Golden Getaway: A candle lit dinner on the banks of the Ganges... you can't get better than that.
At 2507km long, the Ganges, or Ganga as locals refer to it, isn't even close to being one of the world's greatest rivers in terms of length the Nile, Amazon and Mississippi are all more than two-and-a-half times longer.
The greatness of the Ganges comes from the fact that for millions of Hindus it's the most sacred and venerated river on earth. It is the lifeline of India, economically, spiritually and culturally.
The river rises on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, 3140 metres above sea level, and flows eastward to the Bay of Bengal. Its delta is 322km from the Bay of Bengal, lies mostly in Bangladesh and is mostly tangled swampland.
The water from Mother Ganges is considered amrita or "elixir of life". To be cremated on its banks, having died there, is said to be the wish of every Hindu. This journey from Allahabad to Varanasi, which claims to be the world's oldest (3000 years) and most sacred city, can be experienced on the very Indian "country vessels". The 5.5m-long boats make their way through this spiritual heartland by way of a two-man crew using bamboo poles, or by sail if there's a breeze. Each can carry four passengers, the crew, some luggage and provides basic shelter under a canvas awning.
Your destination is Varanasi, which has a population of more than a million and is one of the seven sacred cities of the Hindu faith. Each year more than a million pilgrims visit Varanasi. The city is said to combine the virtues of all the other places of pilgrimage and anyone who dies here is said to be transported straight to heaven.
The city also boasts the world famous ghats, a chain of stone steps that progress along the entire waterfront. From first light, Hindus come to these steps to bathe, make offerings, cremate the dead and practice meditation and yoga.
To truly experience this city you must walk through Varanasi's Old Town, known as Vishwanatha Khanda. It's a maze of narrow lanes that exude holy smells and sounds. This is a great place to explore, with lots of shrines, temples, pilgrims, stalls, shops, monuments, interesting houses and activities.
After the ghats, the Visvanath temple is the most popular tourist spot in the Old Town. It has been the main Siva temple in Varanasi for more than 1000 years.
Varanasi's hottest month is June, when temperatures get as high as 39ºC, and July is the wettest.
The Ganges River in the north of India
Intrepid Travel has 15-day sailing packages on the Ganges, starting in Delhi. Return airfares, accommodation, all meals, land transport and guide start at $2890 ex Perth and $3130 ex east coast and Adelaide. Prices are per person. Tours run between September and January.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.
Ph: 1300 360 667
Fax: (03) 9419 4426www.intrepidtravel.com
Indian Tourist Office: Ph: (02) 9624 4855
Qantas: 13 13 13
It is recommended travellers to India see their doctor at least six weeks before departure. Prior to travel, they should be up-to-date with vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Polio and Typhoid Fever. However, depending on time of year and exact destination, other health precautions and preventions are recommended and are best discussed with your doctor.
For further information speak to your doctor or e-mail The Medical Advisory Service for Travellers Aborad at email@example.com
or visit The Travel Doctor at www.tmvc.com.au