Last Updated on January 1, 2023 by asoulwindow
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Alaknanda Cruise: What to expect
Alaknanda Cruise, the double-decker luxury cruise is a new addition on the must do tourist activities in Varanasi. The Alaknanda cruise experience is aimed at those discerning travellers who want to experience world class cruise facilities in a timeless location like Varanasi. This head turner of a cruise is fast gaining popularity in Varanasi.
As the arresting sights of Banaras stretching all the way from Assi Ghat to Raj Ghat and now Namo Ghat, mesmerize you, slow down your mind and take a moment to reflect.
No matter how modern the onboard state-of-the-art amenities are, it evokes the same philosophical emotion in you! As the cruise moves forward unhurried, your eyes wander to catch special moments of Varanasi. A man drying his dhoti, women offering early morning prayers to Surya Bhagwan (Sun), kids jumping in the river in their birthday suits, the works!
Soul Window Thoughts
I personally feel that nothing can beat the old-world charm of the ride on the rickety boat. The luxury and comfort of a cruise can never replace the warmth of a local boatman, who between singing local Bhojpuri songs, will unselfconsciously reveal all about his personal life, work and passions. That said, it is a good idea to enjoy both cruise as well as the ride on the rickety boat. One in the morning and another in the evening! In my heart I pray that nothing will ever change the traditional style of exploring the ancient city Kashi! Both can co-exist because both give a novel experience!
The newly introduced Alaknanda Luxury Cruise lets you soak in the ambiance of Kashi in the comfort of luxury! The unprecedented sofa style seating in the cruise smells of luxury!
The cruise has added one more thing to do in Varanasi.
Isn’t it exciting that now we can explore Banaras in one more way? It is a never seen before experience of Varanasi. As the 30-metre-long modern liner floats lyrically on the calm holy waters of Maa Ganga, Varanasi starts to reveal itself, one layer at a time.
Varanasi teems with life. And death! Not many places in the world will show you different stages of life under one roof. The Hindu cremation ghats – Harishchandra Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat are not easy places to be in. It silences you!
The only other similar place I could think of was in Nepal. During my visit to the Shiva Temple known as Pashupati Nath Mandir in Kathmandu near Thamel, I came across similar aarti and funeral rituals on the ghats of the temple.
The famous Manikarnika Ghat is the most pious cremation ground in India. Hindus firmly hold the belief that if someone breathes his/her last in Kashi and is also cremated in Manikarnika Ghat, he/she is released from the unending cycle of life and birth and attains Moksha or Nirvana.
Morning Alaknanda Cruise Details
- Duration of Alanknanda Cruise 2 hours
- Timing of Alanknanda Cruise experience: Starts at 5:00 am and ends at 9:00 am
- 90 minutes luxury boat ride
- Starts from Assi Ghat
- Distance covered: 12 kilometers
- Days of running: runs daily in morning and evening.
- Ghats covered: The luxury cruise Alaknanda moves near all the 84 big and small ghats of Varanasi.
- A great experience for everyone
Evening Alaknanda Cruise Details
- Duration of Alanknanda Cruise Experience: 4 hours 30 minutes
- Timing of Alanknanda Cruise Experience: Starts at 5:00 pm and ends at 9:30 pm
- 90 minutes luxury boat ride
- Starts from Assi Ghat
- Distance covered: 12 kilometers
- Days of running: runs daily in morning and evening.
- Ghats covered: The luxury cruise floats near the 70 ghats of Varanasi.
- An experience like no other!
The Alanknanda Cruise Experience on Ganga River Varanasi
- Enjoy a newly introduced tourist boat Alaknanda Luxury Cruise.
- Alaknanda Luxury Cruise is great for a luxurious tour of the Ganga Ghats along the holy Ganga Maa.
- Immerse yourself in a memorable morning and evening on Ganga Ghats on a luxury cruise-
- Alaknanda Luxury Cruise is available for rides from Assi Ghat to Raj Ghat
- Enjoy the vibrant Ghats of Kashi in evening!
- Pass through the pious cremation Ghats such as – Harishchandra Ghat and the famous Manikarnika Ghat. Observe the poignant process.
- Experience soul nourishing luxury boat ride from Assi Ghat to Raj Ghat
- Stumble upon offbeat places, waiting to be discovered on an early morning walk and evening stroll in narrow alleys of the ancient Kashi.
