Revered by millions, the holy Ganges River, or “Mother Ganga,” is the lifeblood of India and the spiritual heart and soul of this great and ancient land. Aboard the Bengal Ganga, a 28-cabin vessel reminiscent of the colonial-style river steamers of the British era, enjoy a vivid—and simply unforgettable—experience of India, with highlights including the ornate palaces of Mughal capitals, the Buddhist pilgrim site of Bodhgaya, and the evocative riverside ghats at Varanasi. An added plus—you can pamper yourself at the onboard spa offering Ayurvedic massage and beauty treatments.
The ship crew was fantastic: they simply could not do enough for us.
— Dr. Amy R., Coral Gables, FL
Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.
Kolkata / Embark / Sail to Kalna
Arrive in Kolkata by morning flight and transfer to jetty to board the Bengal Ganga and enjoy lunch on board. After lunch, embark on an orientation tour of Kolkata, which will take you to the Dalhousie Square that houses several Colonial/Heritage monuments like Writer’s Building, General Post Office, High Court, Raj Bhawan (Governor’s Palace), Town Hall, Council House, Treasury Building and the Reserve Bank of India. You'll then visit St. John’s Church and the Victoria Memorial for a photo stop and walk in the gardens. St. John’s Church, originally a cathedral, was among the first public buildings erected by the East India Company after Kolkata became the effective capital of British India. It was modeled according to the St Martin-in-the-Fields of London. The Victoria Memorial is a grand marble building built during 1906-1921 in the memory of Queen Victoria (1819–1901). The Memorial lies on the Maidan (grounds) by the bank of the Hooghly River.
Return to the ship and cast off to Kalna. The upstream journey toward Kalna sails through the areas where the different European settlers had established their respective East Indian Companies, leaving remains of their settlements during the period of the 17th to 19th centuries. Overnight on board Bengal Ganga.
In the morning, ride cycle rickshaws to visit the enchanting Rajbari Temple Complex in Kalna. The temples of Kalna take elements from mosques and temple architecture to create a new congregational space of worship. On one side of the road lies the Nabakailas Temples. Built in 1809 by the Bardhaman Maharaja, it contains 108 aat-chala, or “eight slope-roofed” Shiva temples arranged in two concentric circles. The outer circle consists of 74 temples of alternate black and white lingams, while the 34 temples of the inner circle have only white lingams. On the other side of the road lies a walled complex containing the most diversified form of Bengal’s temple architecture: Pratapeshwar Temple contains terra cotta plaques depicting themes of Hindu epics and mythical life of saints, gods and goddesses, and various aspects of day-to-day life. The other notable temples here are the Lalji temple, Krishnachandra temple, and the flat-roofed temple of Giri Govardhan. Return to the ship and cruise toward Matiari, arriving by the evening, and moor for the night.
Early in the morning, visit the village of Matiari, famous for its work in brass and copper. Here copper is still processed manually. The unique character of the area is that as you start walking toward the village, you can hear loud noises of beating metal coming from all the houses. Stroll in the village and visit some homes to see and experience the different process of the brass making with a chance to buy artifacts and souvenirs. Return to the ship, cast off, and cruise toward Murshidabad, sailing past Plassey, well known for the battle that took place in 1757 that turned the history of India. The battlefield of Plassey is where Robert Clive of the British East India Company defeated the Mogul Nawab, the then ruler of Bengal and his French Allies, establishing the company rule in India that expanded over much of South Asia for the next 190 years. Arrive at Murshidabad and moor for the night.
Morning excursion of the historic town of Murshidabad. Ride the local tonga (horse cart) to visit the oldest mosque of this town, the Katra Mosque, built by the first Nawab of Murshidabad, Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, in the year 1724-25. From there we ride the tonga to the Hazarduari Palace Museum. Built during the reign of Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah (1824-1838 AD) by an English architect, Duncan McLeod, following the Greek Doric style. The palace has more than a thousand real and false doors in the vast corridors. Inside the palace museum one can observe a wide collection of antiquities including various kinds of weapons, oil paintings of Dutch, French and Italian artists, marble, porcelain and stucco statues, rare manuscripts, and palanquins mostly belonging to the 18th-19th centuries. Opposite to the Palace is the vast Imambara, open only during the religious ceremony time. Return to the ship and sail onwards to Jangipur and moor for the night.
Jangipur / Farakka / Samtaghat
The ship casts off in the morning to reach the historic Farakka Lock Gate, built during the years 1963-75. Traveling through the Feeder Canal will give us a chance to see the different birds of the region. After crossing the lock, cruise through the connecting canal to the Ganges revealing vast panoramas. You can also see the Farakka barrage at a distance, which regulates the Ganges water into Bangladesh and India. Continue our sail upstream and moor for the night at Samtaghat.
