India’s revered and sacred Ganges River has its origins high in the Himalayas of northern India and Tibet and flows down to form the Gangetic Plain of northern India before eventually reaching Bangladesh’s Bay of Bengal some 1,600 miles later. A cruise on the Ganges — or Mother Ganga, as it's affectionately known to devout Hindus — is a slow, sane way to explore India in comparison to travel on the country’s congested and dangerous roads. Ganges itineraries range from one to two weeks, with the longer routes sailing upstream from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) to Patna, with add-on land extensions to Varanasi and other points in northern India. Some itineraries include the Hooghly River as well, a waterway that connects the Ganges to Kolkata.
What We Love
Flavorful Food: India’s amazing vegetable dishes — including chickpeas, spinach, lentils, and potatoes — can make a vegetarian out of a meat lover, although there are excellent lamb and chicken options too, from kebabs to curries. Equally addictive are the breads: simple roti flatbread, buttery naan, and deep-fried puri.
People Watching: From women in saris of brilliant fuchsia, yellow, and orange doing laundry along its banks to Hindu men wearing sarong-like dhotis as they bathe in its waters and the pious floating aarti (religious candles) as offerings to the gods, the Ganges is a window into the soul of India.
Best Known For
Ghats: A series of steps that lead down into bodies of water and rivers in places like Varanasi, ghats are holy places where devout Hindus go to bathe and pray; some are also dedicated as cremation sites.
Houses of Worship: Many religions are practiced in India, and from the Ganges you can see Hindu temples, Islamic mosques, and Buddhist monasteries.
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Mayapur: Considered a very holy place and pilgrimage site, the city is home to numerous temples and it was the 15th-century birthplace of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, who is credited with starting the Hare Krishna movement.
Kalna: In India’s “temple town,” one of the most eye-catching sights is the shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva and comprised of 108 intricately carved mini temples.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Extreme Poverty: India is a poor country with more than 1.2 billion people, so brace yourself for devastating poverty in some places, with begging children and the disfigured especially pulling at your heartstrings. Inadequate sanitation systems also mean you'll experience foul smells and garbage.
Heidi Sarna is a Singapore-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today.