- Binge eat and indulge the foodie in you as you will your face with the delectable local breakfast of thick lassi, hot Kachoris, Jalebi & Banarasi Chai and evening snacks of choora matar, tamatar chat etc.
Soul Window Observations
The ghats of Banaras began to unveil its mysteries, one frame at a time! The myriad colors of life and death danced in front of me. “Am I in a dream?”, I asked myself.
Death, as the per Sanatan Dharm is just a passage to a new birth based on karma accumulated in our last life. Death in Hinduism is nothing to be sad about. The quality of new birth commensurate with the karma (deeds) done in present life.
I came to Kashi looking for answers to life’s secrets! It left me with more questions to mull over!
Facilities of Alaknanda Luxury Cruise
A departure from the old-world boat ride, the cruise comes equipped with modern frills such as free Wi-Fi, onboard GPS navigation system, bio toilets, a mini stage on the lower deck, skid proof afterdeck
Spread across 2,000 square feet, the luxury cruise of Varanasi is popular with Indians and foreigners equally! No wonder, the cruise, which has a capacity of 90 people mostly runs houseful.
The lower deck of the Alaknanda luxury cruise is air conditioned. I am not a major fan of uncontrolled temperature settings. If the weather is good, I prefer a sky canopying my head! Like me if you too prefer it al fresco, then you have the option to climb up the upper deck which is open air and also doubles up as a restaurant. Just little things which make me happy as a traveler!
Is the Alaknanda Luxury Cruise safe?
Yes, the luxury cruise Alaknanda also boasts of good quality life jackets, life boats and even offers facility of life guards on board. The fully AV equipped cruise which measures approximately 30 meters is large enough for smooth movement.
How can you call your Varanasi trip complete unless you have stuffed your face with its delicious vegetarian fare!
I have not heard of anyone who has been to Banaras and not feasted on the local vegetarian snacks such as the world famous Banarasi Chat, Banarasi Paan, thick lassis, refreshing thandai and mishrambu. Concentrated around the Ghat area and main market, the snack shops and food stalls are also what Varanasi is famous for! You must enjoy these either before or after the cruise.
The early mornings of Kashi are surreal! Varanasi never sleeps! It remains abuzz with a whirligig of activities even as early as 3-4 a.m., more so on special occasions such as Dev Deepawali. As the first rays of sun seep through the alleys and streets Banaras, I remind myself that I am in a very special place. Varanasi, the city I was born in, is also known as the abode of Shiv Bhagwan!
Also read: My experience of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, abode of Shiv ji!
Not only locals but Hindu devotees from all parts of India inundate the roads of Varanasi as they scurried to attain spiritual solace! I wondered why the Hindu pilgrims are walking so hastily? Turned out, the rituals and spiritual baths in their beloved Ganga Maa must be performed at the right time, which is generally Brahma Muhurat or the wee hours of the day!
The curious traveler in me matched their steps, often stopping to say hello to a ruminating cow or a nonchalant local kid dancing with joy for no particular reason! Varanasi forced me to get out of my comfort zone. I am a late riser. If it was not for Varanasi, I would have probably not woken up so early in the morning! ‘The famed early mornings of Kashi were worth sacrificing your sleep for’, I told myself! The ethereal sunrise I saw from the holy Ghats of Kashi when fused with the spiritual vibes left a lasting impression on my mind.
Be it the early morning classical music renditions, the Subah-E-Banaras morning aarti or people deeply involved in yoga and meditation right on the ghats, there are very few places which can match up with the old-world charms and antiquity of this ancient city.
Soul Window Observations
After my Kailash Mansarovar Yatra in Tibet, I have started to observe the energy of the places. Practicing deep meditation and yoga in my home, for example is a different experience than doing it on the ghats of Varanasi.
I am generally running from pillar to post when I am traveling. I made an exception at Varanasi, my birth city I returned to after long! I slowed down my pace for an immersive experience of the city which is one of the few of oldest continually inhabited cities of the world.
I contemplated about the vagaries of life, as the 90 minutes luxury cruise ride from Assi Ghat to Raj Ghat drifted poetically in the vast life-giving Ganga Maiyya (mother Ganga). Later in the evening after the cruise, as I unveiled the best kept secrets of Kashi on a mere walk in the chaotic lanes of Kashi, it further strengthened my bond with this ancient city I was born in, but had no memory of as I left soon!
