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Brahmaputra River cruise tips

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.

➢Click here for Judi’s story about her recent Brahmaputra River cruise.

➢And check out Heidi’s article about her Brahmaputra River cruise with the same company, Far Horizon Tours.

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.

SUBSCRIBE to QuirkyCruise.com for updates & special offers… and to be inspired to go small-ship cruising!

Tips

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.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips include bringing small notes

Carry small denominations or Indian Rupees (INR) for shopping and haggling. 100 INR is about $1.40 USD. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Embrace Change

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.

jeep safari in Kaziranga

Judi and her family on the jeep safari. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips include hats and sunscreen

Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must for any visit to India. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

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.

bamboo gangway to the Mahabaah

The gangway to the quirky Mahabaahu. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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.

Stow Socks

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.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips include bringing extra socks and small travel towels

Shoe storage outside of a temple. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

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!

bring small cloth towels for your visit to India

More eco-friendly that wet wipes, carry a couple of small cloth travel towels with you to India. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

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.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips include an open mind

Open your mind and heart to all the riches of India! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Definitely Travel in India Before & After the Cruise

Pre-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.

Brahmaputra River Cruise Tips include visiting Varanasi

The 5-star BrijRama Palace sits at the top of the ghats. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips

Funeral pyres on the Ganga. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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.

Brahmaputra Cruise Tips include a visit to Kolkata

A Kolkata synagogue. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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.

Brahmaputra River Cruise tips

Mother Teresa was of Albanian decent and moved to Calcutta, India when she was 21, joining the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Post-Cruise

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.

Raas Hotel Jodphur is a great add on to a Brahmaputra River cruise

The atmospheric Raas Hotel Jodphur. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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.

A stay at Mumbai's Taj Mahal is a Brahmaputra RIver cruise tip

The iconic Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We stayed at the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel at about $350 USD per night before flying back to Toronto on a direct flight.

Brahmaputra River cruise tips

Until next time …

Click here for Brahmaputra River cruise booking info.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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bamboo gangway to the Mahabaah

Brahmaputra River Cruise.

By Judi Cohen.

I booked a river cruise on the Lower Ganges with Pandaw Cruises six months prior for my family of four and a couple of friends. You can only imagine my shock on receiving an email a few weeks before departure that the cruise was cancelled. (We were told the boat had not arrived in India from Myanmar in time, as apparently there is a lot of paperwork involved in moving boats from one country to another.)

Given a choice by Pandaw of getting a refund or doing a land tour in India, neither of which interested me, I took it upon myself to fill the 8-day hole in our family’s month-long India adventure. QuirkyCruise’s co-founder Heidi Sarna, and a few other travel colleagues, suggested a Brahmaputra River cruise aboard the 46-passenger MV Mahabaahu.

RELATED: Heidi’s article about her Brahmaputra cruise adventure

Not only did Pandaw book us on the alternate cruise, but they also covered the costs for changes to our airfare. I never would have imagined that we’d be cruising in a remote part of India rarely visited by tourists, but it wound up being super memorable.

So, here’s my story of our journey on the mighty Brahmaputra River from Guwahati to Jorhat.

SUBSCRIBE to QuirkyCruise.com for updates & special offers… and to be inspired to go small-ship cruising!

Brahmaputra River Cruise

Judi loving her Mahabahuu cruise on the Brahmaputra River. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The Brahmaputra: No Ordinary River

The Brahmaputra is a destination unto itself. It’s the only river, apart from the Zambezi in Africa, from which you can easily access a game park. Kaziranga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site referred to by National Geographic as “the Serengeti of India.”

You’ll see that the Brahmaputra’s ever-shifting sandy banks are also home to colorful birdlife, herds of deer and antelope, and elusive tigers.

Sandy banks of the Brahmaputra River

The sandy banks of the Brahmaputra River. * Photo: Judi Cohen

With its fast-moving currents originating in the Himalayan mountain range, the water levels rise and fall, and sandbanks form and then disappear, almost as if they were melting before one’s eyes. A small pilot boat accompanied us and used bamboo sticks to test the river depth ahead.

The Brahmaputra River was a fascinating backdrop to a week spotting wildlife and exploring remote villages.

The MV Mahabaahu

Mahabaahu, one of the very few riverboats sailing on the Brahmaputra River, was launched in 2011 by Adventure River Cruises (ARC).

Our home for seven nights was comfortable and unassuming, with a somewhat industrial-looking exterior and a homey interior.

bamboo gangway to the Mahabaah

The gangway to the quirky Mahabaahu. * Photo: Judi Cohen

All cabins had large windows, and some, including ours, had a small balcony. We had a comfortable king bed, loads of closet and storage space, as well as a fridge and safe. The bathroom had a surprisingly large shower with strong water pressure.

Mahabaahu balcony cabin

Judi’s balcony cabin had great views. * Photo: Judi Cohen

While cabins had TVs, none worked, and the air-conditioning units were difficult to control so we were either too hot or too cold. These were small concerns relative to the unique experience.

