The Ganga Trail: A 15-Day Road Trip Across 4 States & 10 Destinations Along India's Holiest River

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Photo of The Ganga Trail: A 15-Day Road Trip Across 4 States & 10 Destinations Along India's Holiest River by Adete Dahiya

Any history student will tell you that the largest, most iconic civilisations have always sprung up next to rivers. Whether you talk about Harappa and Mohenjodaro (Indus River), Ancient Egypt (The Nile), or Mesopotamia (Euphrates and Tigris rivers), you’ll find that the one thing they have in common is rivers. These flowing water bodies have always been the people’s lifeline. In present-day India, this function is fulfilled by the Ganga – the longest and perhaps the holiest of all rivers in the country. If you trace back the history, you will find that the most important places of cultural and religious significance came up along this river.

Right from its source at Gaumukh to its confluence with the Bay of Bengal at Gangasagar, the river makes an incredible journey through the very heart of the country, giving travellers an opportunity to witness stunning landscapes and a mix of ancient cultures and religions all in one go.

Here, I have mapped out an epic road trip to take you across some of the most iconic places along the Ganges.

The Route

Total distance covered: 2,439km

Time taken: 10 days

Suggested route: Dehradun – Gangotri – Devprayag – Rishikesh – Haridwar – Kanpur – Allahabad – Varanasi – Patna – Kolkata – Sagardwip

For convenience, we’ve picked Dehradun to be the starting point of this trip. Located about 276km from Gangotri, this town is well connected to the rest of the country via air and train.

Photo of The Ganga Trail: A 15-Day Road Trip Across 4 States & 10 Destinations Along India's Holiest River 1/1 by Adete Dahiya

Best time to take this road trip?

The ideal time would be to go just before summer, i.e. in the months of February-March, when the snow has just started melting and it isn’t too hot in the plains. The monsoons (July-August) are another great time as you can witness the river in full flow and the weather is pleasant enough to take a road trip.

Itinerary

The journey is spread across a total of 10 days.

Day 1

Source

Photo of Gangotri, Uttarakhand, India by Adete Dahiya

A small town centred around the Gangotri Temple in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, Gangotri is perhaps one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Hindus. It is considered to be the place where river Bhagirathi (which later becomes the Ganga) originated. The actual point of origination, Gaumukh, is about a 19km trek from the town. Despite the boom of tourism here in recent places, it is an extremely place with some spectacular views. The town is also the basecamp for several treks like Tapovan, Gaumukh, and Gangotri Glacier among others.

Reach here a day before you plan to start your trip. The drive from Dehradun takes about 7-8 hours. Explore the town and surrounding areas for a day before starting your journey onwards.

Time on the road: 7 hours

Distance: 276km

Top Experiences: Pay a visit to the Gangotri temple; trek to Gaumukh to see the origin of Ganga; witness the massive Bhagirath Shila and the submerged Shivling; take a tour of the Pandava Gufa (cave).

Where to stay: While there are a number of small guesthouses in Gangotri, it is usually difficult to get a room as many can’t be booked online. It is advisable to choose an accommodation in Harsil, which is 25km before Gangotri. Prakriti Retreat and Nelangana Resort are great options.

Day 2
Photo of Devprayag, Uttarakhand, India by Adete Dahiya

Drive down from Gangotri to Devprayag on the second day of your journey. The drive passes through some treacherous roads, so take it slow.

Devprayag is the place where rivers Bhagirathi and Alaknanda come together and form the holy Ganges. The word "Devprayag" literally translates to the coming together of Gods. While being an important pilgrimage site, it is also a great place for those looking for solitude amidst nature and is often described as having a divine aura. This place is also the winter home of the pundits of Badrinath.

Spend the evening exploring the town's market and eateries. The next morning, you can go for a dip in the river and visit the temples and a few other sights before leaving for Rishikesh.

Time on the road: 8 hours

Distance: 256km

Top Experiences: Take a dip in the holy waters of the Ganga; try some of the delicacies the town is famous for; try your hand at adventure sports such as white-water rafting, kayaking, rock climbing; visit Raghunathji Temple.