Varanasi is also fast gaining more relevance, thanks to the people who are realizing the futility of modern-day frills and going back to their roots.
The Alaknanda cruise in Varanasi is a never seen before experience here. The myriad of stages of human life can be seen so up, close and personal only in Varanasi. Tourists are often agape mouthed when they see an entire spectrum of Hindu way of life from the comfort of the Alaknanda Ganga cruise!
During the evening cruise on Alaknanda, people can also view the world-famous Ganga Aarti at Dashaswamedh Ghat which is performed daily and is generally very crowded on most weekdays, weekends and festivals such as Dev Diwali, Kumbh Mela etc.
Every evening, the young male pujaris or priests brings the Dashaswamedh Ghat alive with Ganga aarti. As they offer their prayers to Shiv Bhagwan, Mata Ganga, Surya Bhagwan (Sun) and Agni devta (fire), the jostling crowds turn immobile, as if hypnotized by the daily rituals.
I have attended the Ganga Aarti in Varanasi several times. It is indeed a unique experience to be able to see the Ganga Aarti from the luxury of Alaknanda cruise. Varanasi Ganga Aarti is the top thing to do in Varanasi. The luxury cruise ride is also one of the best things to do with family and kids in Banaras.
Soul Window Travel Tips
Here is my top travel tip. I personally prefer watching the Ganga Aarti from the stairs and platforms built within the Dashaswamedh Ghat. The cons of watching the famous Varanasi Ganga Aarti from the Alaknanda cruise and local boats is that you do not get to see the Aarti closely. It is more like paying extra money to get an inferior view of the evening Ganga Aarti from a distance.
Therefore, I recommend that you book the Alaknanda Cruise mainly for the morning cruise ride on Ganga River. The cruise passes through all the points of attractions near ghats of Kashi.
If you still want to participate in the evening cruise on Ganga ji, so that you can see the ghats on Varanasi bathed in light, then here is another travel tip.
Make sure that you stay for one more evening in Varanasi so that you can enjoy the Varanasi Ganga Aarti from close proximity. Be prepared to brave the crowd though! You can read the details on my blog on Varanasi Ganga Aarti. A Soul Window, my award-winning travel blog, has been listed as top travel blog of India so many times.
During the Varanasi Ganga Aarti, celebrated daily in epic proportions, young male priests offer aarti and prayers to Maa Ganga or Ganges, as the westerners call it. In a practiced synchronized way, they move a lighted brass lamp in all the 8 directions so that everyone has a good view of the Aarti.
Perfectly synched with the rhythmic chanting of ancient Hindu mantras, it sends the audience into a spiritual coma. Once the Aarti gets over and the crowd disperses, it is time for the cruise to head back to the Assi Ghat.
This is when, if you have time, you should explore the atmospheric ghats of Varanasi by the evening. Of course, I kept my eyes peeled for unexpected quirks, ceremonies and rituals. You should too!
Morning Alaknanda Cruise Itinerary
- In case Alaknanda Cruise is a part of your pre booked tour package, then you will be picked up from your hotel/homestay in Varanasi latest by 5:00 a.m. in morning and will be driven to the bohemian Assi Ghat for the morning Alaknanda Cruise boat ride.
- In case you are a solo, budget traveler like me, it is a good idea to stay near the Assi ghat. There are many budget hotels located here from where you can just walk upto Assi Ghat.
- The boat ride on Alaknanda Cruise spans from Assi Ghat to Raj Ghat and lasts upto 90 minutes. Refreshments such as hot tea and coffee is served on the cruise as you enjoy the morning routines of local people on the Ghats of Varanasi.
- The Alaknanda Cruise passes through approximately 70 important Ganga Ghats of Varanasi which includes places of interest and famous ghats such as the Hindu cremation sites – Harishchandra Ghat to Manikarnika Ghat and Gai Ghat, Tulsi Ghat, Dashaswamedh Ghat etc.
- If you have time, try to club is the soulful morning Aarti known as Subah-e-Benaras at the Assi Ghat. The cruise will stop at Assi Ghat for few minutes. Since both start at same time, chances are that you will have to stay in Varanasi for one more day to see Subah-e-Banaras. From cruise, you can just see a glimpse of it from far distance.
- Get your fingers dirty with the toothsome morsels of street food of Varanasi. There are many small and big streets around Assi Ghat which are known for their food. Right after de boarding from the Alaknanda cruise, you must walk towards the Sri Ram Bhandar for their delicious vegetarian/vegan breakfast of Sabzi, Puri and Jalebi.