The ship has five decks, with cabins on the second and third decks. There are two suites, two luxury cabins, seven deluxe cabins, and 12 superior cabins (without balconies). While the ship has a capacity of 46 passengers, we had just 26 guests aboard our week.

All decks are easily accessible from a central staircase. There is also a lift, however, it was out of service during our sailing. Although the weather at this time of year made it too cold to swim, around 22C (71F) degrees during the day and 11C (42F) degrees at night, there was a lovely little pool.

Swimming Pool on the Mahabaahu

The Mahabaahu has a small pool at the stern near the smokestacks. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The sun deck was the “go to” spot to enjoy the lounge chairs, bar, and a panoramic view of the riverbanks.

Neena, the CEO of ARC, managed every aspect of the guest experience on the ship, and worked closely with her team of 28, including Sandeep, manager of hospitality; Cruise Director Rajeesh; and Mayuresh, destination manager, naturalist and photographer.

There was even a tailor on the boat who made clothing for guests out of fabric sold in the pop-up gift shop in the reception area. My friend had several pants made and was very happy with the results.

Reception area of the Mahabaahu

Reception area had a pool table and was also used as a pop-up gift shop. * Photo: Judi Cohen

While the ship’s marketing characterizes the MV Mahabaahu as a “luxury ship,” in my opinion, the ship would not be considered luxury by international standards. However, there are very few other tourist-class vessels that traverse the Brahmaputra, as cruising along the rivers in India has only recently become practical and fashionable.

Experientially, this small-ship Brahmaputra River cruise met all my expectations.

MV Mahabaahu Inclusions

All shore excursions and transfers to and from the airports were included. Bottled water was freely available at no charge; while alcoholic beverages were available in the bars and in the dining room at reasonable prices.

A recommended tipping guide for the crew and staff was provided and was optional at the end of the cruise. Ayurvedic massages in the spa were also extra, though reasonably priced. 

Fellow Passengers

Passengers ranged in age from 6 to 65 and were all very adventurous. The well-travelled group was English-speaking from Australia, England, Singapore, Denmark, Canada, and some from India exploring their own country.

The ages on our cruise skewed a bit lower than normal as we were cruising at Christmas, when families travel together. Children are rare on this cruise.

Family group aboard the Mahabahuu

Judi and her family. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Daily Routine

My general routine started with an hour of morning yoga, led by Neena, on the sundeck. This was an invigorating, crisp way to start the day, and nearly half the guests tried yoga at least once.

Yoga on top deck of ship

Yoga on top deck of boat. * Photo: Judi Cohen

There was a morning excursion, departing by tender, with a return for a buffet lunch. Following lunch, we either relaxed on the ship or set out again on an afternoon excursion. At some point each day, we could attend an informative short lecture by Mayuresh, highlighting the next day’s stops.

In the evening, cocktails were served (at a charge) in the Soma Lounge bar and following dinner we returned to the lounge for mingling, movies, games like getting the ring over the bottle (to win a bottle of beer), board games and more drinks.

Dining with Local Flair & Flavours

The Mungri Mingrum dining room featured large windows and warm woods. I must admit, however, I would have enjoyed some al fresco dining, particularly at lunch. In fact, some of the guests did take their food up to the sundeck for a change of scenery.

Breakfast was available between 8-10am, with Indian and international choices, including an omelette and pancake station.

Lunch buffets included tasty curries, varieties of paneer and rice, fresh local vegetables and salads, Indian breads, and tempting Indian sweets.

Indian food on Mahabaahu

Delicious Indian fare. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Neena, the boat’s general manager and cruise director, quickly learned about our tolerance for spice and food preferences. She guided guests with food allergies and special orders were accommodated without hesitation.

Dinner was a sit-down meal. Orders were taken at lunch each day for our dinner choices (vegetarian, non-vegetarian, Continental and Indian Cuisine). Highlights included the palak paneer, butter chicken, paneer tikka masala, and the traditional Assamese dishes.

Following dinner, the lounge was open again for after-dinner drinks, however we often retreated to our cabin for a good night’s sleep after a tiring day.

Brahmaputra River Cruise Excursions

We flew from Kolkata to Guwahati, the largest city in the Indian state of Assam. Bordered on the northeast by Bhutan, south by Bangladesh, and west by Bengal, Assam is known for the vast Kaziranga game park.

Our group was met at the airport and transferred to the boat for our Brahmaputra River cruise, with a short stop at the Hindu Kamakhya Temple. According to legend, this is where the gods Sati and Shiva met, and it remains an important center for followers of Tantra, or the esoteric traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Boarding the Mahabaahu for arahmaputra river cruise

The lovely welcome aboard ritual entails being given an Assamese scarf and a marigold garland. * Photo: Judi Cohen

As we travelled upstream, we visited a number of small villages. Approaching each one in our open-top tenders, we were greeted by curious families with many children watching as we trundled from the tenders and along the sloped sandy shores holding onto make-shift bamboo railings.

Check out  Judi’s TIPS to help you prepare for your very own Brahmaputra River adventure!

