Brahmaputra River Cruise Tips.
By Judi Cohen.
Few travelers go to India for just one week unless you live in a neighbouring country. Our recent India adventure was nearly one-month long, with a Brahmaputra River cruise scheduled in the middle.
Here’s are some tips to make the most of your Brahmaputra River cruise and the time you spend touring India before and after. Our pre-and post-cruise travel in India was based based on my own research and knowledge of India from previous visits, combined with with the assistance of local Indian tour companies.
Bring Small Notes
Carry small denomination rupee notes in good condition to buy local handicrafts from the villagers on the excursions. Note that torn or ragged notes may not be accepted.
Be flexible and accepting of the changing weather and itinerary. Our itinerary changed many times due to thick fog that either delayed our morning sailing, or prevented it entirely, one time necessitating a full day on the ship. The ship can only sail during daylight hours due to the challenging river conditions.
Dress in Layers
In Assam, the weather can change from a low of 2C degrees to a high of 25C degrees daily (or in Fahrenheit, from the 30s or 40s on up to the low 80s). I started the day at Kaziranga wearing a merino wool underlayer, a sweatshirt and a puffy down jacket (below), and ended the day in a T-shirt.
The tender rides to and from the ship were quite windy and cool requiring a sweater or jacket. With the strict baggage weight restrictions on many internal flights in India, packing layers can save considerable money in excess baggage fees.
A big lightweight scarf comes in very handy, and can be used as a shawl for warmth, a head covering, sun protection, a fashion statement and even a skirt!
Bring Sun Protection
Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat — by midday it gets hot and very sunny.
Use Insect Repellant
Apply it before excursions, particularly those to Kaziranga during the elephant-back, Jeep and boat safaris, as well as for late afternoon excursions to villages.
Embrace Authentic over Luxury
MV Mahabaahu provides an authentic Indian experience in terms of food, hospitality and accommodation. It is by no means a Crystal or Silversea luxury experience, but in my view the authenticity is what made it so special for me.
Wear the Right Shoes
Bring comfortable and sturdy walking shoes (preferably closed) and a collapsible walking stick (if you like) to help with the mildly challenging climb up on the sandy dunes when arriving by tender on the daily excursions.
To enter a temple or mosque in India, you must remove your shoes. Carry socks if you don’t want to go barefoot! Though, keep in mind, some temples don’t allow any kind of foot covering at all, including socks.
Many guides will hand out wet wipes before you put your shoes back on, though keep in mind, wet wipes are not bio-degradable. Which brings me to the next tip.
Carry Small Cloth Towels
Way more eco-friendly compared to wet wipes, which wind up in the garbage and polluting our beaches and waterways, wipe your feet and hands throughout a visit to India with light cotton handkerchiefs, washcloths or small thin travel towels (like this QuirkyCruise Turkish towel below!). Wash them out each evening and use again the next day!
Do You Need a Lift/Elevator?
Check with the cruise line to make sure their lift is working on the ship if you will be requiring it. It was broken throughout our sailing unfortunately.
Drink Only Bottled Water
And wash your hands often, on and off the ship.
Pack an Open Mind!
Oh yes…and bring your best camera to capture the incredible wildlife in the sky, along the river, and on the land.
Definitely Travel in India Before & After the Cruise
Our 23-day itinerary started with Varanasi, the most sacred city on the Ganges River. We stayed on the river, high atop the ghats at the 5-star Brijrama Palace at a nightly cost of approximately $350 USD per room.
From our hotel we watched Mother Ganges come alive in the morning, observing the Ganga aarti ceremonies at night at the Dashashwamedh Ghat when the priests, waving oil lamps, lighting incense and blowing conch shells, would put the river to bed. We went out on a small wooden boat to place small lamps with flowers in the river. We also walked freely through the narrow laneways near Manikarnika, the main cremation ghat that operates day and night.
Funeral pyres burned brightly in full view of the passing boats on the river and we stood and watched wondrously for hours, absorbing the chaotic local commerce and rituals of death.
This was my third visit to Varanasi and I could easily go back again and again.
We then flew to Kolkata for two nights at the Oberoi Grand Hotel at about $250 USD per night.
We visited three remaining synagogues, hidden behind street level shops. A handful of Jews live in Kolkata today, and services alternate among the three synagogues. The original congregant’s prayer books and shawls are still in the tiny cubbyholes in the seats.
We enjoyed the sprawling flower market with its fragrant smells and rich yellow and saffron colors. The opulent Queen Victoria monument was a sight to behold with thousands of Christmas lights twinkling under a full moon.
Visiting Mother Teresa’s “Missionaries of Charity” in the heart of Kolkata was a highlight. Seeing the small room with the desk and bed that Saint Mother Teresa did her work from was an emotional and moving experience.
The poverty we saw in Kolkata underscored the remarkable nature of the work being done at the Missionaries of Charity’s “Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center” today and the unthinkable disease, hunger and suffering that Mother Teresa would have seen and tended to.
As our fabulous cruise on the MV Mahabaahu came to an end, our land-based adventure, designed by me and organized locally by Peirce and Leslie ( www.peirceandleslie.com) was just beginning!
Building this cruise into our longer Indian holiday was a very good decision. We all flew to New Delhi to celebrate New Year’s at the Leela Palace at about $300 USD per night, and spent the next eight days in colorful Rajasthan visiting Agra, Jaipur, Jodphur and Udaipur.
My husband and I along with our friends, Valerie and Howard, capped off the trip with three days in Mumbai touring with Perfect Travels and Tours.
We stayed at the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel at about $350 USD per night before flying back to Toronto on a direct flight.
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