- If you are on a packaged tour, after the breakfast, you will be dropped back to your hotel approximately by 9:00 a.m.
- In case you are a solo budget traveler, visiting Varanasi independently, then you can choose to stay for more and explore other ghats of Kashi like I did.
- If you on your own, do include a visit to the Tulsidas Akhada to enjoy a live dangal match, i.e., wrestling match.
Evening Alaknanda Cruise Itinerary
- In case Alaknanda Cruise comes with your pre booked packaged tours, you will be picked up from your hotel/homestay in Varanasi latest by 5:00 p.m. in the evening and will be driven to the modern Assi Ghat for the evening Alaknanda Cruise boat ride.
- Some tour agents fill you up with the vegetarian food and drinks from the reputed local eateries famous for their Chaats, Lassi, Thandai etc. just before you board the cruise near Assi Ghat. You can include this or do it more flexibly in case you are on a solo budget trip like me.
- Enjoy the evening tea and coffee as the 90 minutes long Alaknanda cruise ride shows you the best of Varanasi stretching all the way from the hippie Assi Ghat to Raj Ghat.
- Sit back and observe as the Alaknanda cruise whizzes past more than 70 famous Ghats on the bank of Ganga Maiyya such as the poignant Hindu cremation Ghats, namely, the – famous Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat. Other sightseeing places of Varanasi is also covered.
- The Alaknanda cruise stops for the evening Varanasi Ganga Aarti for a disappointing 15 minutes only. If watching Ganga Aarti is your priority, then I would suggest that see it from the stairs of Dashaswamedh Ghat and not the boats or cruise to get the best experience. It is worth it, even if you need to stay for one more day in Varanasi.
- Some tour packages will take you to well-known sophisticated restaurants for dinner after the Alaknanda Cruise gets over. You Should check the hotel reviews before agreeing. If it is not very authentic, then I prefer you to eat at smaller but well-known places such as Kashi Chaat Bhandar.
- If you are on a packaged tour, you will be mostly dropped to your hotel/homestay at approximately 9:30 pm
- You can choose to stay for late nights on the ghats like I did and book a taxi back to your hotel like I did.
The Alaknanda Cruise Package
Most tour operators include the below mentioned facilities in their The Alaknanda Cruise Packages
- Pick up and drop facility from the hotel in air-conditioned cars.
- A licensed tour guide to explain the history of ghats of Varanasi
- Entry Ticket price for the Alaknanda Luxury Cruise on Ganga River.
- Evening snacks of Varanasi such as the famed Banarasi Chaat, Tamatar Chaat, Lassi, Mishrambu, Thandai, Banarasi paan etc.
- Traditional sit-down Indian dinner in a reputed restaurant
- Everything which is not mentioned in the above list as well as personal Expenses and tips are excluded in total cost.
Soul Window Travel Tips
- It is a good idea to wear comfortable outfit as per the season/weather during your Varanasi trip.
- It is suggested that one must wear footwear with grip because the Ghats of Varanasi can be wet and slippery sometimes. I prefer slippers and sandals but you can wear shoes if it suits you better.
- Alcohol and meat in not allowed in the Alaknanda cruise and ghats of Varanasi.
Can I enjoy a party onboard the Alakananda luxury cruise?
It is a very commonly asked question. Yes, it is possible to hire a cruise to host personal parties on board. There are several facilities on board which helps in hosting a memorable party.
Types of Cruises in Varanasi
How many cruises are there in Varanasi? There are a total of 5 types of various cruises in Varanasi. Our host Mrs. Priti Srivastava, who is the deputy director of tourism in Varanasi proudly showed us around the cruise and other new additions to the city of Varanasi.
Some of the facilities, especially in the bigger cruises include free WiFi, skid proof afterdeck, several bio toilets, a fully AV equipped mini stage on the lower deck along with so many more features. Safety protocols are also taken care of on all the cruises. You can also enjoy a cultural evening on the River Ganga like we did.
Alaknanda Cruise in Varanasi
Alaknanda is the flagship luxury cruise liner which also looks the most trendy and modern. Varanasi city launched its first river cruise named Alaknanda along the banks of river Ganga!
