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Rivers of India: The Ganga

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Ganga River
| Gangotri | Devprayag | Rishikesh | Varanasi | Allahabad | Patna |

The Legend: It is believed that Lord Shiva rewarded King Bhagirath after his penance, who wanted to bring the Ganga to earth to wash away the ashes of his ancestors. Ganga was reluctant as she feared earth would be devastated by her force. Lord Shiva then caught her in his hair and was then decided that the goddess Parvati, would bathe in the Ganga and only then she descend on the earth.

Ganga River map

If there is an eternal witness to the past and present of the Indian Civilisation, it has to be none other than the holy Ganga. Tumbling down the icy glaciers from the Himalayas in Uttarakhand, the river starts its 2,510 km long journey as Bhagirathi from Gangtori - the source of the holy river. The river meets the Alaknanda at Devprayag and here onwards it is known as the Ganga.

The river generally flows eastward through a vast plain to the Bay of Bengal. On its 2,510 km journey, the Ganga flows southeast through the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar before entering into West Bengal. The river then enters Bangladesh and here it is joined by the Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. The Ganga in Bangladesh is known as the Padma.  It then flows into the Bay of Bengal and form a delta, which is shared by India and Bangladesh.

The Ganga in India is just not a river but a way of life. It is revered as the goddess whose purity cleanses the sins of the faithful and aids the dead on their path toward heaven. This is why the Hindus prefer to take a dip in the holy waters of the Ganga. The Gangajal (water of the Ganga) is kept in every house. It is believed that drinking water from the Ganga with one's last breath will take the soul to heaven.

Many popular cities and towns dot the banks of the Ganga on its course from Gangotri to the Bay of Bengal. Most of them make for wonderful places to visit. Almost all the towns on the banks of the Ganga are considered holy and Hindus prefer to take a dip in the bathing ghats. Hardwar, Varanasi and Allahabad are the most popular cities located on the banks of the Ganga. Here are some popular towns and cities located on the banks of this holy river.


The Ganga begins at Gangotri but technically it is the source of one of its two main tributaries – the Bhagirathi. The Badrinath shrine to the east of Gangotri is the origin of its other main tributary – the Alaknanda. The two rivers merge at Devprayag and the river that forms after confluence of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda is known as the Ganga.

Gangotri is located in Uttarakhand and is 250 km from Rishikesh. Gangotri is one of the Char Dhams of Uttarakhand, the other three being Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. Gangotri is popular as the source of the Ganga and is a famous pilgrimage site for the Hindus.

It is not only the pilgrims that make a beeline to Gangotri but it is also a favourite destination among nature lovers, trekkers and adventure enthusiasts. Gaumaukh, the actual source of the Ganga is 18 km trek from Gangotri. It is here one can view the Gangotri glacier and take a dip in its ice-cold waters. Further up is Nandanvan Tapovan. Gangotri Temple is the main highlight in Gangotri. The temple dedicated to Goddess Ganga is situated in beautiful surroundings in the lap of the nature. The shrine opens either in the last week of April or 1st week of May with special puja. The temple closes in October-November, every year. During the winters the statue is taken to Mukhimath village for six months, where it is worshipped.

Other notable places of tourist interest in and around Gangotri include Harsil (a town on the way to Gangotri), Kedar Tal (18 km from Gangotri) and Dayara Bugyal (27 km from Uttarkashi).

Reaching Gangotri: Gangotri can be reached by road from Rishikesh; take the road to Uttarkashi and then to Harsil to reach Gangotri. The nearest airport is at Jolly Grant, which is close to Dehradun. Haridwar and Rishikesh are two nearest railway stations to Gangotri.

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This tiny town on the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda marks the beginning of the holy river Ganga. Devprayag is one of the five sacred confluences in the Garhwal hills. It is located 70 km from Rishikesh on the road to Badrinath. Devprayag is a popular pilgrimage site for the Hindus.

Besides taking a dip in the holy waters of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda at Devprayag, one can visit numerous temples that are clustered above the confluence. Raghunathji Temple, dedicated to Lord Rama is the main highlight at Devprayag. The temple is believed to be more than 10,000 years old. It is built of huge un-cemented stones, kept one over another in a pyramid shape. The original shrine of Rama was destroyed during an earthquake in 1803. It was later rebuilt by Daulat Rao Scindia. According to a local legend, the shrine is dedicated to Lord Rama, when he came back to Ayodhya after his victory over Lanka. The temple compound also hosts Annapurna Devi Temple, Hanuman Temple, Shankaracharya Temple and Garud Temple. Chandrabadani Temple and Dashrathshila are other popular landmarks in Devprayag.

Other places of tourist interest in Devprayag include Vashisth Kund, Baital Kund, Surya Kund, Brahm Kund, the Indradyumna Tirth, Pushyamal Tirth, Varah Tirth, Pushpavatika, Baitalshila, Varahishila, the shrines of Bhairava, Bhushandi, Durga and Vishveshvara. A bath at Baithalshila is claimed to cure leprosy.

Reaching Devprayag: Devprayag is just 70 km from Rishikesh. It can easily be reached by hiring a taxi or taking state transport or private buses that ply on Rishikesh – Joshimath route.

Often called the gateway to the Garhwal Himalayas, Rishikesh is located on the banks of the Ganga. It is 24 km from Hardwar and is on the way to Devprayag. Besides being popular among devotees and religiously inclined, Rishikesh is also loved by adventure enthusiasts. 

