Travelmag Banner
Archives
Search
 Features

Slowly down the Ganges



The plan was to go slowly down The Ganges as the book by Eric Newby so quaintly put it. The idea of floating along in my own private fishing boat on arguably the holiest river in the world as village life in central India drifted by seemed incomprehensible. I had no idea what to expect nor was I too concerned. The setting was sure to provide a magical journey.

face on the route It was to be a three – day journey camping on small islands emerging from the river as the monsoon waters recede. To this end I’d commissioned the help of an agent in New Delhi to sort out the logistics. I met the guide, Tenzin, in the friendly city of Allahabad and after a short drive downstream along bumpy roads we boarded our trusty vessels & set sail.

January is one fine month to be travelling on the Indo – Gangetic plain of India. At alternative times of the year the heat & accompanying humidity can be mind numbing. The cool evenings along with the clear sunny days make for ideal conditions as I proceeded to gaze idly into space & literally watch the days drift by.

The boat had been adapted to suite our rather lavish requirements. Now I’m not talking five star here but rather some simple luxuries that made the mode of transport supremely comfortable in a country where comfort comes at a premium. With four to a boat I luxuriated on the deck in relative comfort. A makeshift canopy provided shade from the not too imposing sunshine & with the winds blowing strongly in our favour the sails were hoisted & the cool winter breeze edged us slowly toward the holy city of Varanasi, our intended destination.

There’s a strange magic in India. Struggling to come to terms with rapid development & ever increasing social problems that are inevitable in a country supporting a population of almost a billion people it is hard to imagine how they manage. I often wonder where the people find the infectious smiles & endless warmth amongst what appears to me so much poverty & hardship. I honestly believe that like many countries throughout Asia the all encompassing nature & devotion of the population to their religion instills enormous strength & character in the soul through acceptance of one’s dharma (A moral code of conduct adopted by exponents of both Hinduism & Buddhism). I know that religion isn’t the great peacemaker in the world today, nor has it ever been, but I believe that in countries such as India, if the focus were shifted to financial wealth & material success rather than spiritual salvation & enlightenment the happy, smiling faces would be fewer.

After a couple of hours the sweet scent of spices wafted across the water’s surface & into my consciousness breaking through the vale of comfort which had surrounded me. Indulging in my first meal on the river we tied our boat to the ‘kitchen’ boat & enjoyed a hearty meal of Indian curry, rice & copious amounts of chai, the almost sickly sweet Indian tea that seems to be an appropriate accompaniment to anything Indian. The food was sumptuous & remained so for the duration of the trip. I was lucky to escape being rolled off the boat in Varanasi I’d eaten so much.

Stopping for the night on one of the many isolated sandbars in the middle of the river. There was little to do as the hired help set about establishing camp serving us chai & biscuits to tied us over until dinner, as if I needed it.

The days were simply magic. The Ganges, cascading down from the mighty Himalaya gives no indication of the raging torrent it is before it reaches the plains & begins its almost stagnant flow to the Bay of Bengal. The lay of the land illustrates the vast plains through which it flows dropping only 200 metres in altitude over its final 1600 or so miles. With the sail up the silence enhanced my surrounds to an almost dreamlike state. Lying back the sounds of surrounding villages, often remaining unseen, drifted across the water like the soft scent that pervades the air as one wanders by a florist. Often children would wave & scream from the riverbank & I’d return their gesture with a silent thought for their enduring happiness. And just like that the three days literally drifted by. land transport

Sunrise on our final morning was as memorable a scene as I can imagine. The wind was non – existent. The water like a millpond. A haze hung low on the earth’s surface as the blood red sun emerged as if out of the river & rolled skyward. Some local labourers were wading in the river up to their waist digging sand for use in the construction of their village homes. Silhouetted in the morning light it was one of these rare moments where I lamented losing my camera in the Himalayas only weeks before. On the opposite bank pilgrims gathered & bathed in the river en masse conducting puja (The ritual of praying of giving offerings) & praying for their own general well being amid the unending toll of the bells from the village temple. As we looked on in awe a Gangetic dolphin popped its nose out of the water as if to transport this almost incomprehensible moment into another realm. A soft light surrounded the river as we set sail that morning & stayed with us for the entire day. I had the feeling that the Ganges was trying to impose upon us an understanding of its true significance to this amazing country. The spirituality was self-evident & seemed a fitting introduction to the city of Varansasi, one of the oldest & holiest cities in the world. There was only one thing left to do to complete “the journey” and with a splash I was one with the holy waters.