This white and black cruise is already very popular with the locals and tourists alike. Every time, I visit Kashi, I observe that it is always house-full with tourists. Its success can be attributed to various factors. As many as 60 tourists can be easily accommodated on the lower deck of this cruise itself. It is a double decker vessel from the first floor of which, you can enjoy even better views of the ghats of Varanasi. The top floor has a roof but the sides are kept open for amazing unhindered views.
The Alaknanda cruise boasts of a pantry, fully equipped A/V system, comfortable sofa style seats and even clean bio-toilets.
Sam Manikshaw Cruise in Varanasi
Which cruise is best in Varanasi? Sam Manikshaw Cruise in Varanasi was the biggest one I took a ride on.
During the Uttar Pradesh Travel Writers Conclave, the first major activity I did was to hop on to this massive ship. Christened after Field Marshal Shri Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, itis one of the largest cruises which run on Ganga River in Varanasi. Sam Manekshaw served as the Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.
I enjoyed the stunning views of the globally famous Ghats of Varanasi, while cruising languorously in river Maa Ganga. Though I have enjoyed a ride on a larger cruise from Dubai to Fort Kochi in Kerala, I was still amazed by the sheer grandeur of the Sam Manikshaw Cruise of Varanasi. I am not sure whose idea it was to run this cruise along the ghats of Kashi, but it is a brilliant move.
I and other travel bloggers lingered along the spacious open decks and enjoyed amazing views of beautiful ghats of Kashi from various angles and vantage points. We started our cruise ride from the newly added Namo Ghat. It is the last ghat located towards the famous Malviya Bridge which was inaugurated in the year 1887.
It was about to turn dark when the cruise started to move. The beautiful lights across the bridge and the ghats made it look like I was in some festival. But then everyday is a festival in a place like Varanasi, one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth.
I was particularly excited when our cruise passed under the magically lit Malviya Bridge, which was originally named as the Dufferin Bridge by the colonists. It didn’t feel like I was in Kashi. I have visited Varanasi so many times and every time I am here, I see new positive improvements. I loved the new changes to the city of Varanasi, where I was born but have no childhood memory of!
We whizzed past the gorgeous main gate of Kashi Vishwanath Corridor, located near the Lalita Ghat and the Nepali Mandir which is also called as Shri Samrajeswar Pashupatinath Mahadev Mandir. I was excited to visit Kashi Vishwanath Corridor in night as it was my first time since it was inaugurated.
We moved on anyways, engulfed in the melancholy of Manikarnika Ghat which was juxtaposed right next to the shiny new gate of Kashi Vishwanath Corridor.
Soul Window Observations
Darkness and light exist simultaneously on the ghats of Kashi, much like how Mansarovar Lake and Rakshas Tal co-exists in the foothills of Kailash Parvat and Gauri Kund in Tibet. Both Mansarovar Lake and Rakshas Tal are seen asa symbol of light and darkness in the Hindu Faith. Do read all my blogs on Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.
What’s more? The Sam Manikshaw Cruise even stopped for a few minutes to see the daily evening Ganga aarti at the famous Dashashwamedh Ghat. Despite many more aartis happening in Varanasi around the day, the aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat is still so crowded and as popular as I saw it a decade earlier.
We continued towards other beautifully lit ghats, returning from my favorite Assi Ghat. This is also where the ghats end. We observed the twin evening artis of Assi ghat from the cruise and promised to return here on foot. After returning, we stopped for a nice dinner at a luxury hotel on the ghats and called it a day. But not before enjoying a soulful Kathak performance on the rooftop. I told the dancers, “I saw Krishna Ji and Radha Rani ji in you both!”. I was almost in tears after this performance. Such is the joy of being in Kashi!
Sam Manikshaw Cruise of Varanasi can also be hired for day long inter-city cruise tours. You can also hire the cruise to hold personal and professional events such as engagement, music nights, seminars etc. It can host more than 200 people at a time.
Bhagirathi Cruise in Varanasi
Since Bhagirathi cruise has two storeys, it can hold up to 80 people at a time. Some of the salient features of the Bhagirathi cruise include audio/video facility, clean toilets, sofa-seating etc. It is a safe and secure way to enjoy a boat ride from a moving cruise. While the lower deck is air conditioned, the upper deck is not. The sides are kept open here so that the tourists can enjoy the scenery without a glass hindering their views. I prefer it this way only. This cruise is named after Bhagirathi River.