Bateshwarsthan / Vikramashila University
This morning, sail toward Bateshwarsthan. In the afternoon, ride in jeeps/cars (about 15 minutes) to the excavation site of the Vikramashila University and walk around the ruins. Established by King Dharampala in late 8th or early 9th Century AD, Vikramshila University was one of the two most important centers of Buddhist learning in India during the reign of the Pala dynasty along with Nalanda University. Vikramshila was one of the largest Buddhist universities having more than one hundred teachers and about one thousand students. Subjects like theology, philosophy, grammar, meta-physics, and logic were taught here. Moor for the night at Bateshwarsthan.
Today, sail toward Sultanganj, conspicuous for two great rocks of granite, one of which on the riverbank is crowned by a mosque. The second and larger one is occupied by the 16th century temple of Ajgaibinath Shiva. The river here impinges on a stone cliff. The folklore of river Ganga being seized here by a curse of the sage Jahnu and later getting released by the penance performed by king Bhagirath makes this place an important pilgrimage. The rocky island is known as Jahngira, meaning “the hill of Jahnu,” derives the name from this historical event. There is a long causeway that connects the mainland with the island rock on which the cluster of shrines is entwined along with the seemingly floating rock. We sail further upstream and moor for the night.
Today, sail toward Munger, one of the largest and most industrialized cities in the state of Bihar. A hub for railway, gun, tobacco and dairy product manufacturing, its history can be traced back to the mythological era of Ramayana and Mahabharata. In modern times Munger came into prominence in 1762 when the Nawab of Bengal Mir Qasim made Munger his capital instead of Murshidabad in Bengal. The new ruler established arsenal for the manufacture of firearms. Subsequently Munger came into the hands of the British Empire after Mir Qasim lost the Battle of Buxar. The tradition of manufacturing of arms is continued till now. Arrive in Munger by the afternoon and moor for the night.
After lunch, visit the Bihar School of Yoga, a modern school of Yoga founded in 1964 by Satyananda Saraswati and his spiritual successor Niranjanananda Saraswati. In addition to providing spiritual instruction to aspirants, the school also guides yoga projects and medical research in association with various corporations, state government and public works.
Disembark at Munger / Bodhgaya
Disembark the ship at 7:00 am and drive to Nalanda, perhaps the oldest seat of learning in India. It treasures a glorious past, rich spiritual heritage, and some extraordinary architectural ruins believed to be established in 5th century BC by the Gupta Kings. Later, drive to Rajgir, the first capital of the Magadha Empire. Buddha not only spent many years in Rajgir, but also delivered important sermons here. After lunch at a local restaurant in Rajgir, continue the journey to Bodhgaya, one of the most important and sacred Buddhist pilgrimage center for the Buddhists.
In the late afternoon, visit the Mahabodhi temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a Buddhist temple that marks the location where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, is said to have attained enlightenment under a banyan tree, the “Bodhi Tree.” Buddhist chanting and prayers can be witnessed in the temple premises. Overnight at Hotel Royal Residency or Hotel Sujata at Bodhgaya, or Indo Hokke Hotel at Rajgir.
Bodhgaya / Varanasi
After an early breakfast, drive to Varanasi, the holiest town for Hindus. Upon arrival, check in at the hotel and have lunch. In the late afternoon, experience the enchanting and incredible life on the streets of Varanasi while riding cycle rickshaws. Walk near the riverside ghats and witness the evening “Aarti” ritual on the Ganges from a boat. Overnight at Hotel Gateway Ganges, Radisson Hotel, or Clarks Varanasi.
Take a sunrise boat tour to witness the incredible scenes along the Holy River. Return to the hotel for breakfast, rest, and lunch. After lunch, visit Sarnath, famous as the seat where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya. The Archeological Museum at Sarnath contains a large collection of sculptures that stand testimony to the fervent artistic and religious activity for more than a thousand years. Overnight at Hotel Gateway Ganges, Radisson Hotel, or Clarks Varanasi.
Varanasi / Depart
Transfer to airport for your flight or depart to your onward destination.
Days 1-2: Varanasi
Day 3: Varanasi / Bodhgaya
Day 4: Bodhgaya / Nalanda / Munger / Embark
Day 5: Munger / Sultanganj / Bhagalpur
Day 6: Bhagalpur / Bateshwarsthan / Samtaghat
Day 7: Samtaghat / Farakka / Jangipur
Day 8: Jangipur / Murshidabad
Day 9: Murshidabad / Matiari
Day 10: Matiari / Kalna
Day 11: Kalna / Kolkata
Day 12: Kolkata / Depart