Where to stay: Banyan By The Ganges or V Resorts Mumukshu

Day 3

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Photo of Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India by Adete Dahiya

Ever since the Beatles visited the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 60s, Rishikesh became a sort of magnet for spiritual seekers from around the world. Today, it is known as the 'Yoga Capital of the World', thanks to the numerous ashrams and meditation centres that have cropped up here. But that is not all that it is. Rishikesh is also known as the 'Adventure Capital of the Country', owing to the increased popularity of activities such as white water rafting, rock climbing, and bungee jumping that are on offer here. It is also popular hangout for backpackers looking to relax, and an important destination for the start of several Himalayan treks. Rishikesh has an unmistakable aura, which despite the chaos caused by tourists, manages to put your mind at ease.

Rishikesh is a short journey from Devprayag but has a lot on offer for travellers. Reach here by evening and spend some time exploring the town. On the morning of the fourth day, go river rafting and try more adventure sports before heading to Haridwar in the late afternoon.

Time on the road: 2.5 hours

Distance: 75km

Top Experiences: Spend a few days at a yoga ashram; try your hand at meditation; try eating at local joints like the German Bakery and Little Buddha Cafe; go rafting in the Ganga; try cliff jumping; try bungee jumping; stay at a camp along the river.

Where to stay: Aloha on the Ganges or Zostel Rishikesh

Day 4
Photo of Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India by Adete Dahiya

Approximately 30km from Rishikesh, Haridwar has more of a significance for religious pilgrims, who come here to cremate their deceased, and wash away their sins by bathing in the holy water of the Ganga. The sheer number of people that flock here everyday is phenomenal and gives the place a chaotic yet reverent feel.

Reach here late in the afternoon from Rishikesh and spend time exploring the town.

Time on the road: 40 minutes

Distance: 20km

Top Experiences: Visit the Har-ki-pauri ghat; go temple hopping; try the local street food; attend the evening arti at one of the temples.

Where to stay: The Haveli Hari Ganga or Patnimal Guesthouse

Day 5

At first glance, Kanpur might seem like an industrial city with very little to offer travellers. But as you dig deeper, you will find that it provides a wonderful insight into the culture and lives of the people of Uttar Pradesh. The fifth largest city in the country, Kanpur is unlike the other places that fall on the Ganga trail, in that it is not particularly considered a holy city. Neither does it have pilgrimage sites except for the Shri Radha Krishna temple, which is a fine example of architectural brilliance. But you should come here for the delectable food, hospitable people, and unique interactions.

It takes almost the full day to get to Kanpur from Haridwar. Stay the night at a hotel of your choice and explore the city's interesting sights next morning before leaving for Allahabad, late in the afternoon.

Time on the road: 12 hours

Distance: 544km

Top Experiences: Visit Shri Radha Krishna temple; visit the Ganga Barrage dam; visit the historical Nana Rao Park; take a trip to the several mosques in the city; try the local street food; go boating at Mahatma Gandhi Park

Where to stay: Hotel Mmk or Best Western Hotel Bliss

Day 6

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Photo of Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India by Adete Dahiya

Allahabad is believed to be the place where Lord Brahma first landed on earth. And the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna rivers that happens right at the outskirts of the city, is one of the most revered of the four Kumbh Mela locations in the country. Modern day Allahabad is not a very popular tourist destination, except for when the mela is held. But even without, it offers a surprising insight into Hindu culture and some excellent places to eat.

Reach here in the evening, preferably before sunset and take a dip at Sangam. Spend the whole of your next day visiting the several historical sights and museums in the city. The day after that you leave for Varanasi.

Time on the road: 5 hours

Distance: 214km

Top Experiences: Take a dip at Sangam, the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna rivers; visit historical sights such as the Allahabad Fort, Khusro Bagh, Anand Bhawan and more; go to the Allahabad museum; and go temple hopping; definitely try out a few eateries serving Mughlai delicacies.

Where to stay: Kunjpur Guesthouse or Kanchan Villa

Day 8

One of the most colourful and fascinating places you can come across, Varanasi is often touted as the Spiritual Capital of India. It is one of the world's oldest, continuously inhabited cities, and needless to say, one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimage sites. Hoards of pilgrims come here on a daily basis, looking to cremate their dead, and wash away their sins in the sacred waters of the Ganga. It is considered a particularly auspicious place to die because it is believed that one who dies here attains moksha. The intimate rituals of life and death, that take place in public, the chaos at the ghats, and constant buzz of activity is like sensory overload and definitely not for the faint hearted. But those who've been to Varanasi will tell you that it is an experience unmatched.