Vivekanand Cruise in Varanasi
MV Swami Vivekanand is a huge cruise which can accommodate as many as 200 tourists at a time. This triple decked vessel offers great views from each of the floors. It is a multipurpose cruise which can be used for private functions such as birthdays, engagements and even marriages as well. Its open deck is huge. This cruise is named after Swami Vivekanand.
It can also be used to hold professional events such as seminars, off-sites and meetings etc. Many people also hire MV Swami Vivekanand Cruise for day long inter-city cruise tours. Some of its major features include air-conditioned halls, bio toilets and pantry etc.
Varuna Speed Boat in Varanasi
Varuna Speed Boat in Varanasi is also fast gaining popularity. Along with one driver, it can hold up to 6 tourists at a time. Wearing life-jackets, which is provided to the tourists, is mandatory. The seats are very comfortable in this speed boat, despite the small size. It reminded me of the speed boats running to Elephanta Caves in Maharashtra.
This 6-seater speed boat is a major attraction in Varanasi. Varuna is essentially a service boat which rides along the Alaknanda Cruise daily. When not accompanying Alaknanda cruise, tourists can hire it for speed boating for short durations. This speed boat is named after Varuna River. I am sure you didn’t know about these lesser-known facts. Now you know the answer to: How many cruise ships are there in Varanasi?
Evening Maharaja Boat ride in Varanasi with musicians and Dinner
For a memorable evening and an opportunity to feel like an old-world Maharaja or Maharani (King and Queen) on a private royal boat, one must book the Evening Maharaja Boat ride on the Ganga River. Not only will you enjoy a live performance by local musicians while the boat is moving but also a sumptuous vegetarian dinner.
Details of Evening Maharaja Boat ride
- Duration: Evening Maharaja Boat ride on Ganga River last upto 5 Hours
- Timings: The Maharaja Boat ride starts at 4:30 p.m. and ends by 9:30 p.m.
- It is a memorable experience of Varanasi’s soul.
The Maharaja Boat Experience in a nutshell
- Know what it feels like to enjoy a boat ride fit for King or Queen.
- Get welcomed by the staff of the Royal boat with (outdated) garlands and bouquets
- Sit back and enjoy classic song renditions, Tabla and Sitar performances by well-known musicians of Varanasi while your private boat is still moving on Ganga River along the ghats.
- Munch on the snacks, relish soft drink which are served on boat itself as you lose yourself in the sounds of Indian classical music.
- You can even get a glimpse of evening Ganga Aarti at Dashaswamedh Ghat during the Maharaja boat ride. I do not prefer this as viewing Aarti from the ghat is better.
- Soak in the atmosphere of the soulful and vibrant evenings of Varanasi!
- Let the boat ride nourish your soul as you observe the evening activities on the Varanasi Ghats.
- Learn about the history and rich ancient culture of Varanasi under the tutelage of an English-speaking local guide
About Maharaja Boat Ride on Ganga, Varanasi
The private Maharaja Boat Ride is an exclusive Varanasi experience for those who wants to enjoy the soul of Varanasi away from the organized chaos of the bustling city. Popular mostly with foreigner white travelers from privileged nations, it is a mix of touristy frills as well as authentic Banaras experience. Needless to say, this unprecedented Banaras experience comes at a price which is easy to pay by the foreigners.
If you are with a tour agent, you will be picked up from where you are staying and escorted to the main marketplace of Varanasi, close to the ghats. From here you will walk, negotiating your way in the evening crowd to Dashaswamedh Ghat.
Once you reach your private boat, you will have a grand welcome by the sailor. Clad in a uniform, he will greet you with garlands and flower bouquet.
Much like the private rickety boat that I had hired from a local boatman, the evening Maharaja Boat Ride allows one to view the Ghats from a distance. What changes is that one gets to sit on comfortable cushioned seats and enjoy the snacks and allowing live music performances on the boat to serenade you.
That is what Western tourists pay for! Beautified with fresh perfumed marigold flowers, the evening Maharaja Boat is carpeted. While some guests prefer to sprawl on the cushioned floor blanketed with a clean white sheet, others, with health issues, sit on chairs to watch the live performance of Indian musical instruments such as Tabla and Sitar.