Rishikesh is quite popular for rafting and other adventure activities that one can undertake here. The Ganga offers an exciting rafting experience. Other adventure activities like trekking, kayaking, rappelling and rock climbing attract many adventure lovers, every year to Rishikesh.

Some of the well known places to see in Rishikesh include the famous Lakshman Jhula, Bharat Mandir, Rishikund, Raghunath Temple, Bhagirath Temple and Pushkar Temple. Triveni Ghat is a major landmark in Rishikesh. It is also the venue of the famous evening Ganga Aarti.

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Hardwar is located 24 km before Rishikesh and is a famous pilgrimage for the Hindus, where pilgrims come to take a dip in the Ganga and wash away their sins. It is here the Ganga enters into the plains after tumbling down through the hills and valleys. Haridwar is one of the holy places where Kumbh Mela is held once in 12 years.

The water here is clean and pilgrims prefer taking bath on the numerous ghats built on the banks of the river. It is believed that taking a dip in the holy waters of the Ganga here purifies the soul. For ages Hardwar has purified the mind, the body and the soul. Saints and spiritually inclined have mediated on the banks of the Ganga here. Haridwar was one of the sites where the nectar of immortality fell when the ocean was being churned. To mark this event, the Kumbh Mela is held here; the last Maha Kumbh in Haridwar took place in 1998 and the next one is due in 2010.

Har Ki Pauri is the famous bathing ghat in Hardwar. It is also known as Brahmakund and is believed to be the exact spot where the holy Ganga enters the plains. This is also the site where divine nectar fell from the celestial Kumbh. In the evening Maha Aarti is performed on this ghat. It is a must watch event that should not be missed. Har Ki Pauri is approximately 12 km from Haridwar railway station. Other popular places of interest in Hardwar include Chandi Devi, Mansa Devi, Daksha Mahadev Temple and Maya Devi.

Reaching Hardwar: It is well connected by rail and road transport from Delhi and other neighbouring towns. Haridwar has its own railway station. The nearest airport is at Jolly Grant, near Dehradun.

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Benaras as Varanasi is popularly known as is the most popular town on the banks of the Ganga. Varanasi is considered to be the oldest living city in the world for it is believed to be the first city to have been created on the earth. Earlier known as Kashi in reverence of the supreme light that leads to salvation, Kashi later came to known as Varanasi, because of its location between two rivers Varana and Asi.

Varanasi is famous pilgrimage site and a favoured place to de-stress, relax and rejuvenate. This City of Light is not only religious but is spiritual as well. The one, which is witness to the eternal circle of life and death, for the Manikarnika Ghat and the Dasaswamedh Ghat belong to the dead and alive respectively. A melting pot of cultures, Varanasi is the most visible and striking city of Hinduism.

Varanasi is a city of temples and a great center of learning. It is closely associated with promotion of spiritualism, mysticism, Sanskrit, yoga and Hindi. The city is also popular for its Banarasi sarees and its mouth watering delicacies. The other highlights of Varanasi are its many ghats, which have been attracting travellers for ages.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the major temple in Varanasi, where non-Hindus are not allowed inside. Kashi Vishwanath Temple is located in the heart of the city and is the center of faith for millions of Hindus. The Jyotirlinga of Shiva or Vishweshwara enshrined in the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is considered as one of the holiest places of worship. Other important places of interest in Varanasi include Sankat Mochan Temple, Durga Temple, Tulsi Manas Temple, Bharat Mata Temple, Benaras Hindu University & Musuem, Bharat Kala Bhavan, Manikarnika Ghat and Dasaswamedh Ghat.

Reaching Varanasi: The nearest airport is at Babatpur, 23 km away from Varanasi. Varanasi is an important and major rail junction connected to major cities in India.

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Allahabad is an important milestone on the journey of the Ganga. It is also known as Prayag or Sangam, since it is the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Allahabad has been a Hindu pilgrimage city for thousands of years. It is also the place where the Kumbh Mela takes place.

Well known for its world class university, Allahabad has given the country some of its most eminent political leaders and scholars. The Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1583 gave the city this name. The "Allah" in the name does not come from Allah as God's name in Islam but from the Din-Ilahi, which was the religion founded by the Mughal emperor. Allahabad is 135 km west of Varanasi.

Triveni Sangam is the most famous bathing ghat at Allahabad. The ideal time to take a dip is in the early morning, both ritually and because the sun rising over the Sangam is a sight to behold. Other important places to see in Allahabad include Hanuman Temple, Patalpuri Temple, Allahabad Museum, Akabar’s Fort, Ashoka Pillar and Allahabad University.

Reaching Allahabad: The Bamrauli Airport is 15 km from the city. Allahabad is connected by train to Varanasi, Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata and Mumbai.

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Patna is a major city on the banks of the Ganga before the river enters West Bengal. Patna is located at the confluence of four rivers the Ganga, Sone, Gandakand and Poonpun. With a land as fertile as the Gangetic basin, it is not surprising that the region is so heavily populated. Patna has a history that dates back to centuries. This city has been home to two great religions, Buddhism and Jainism, and myriad dynasties from ancient to modern times.

There are many places of tourist interest that one can explore when visiting Patna.
Patna Sahib (Takht Har Mandir Sahib) is an important landmark in Patna. It is the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs. The 'gurudwara’ (the Sikh temple) is made of white marble and was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It contains the personal belongings of the Guru as well as holy texts. Other important places of tourist interest include Patna Museum, Golghar, Pathar Ki Masjid and Jalan Museum.

Reaching Patna: Patna has an airport as well as a railway station. Regular bus services are available from neighbouring cities.

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