Ganges is needed for the dead to reach their ancestors in heaven.
Our sailing trip finished under the Vishwa Sundari Bridge, where we transferred to Varanasi in a minibus, 30 minutes away. The whole 2 days was a such a unique experience. It was basic and it was cold it was at night, but we loved it especially because the crew provided such excellent hospitality.
Facts About The River Ganges
- The River Ganges is named after the Hindu goddess called Ganga.
- It’s 1,560 miles long and flows through India and Bangladesh.
- Hindus believe bathing in the Ganges can purify their souls of past sins.
- It’s the world’s 5th most polluted river.
- Millions of tons of raw sewage is pumped into the river everyday.
- River dolphins and river sharks are now endangered because of the pollution.
- Rice and crops grown in the Ganges areas feed most of India and Bangladesh.
- It’s the 5th longest river in the world.
River Ganges Camping and Sailing Trip Practical & Useful Information
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 River Ganges Tips
- Tip #1: Take a torch with you for camping, we only had the light from our iPhones.
- Tip #2: Pack some diarrhoea tablets, incase you come in contact with water from the Ganges.
- Tip #3: Even in January the sun was hot in the day and we needed sunscreen.
- Tip #4: Get vaccinated before you go. The water is full of diseases which pose a health risk.
- Tip #5: Take some snacks, drinks and playing cards.
How We Did It