On my second day in the city, I woke up early to take the famed early morning boat ride on the Ganga. I walked down to Assi ghat at 5.30 in the morning. There were already many people next to the river. Scouting around a bit, I found a bunch of boatmen waiting for customers. After a short discussion with themselves about who should get me, one of them started a conversation with me. He started in Hindi, but he did not seem to be appealed by my broken Hindi and decided to speak broken English instead! Being my first boat ride here, I did not know much about the place but my guidebook had given me an idea of the prices.
At first, I said vaguely –
‘I want to go till the other end and come back’
‘That will take four hours. At Rs.150 per hour, it will be Rs.600,’ he replied.
The numbers looked way too high. And I did not want a four-hour ride anyway.
‘Not for four hours. Let’s only make it two hours. One hour for going and one hour coming’
‘Okay, I will take you up to Manikarnika ghat. That will be one hour from here. Rs.300 for two hours’
We haggled a bit. My guidebook suggested a price of Rs.60 per hour and he was way off that mark. Finally he agreed for Rs.150 for two hours and we got on to the boat.
During the early morning boat ride
It was just before dawn and the east was turning from dark to orange. There was some activity on the ghats but very few boats on the river. As we moved into the middle of the river, I noticed a kid with a small boat that was just big enough to fit him in. He rowed towards us and I watched him wondering what is he up to. He came close to us, nearly touching our boat and asked if I would like to buy ‘deep’. I was mighty impressed with his entrepreneurship and dedication to work. Later while we were coming back, I saw a couple of bigger boat where they hooked on to tourist boats and sold small statues and other souvenirs.
A view of the ghats
Sunrise over the Ganges was beautiful. As the sun moved upwards, more and more people walked on the ghats to have a dip in the Ganges, pray to sun god and perform morning meditations. Groups of men and woman walked into the river, took the customary holy dip, murmured prayers and climbed back up. Yogis sat cross-legged with rudraksha mala. Men and women squatted with eyes closed and hands held together in prayer. The ghats were live with activity.
A hermit in prayer
Ganga looked calm and still with little flow in this early summer. My boatman Naresh told me that she flows fast and furious in the monsoons and the water level rises much higher. Sadly, the industrial waste flowing in from Kanpur and other cities upstream ensured that the water was dark, polluted and repulsive. My dream of swimming for hours in the deep waters of the Ganga had to remain unfulfilled.
A woman praying…
After nearly two hours, we returned to Assi Ghat where I was staying. The two-hour boat ride was an excellent preview of Varanasi. I was introduced to the magical enchantment of the religious Varanasi and at the same time was subjected to the stark realities of depletion of the holy river.
Read more about Varanasi on paintedstork.com
* Images of Varanasi
* Travelling to Varanasi from Corbett
* Arriving at Varanasi
* Many perceptions of Varanasi
* First day at the ghats
* Boat ride on the Ganges
* An encounter on the ghats
* Photo Essay: Ganga Aarti
* Life on the ghats
* About Varanasi