The tourists are also made to feel like an old-world Maharaja aka King or Maharani aka Queen, even if for just few hours. That is why it is known as the evening Maharaja Boat Ride in the first place. As plates of cashew nuts and cookies do the rounds, the live classical music mesmerizes everyone who is on board. Needless to say, it is one of the top things to do in Varanasi. This elite Varanasi experience is known for leaving lasting impressions on the minds of tourists!
This authentic, handpicked and unadulterated Varanasi experience is the best thing you can do in Varanasi. The charm of whizzing past the ghats of an ancient city only adds to the experience. This quintessential Kashi experience is further accentuated by the fragrance of the fresh marigold flowers. Where else in the world, will you get this experience?
Every evening Dashaswamedh Ghat of Varanasi is abuzz with the Varanasi Ganga Aarti. This grand spectacle, subtly pulls you in to the mystical world of magical Hindu philosophy. It is not uncommon to see thousands of Hindu pilgrims as well as backpackers and tourists to throng the steps of the Ghats for a mere glimpse of the famed Ganga Aarti of Banaras.
The good news is that you will be able to see this from the comfort of the boat without having to jostle with the crowds. The bad news is that the views of Ganga Aarti from the boat is not as clear as the views you will get from the ghats.
The route of the evening Maharaja Boat includes a slow ride near the ghats of Varanasi which includes important ghats such as Dashaswamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Gai Ghat, Tulsi Ghat etc.
Evening Maharaja Boat Itinerary
- On a tour package, the pickup from your hotel in Varanasi is at 5:00 p.m.
- You will be dropped at the Dashawamedh Ghat, which is the starting point of the private Maharaja Boat
- Enjoy a lavish welcome with flower garland as you step on the Maharaja boat.
- Sit back and relax as the Indian classical instrumental music serenades you on the moving boat
- Evening Ganga Aarti at Dashaswamedh Ghat can also be viewed from the boat.
- Once Ganga Aarti gets over, the boat moves from the Dashaswamedh Ghat towards Harishchandra Ghat and returns back.
- After the Maharaja boat ride gets over, you can go on a delightful walking tour on the Ghats of Kashi to experience it closely.
- If you are on a packaged trip, you will be taken to a sophisticated restaurant for dinner
- Packaged tour operators will mostly drop you back at your hotel at 10:00 p.m. My advice is that you should linger more if you are on your own. Or even if not!
- The timings of the Maharaja Boat Ride vary from season to season. It starts daily at around 5:00 p.m. in summer and 4:00 p.m. in winters.
Morning Boat Ride with local boatman
No matter how many more luxuries the authorities add to the original boat ride, the traditional Morning Boat Ride on a rickety boat with a local boatman always beats all the other Varanasi boat ride experiences. On my first trip to Varanasi, I had hired a private boat on the holy Ganga River. I just negotiated the rates and duration with a random boatman and I was in the middle of the river in no time.
I and the boatman were the only people on the boat as it moved gently, whizzing past all the main ghats. Soon we were swarmed by an army of river pirates, better known as the noisy Siberian Gulls. But somehow their noise sounded like music to my ears. As if it added to the symphonies of the early morning ragas of Varanasi.
The boatman not only sung local Bhojpuri songs, but also clicked some well composed pictures of me voluntarily. Their lack of formal education sure makes up for the tricks and knowledge they pick up from their guests.
Who else, after all is better than a local boatman who often also doubles up as a local tourist guide? However, most of the boatmen can speak either Bhojpuri and Hindi. Some can also speak few words from English, French etc.
I saw many foreigners during the morning boat ride in Varanasi. Men and women from Thailand, dressed entirely in white flowing dress and wearing a white mask. From the mist of early morning of winter, they appeared like some heavenly beings who just descended on Earth to see how bad it has gone here!
Had it not been for their facial features and language they could have been easily mistaken for Jain Munis, who also wear white clothes and white masks so that they do not swallow bacteria by mistake.
As the famous Bollywood song from Laga Chunari Mein Daag goes:
पटना से अइबे पैरिस से अइबे गंगाजी में हर कोई नंगा नहइबे
“They will come from Patna
They will come from Paris
Everyone bathes naked in Ganga ji!”
Soul Window Observations
I remember I had also taken similar boat rides to the holy Sangam area in ancient city of Prayagraj where I also grew up between 1994-1998! I had taken a sunrise boat ride in winter in Prayagraj many times since childhood which gave me some stunning views even as the migratory Siberian gulls screamed over my head for some desi snacking aka laiyya choora (puffed rice and flattened rice). Do read my detailed blog on Prayagraj which is also in Uttar Pradesh.