From Allahabad, it takes around 4-5 hours to reach. Spend a couple of days here, exploring the city to its fullest before you head onwards for your journey.

Time on the road: 4.5 hours

Distance: 150km

Top Experiences: Spend time witnessing the buzz of activity on the various Ghats; witness the massive evening arti at Dasaswamedh Ghat; go temple and mosque hopping; make a short trip to witness the marvel that is Banaras Hindu University; take a boat ride in the Ganges; explore the alleyways and marketplaces of the city on foot.

Where to stay: BrijRama Palace or Stay Banaras or Zostel Varanasi

Day 10

Credit: Wonderlane

Photo of Patna, Bihar, India by Adete Dahiya

The capital city of Bihar, spreads out along the southern bank of the Ganga, just before the river confluences with three of its major tributaries. Founded in 5th century BC as Patiliputra, Patna was one of India's most powerful cities, the capital of the Magadha kingdom, for over a millennium. While few traces of the city's glory days remain, you can still find ruins of ancient monuments, remains of the famed Nalanda University and some other tidbits that make it a place worth visiting. It is an important religious site for Buddhists.

The ride from Varanasi to Patna takes about eight hours. Stay here for a day and explore the historical sights and nearby areas before making your way forward to Kolkata. If you want, you can make a short day trip to Gaya, the place where Buddha gained enlightenment, which is about 100km from the city.

Time on the road: 8 hours

Distance: 280km

Top Experiences: Visit the Patna Museum; make a trip to Har Mandir Saheb, the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh ji; explore the ruins of the famous Nalanda university; make a day trip to Gaya; visit the Buddhist temples; take a boat ride in the Ganga.

Where to stay: Amalfi Grand or OYO 10456 A R Residency

Day 12

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Photo of Kolkata, West Bengal, India by Adete Dahiya

Regarded as India's intellectual, artistic, and cultural capital, Kolkata is the second largest city in the country and a celebration of human life. As the former capital of British India, Kolkata's architecture retains colonial-era influences, that contrast starkly with the urban suburbs and slums. It is a city of opposites, and yet somehow has a relaxed vibe. No on is in a hurry here, everything moves at its own pace. It is undoubtedly one of the best places to experience urban Bengali culture with a dash of history. It is also the place where Ganga merges into and becomes the Hooghly river, just before it joins the Bay of Bengal.

The journey here from Varanasi takes around 13 hours. Reach here at night and sleep off your tiredness. Start exploring the next morning.

Time on the road: 13 hours

Distance: 577km

Top Experiences: Visit the Howrah Bridge; explore Victoria Memorial; spend some time at New Market; get a glimpse into history at the Rabindra Bharti Museum; visit the Marble Palace; go for a ride in the yellow taxi; try the delectable Bengali street food and sweets.

Where to stay: The Corner Courtyard or The Harrington Residency

Day 15

The southern-most spot of West Bengal, Sagardwip or Sagar Island (aka Gangasagar) is a holy spot for Hindu Pilgrims as it lies at the point where the Ganga merges into the Bay of Bengal. Every year on the day of Makar Sankranti, thousands of pilgrims flock here to offer their prayers at the Kapil Muni temple. The Gangasagar fair is the second largest in the country after the Kumbh Mela.

Gangasagar is also one of the most picturesque locations on the Ganga trail. Try and not miss the sunset at the beach here. It is a once in a lifetime experience.

The journey from Kolkata to Sagardwip takes about 4-5 hours. Spend a night here before starting your journey back home.

Time on the road: 4.5 hours

Distance: 110km

Top Experiences: Pray at the Kapil Muni Temple; visit the beach and lighthouse; take a trip to the Ramakrishna Mission Ashram; visit the Sagar Marine Park.

Where to stay: Ganga Sagar Cottage or Hotel Deepak in Bakkhali

What do you say? Would you dare to take this epic road trip? You could also tell us about your favourite road trip so far by writing about it on Tripoto.

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