Slowly Down the Ganges


The plan was to go slowly down The Ganges as the book by Eric Newby so quaintly put it. The idea of floating along in my own private fishing boat on arguably the holiest river in the world as village life in central India drifted by seemed incomprehensible. I had no idea what to expect nor was I too concerned. The setting was sure to provide a magical journey.

It was to be a three – day journey camping on small islands emerging from the river as the monsoon waters recede. To this end I’d commissioned the help of an agent in New Delhi to sort out the logistics. I met the guide, Tenzin, in the friendly city of Allahabad and after a short drive downstream along bumpy roads we boarded our trusty vessels & set sail.

January is one fine month to be travelling on the Indo – Gangetic plain of India. At alternative times of the year the heat & accompanying humidity can be mind numbing. The cool evenings along with the clear sunny days make for ideal conditions as I proceeded to gaze idly into space & literally watch the days drift by.

The boat had been adapted to suite our rather lavish requirements. Now I’m not talking five star here but rather some simple luxuries that made the mode of transport supremely comfortable in a country where comfort comes at a premium. With four to a boat I luxuriated on the deck in relative comfort. A makeshift canopy provided shade from the not too imposing sunshine & with the winds blowing strongly in our favour the sails were hoisted & the cool winter breeze edged us slowly toward the holy city of Varanasi, our intended destination.

There’s a strange magic in India. Struggling to come to terms with rapid development & ever increasing social problems that are inevitable in a country supporting a population of almost a billion people it is hard to imagine how they manage. I often wonder where the people find the infectious smiles & endless warmth amongst what appears to me so much poverty & hardship. I honestly believe that like many countries throughout Asia the all encompassing nature & devotion of the population to their religion instills enormous strength & character in the soul through acceptance of one’s dharma (A moral code of conduct adopted by exponents of both Hinduism & Buddhism). I know that religion isn’t the great peacemaker in the world today, nor has it ever been, but I believe that in countries such as India, if the focus were shifted to financial wealth & material success rather than spiritual salvation & enlightenment the happy, smiling faces would be fewer.

After a couple of hours the sweet scent of spices wafted across the water’s surface & into my consciousness breaking through the vale of comfort which had surrounded me. Indulging in my first meal on the river we tied our boat to the ‘kitchen’ boat & enjoyed a hearty meal of Indian curry, rice & copious amounts of chai, the almost sickly sweet Indian tea that seems to be an appropriate accompaniment to anything Indian. The food was sumptuous & remained so for the duration of the trip. I was lucky to escape being rolled off the boat in Varanasi I’d eaten so much.

Stopping for the night on one of the many isolated sandbars in the middle of the river. There was little to do as the hired help set about establishing camp serving us chai & biscuits to tied us over until dinner, as if I needed it.

The days were simply magic. The Ganges, cascading down from the mighty Himalaya gives no indication of the raging torrent it is before it reaches the plains & begins its almost stagnant flow to the Bay of Bengal. The lay of the land illustrates the vast plains through which it flows dropping only 200 metres in altitude over its final 1600 or so miles. With the sail up the silence enhanced my surrounds to an almost dreamlike state. Lying back the sounds of surrounding villages, often remaining unseen, drifted across the water like the soft scent that pervades the air as one wanders by a florist. Often children would wave & scream from the riverbank & I’d return their gesture with a silent thought for their enduring happiness. And just like that the three days literally drifted by.

Sunrise on our final morning was as memorable a scene as I can imagine. The wind was non – existent. The water like a millpond. A haze hung low on the earth’s surface as the blood red sun emerged as if out of the river & rolled skyward. Some local labourers were wading in the river up to their waist digging sand for use in the construction of their village homes. Silhouetted in the morning light it was one of these rare moments where I lamented losing my camera in the Himalayas only weeks before. On the opposite bank pilgrims gathered & bathed in the river en masse conducting puja (The ritual of praying of giving offerings) & praying for their own general well being amid the unending toll of the bells from the village temple. As we looked on in awe a Gangetic dolphin popped its nose out of the water as if to transport this almost incomprehensible moment into another realm. A soft light surrounded the river as we set sail that morning & stayed with us for the entire day. I had the feeling that the Ganges was trying to impose upon us an understanding of its true significance to this amazing country. The spirituality was self-evident & seemed a fitting introduction to the city of Varansasi, one of the oldest & holiest cities in the world. There was only one thing left to do to complete “the journey” and with a splash I was one with the holy waters.

   [Top of Page]  
 Latest Headlines
Central Asia