Evening Boat Ride with local boatman
The evening boat ride on the holy Ganga is an experience very different from the morning boat ride in Ganga. While in the morning you will see many foreigners riding on the boat, in the evening most of the attention is grabbed by the grand Varanasi Ganga Aarti due to which lesser boats move on the river.
Most of the boats which are operational during the evening are the ones who offer to show you Ganga Aarti, while you are stuck on a traffic jam on the river. I do not prefer it.
So, I enjoyed the morning boat ride in Varanasi by hiring a private local boat who charge upwards of INR 500 for an hour-long boat ride. I remember paying around the same amount while boating in Dawki river in Meghalaya in North East India. It is a gorgeous river near India Bangladesh border minus any modicum of spirituality though!
During the evening boat ride on Ganga Ji, I was enthralled to see the ghats of Varanasi in the shades of blue, green, yellow, orange lights. The decorations are on bigger scale during the annual festival of Dev Deepawali which falls 15 days after Diwali. It is a good idea to hire a local boat after dark during Dev Diwali if watching laser shows on the ghats and seeing the grand spectacle of lakhs of diyas or mud lamps excites you. It was quite similar to another of my experiences, that is, Bhavya Deepotsav in Ayodhya.
If I had just one day in Varanasi and had to choose between morning boat ride in Ganga ji and evening boat ride in Ganga River, then I would go for the morning ride, reserving the evening for the brilliant Varanasi Ganga Aarti at Dashashmev Ghat.
Best time to go on Alaknanda Cruise in Varanasi
In monsoon months of July and August, boating and cruises can be restricted for few days as the Ganga River often floods. It is thus subject to availability and daily weather conditions.
Best time to have boat ride in Varanasi
If you truly want to enjoy the boat rides, whether budget friendly or luxury, then you must go through the below mentioned travel tips:
Winter: September, October, November, December, January, February and March are the cooler months in Varanasi. While September, October, November, February and March are mildly cold, December and January are the coldest months in Varanasi and also my favorite time to visit Varanasi. This is also when you get to eat the best food in Varanasi. November, the month I was born in Varanasi, is also my favorite. I love it for that nip in the air.
Summer: It is the low season in Varanasi due to scorching heat. April, May, June are the hottest months in Varanasi and elsewhere on the plains of North India. People avoid visit to Varanasi aka Kashi in these months due to extreme heat. If you can brave it, nothing like it but I would still prefer winter months to visit Varanasi.
Monsoon: July and August are rainy months. Since it rains heavily in monsoon, so many times boat rides are cancelled abruptly. It is subject to availability and weather conditions and thus not advisable to travel for boat rides in monsoon.
Where to stay in Varanasi for boat ride
I personally recommend multiple boat rides in the holy Ganga River when visiting Varanasi. It is one of the must do activity in Banaras. If boat rides, Alaknanda cruise, Maharaja Boat ride, Subah-e-Banaras aka morning Aarti and evening aarti is your focus, then you must stay at one of the best and affordable hotels or homestays near Ghats, preferably Assi ghat and Dashaswamedh Ghat. There are many accommodation options available in Varanasi.
How to reach Varanasi for boat rides
It is fairly easy to reach Varanasi. Located near Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh in North India, Varanasi has its own airport, railway junction and bus stand all of which are connected with most of the big and small cities of India.
Conclusion: Why book Alaknanda Cruise?
Irrespective of how much money of you have in your pocket, you must choose what interests you the most. Personally, I, who is perennially hungry for varied experiences, will opt for Alaknanda Cruise, morning and evening boat ride with local boatman as well as the Maharaja boat ride, depending on how much time I have at hand.
All the boat experiences are unique and offer something new! So, I would not want to miss out on any of the above-mentioned boat ride options in Varanasi aka Banaras. Thank you for reading A Soul Window – the No. 1 travel blog of India.
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Below are my detailed travel guides on related topics. These places are linked to each other and you can use this handy comprehensive travel guide to plan a trip in Varanasi and Uttar Pradesh.
Blogs on Varanasi
Below are the informative travel blogs on Varanasi or Kashi.
Blogs on Uttar Pradesh
Below are the informative travel blogs on other destinations in Uttar Pradesh. Most of these places are much revered Hindu pilgrimages and not just tourist attractions.
Vrindavan places to see
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