Day 1: Embarkation & Peacock Island

Our first visit was to Peacock Island, a tiny tree-covered island with a small temple and one outgoing Golden Langur monkey, who came down from the trees to pose for photos.

Golden Langur on Peacock Island

A cheeky Golden Langur on Peacock Island. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The sunset views from the island cast a stunning golden hue across the water as we returned to the ship.

Sunset over the Brahmaputra

Gorgeous Brahmaputra sunsets were daily affairs. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 2: Bangla Village

Our next visit was to Upera, a Bangla Muslim farming village. We walked through sprawling fields of yellow mustard flowers and cabbages, passed cows and goats, and were struck by how beautiful the girls and women were.

Always asking permission to take photos, the villagers were happy to oblige, and they all wanted us to show them the photos, giggling with us.

Village in India

The Bangla Village Welcome Wagon! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 3: Sea Day on our Brahmaputra River Cruise

Our third day became a sea-day due to unexpectedly foggy conditions, which we were told only occur on 19 days out of each season.

No problem, everyone welcomed the relaxation time. I used my afternoon to try an exceptional two-hour Ayurvedic massage for the first time. Very different from other massages I have had, the Ayervedic holistic techniques focused on the relief of both physical and emotional stress.

It was heavenly having four-hands (two people) apply gallons of hot essential oils and a variety of herbs as they massaged every inch of my body. While I was lying directly on a hard teakwood slab table, I felt far more relaxed than I have ever felt during a massage and even nodded off a couple of times, something I normally can’t do while being massaged.

My daughter and I each had two massages over the course of the week.

Day 4: Kaziranga National Park

Elephant-back Safari & Jeep Safari

The highlight of our Brahmaputra River cruise was the safari experience over two days in the 430-square-mile Kaziranga National Park, home to the endangered one-horned white rhinoceros. We were told poaching is ever-present and a controversial “shoot-to-kill” policy is in place if rangers discover poachers. Despite this, poachers do still hunt rhinos, although thankfully we did not encounter any.

Nobody minded the 3am wake-up as we headed out in four-wheel drive vehicles to Kaziranga for an elephant-back safari. In twos and threes we climbed on top of these majestic elephants escorted by mahouts and armed guards for a 90-minute safari. As the red sun came up, we watched the mist rising from the tall elephant grass, with warm rays streaming through the mist.

Elephant Back safari

Judi & Lawrence on an elephant Back safari in the misty morning. * Photo: Judi Cohen

elephant safari Brahmaputra river cruise

The baby elephants are free to follow their mothers on the 90-minute safari. * Photo: Judi Cohen

While I was conflicted about riding an elephant, we were told that these elephants do only two morning rides, and then are free to graze in the grasslands for the rest of the day. Further, their babies were allowed to playfully follow alongside their mothers.

 

As the one-horned rhinos, along with wild boars, deer, antelope and buffalo, appeared out of the morning mist, we saw mounds of bright pink flowers that grow on rhino dung. The rhinos were an awesome sight, looking downright prehistoric with their many folds of “armour.”

one-horned white rhino on Brahmaputra River cruise

It wasn’t hard to spot the one-horned white rhinos. * Photo: Dustin Cohen

Riding these elephants at sunrise and seeing the one-horned rhinos up close in the tall grasses was one of the most memorable experiences in all my years of travelling.

one-horned white rhino in Kazi

Seeing a one-horned white rhino up close is a thrill. * Photo: Alison Cohen

In the afternoon we set out on a Jeep safari. Unfortunately, the park was busy with tourists visiting Kaziranga over Christmas and New Year’s, and the jeeps were following one another closely on a narrow dusty road, which created a less than optimal experience.

jeep safari in Kaziranga

Judi and her family on the jeep safari. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Nonetheless we were glad to spot more rhinos, deer and buffalos. There are 3,400 wild water buffalo worldwide, with half living in Kaziranga. And, the eastern swamp deer are only found in Assam. While I am not a birder, I still enjoyed seeing hornbills, kingfishers, and giant storks.

Tea & Jute

On the way back to the ship, we stopped to watch a traditional Assamese dance performance with colourful costumes at a tea plantation.

We also visited the a jute factory. Dating back to 1959, this was a genuine throwback. Walking through the factory with our masks on and ear plugs in, I could only imagine this factory operating in earlier times, with its archaic softening, spinning, twisting and spool-winding equipment.

The factory employs over 300 men, and while the government could mechanize jute production, we were told by our guide that it keeps it in operation to support the workers, whose jobs are coveted.

Jute factory in India

The Victorian jute factory is a fascinating stop. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 5: Bishwanath Ghat & Boat Safari

In the morning, we took our tender and visited Bishwanath Ghat, a weaving village, with looms in almost every house.

The bright coloured textiles made the village look beautiful and they, of course, were for sale. Many of the passengers tried on the clothing and wrapped themselves in fabrics before carefully choosing their purchases.

The children played happily in the dusty laneways and gave us a very warm welcome.

saress and textiles for sale in a village

Sarees and fabrics for sale. * Photo: Judi Cohen

A boat safari using our tender in the eastern range of Kaziranga National Park capped off our day. Our naturalist, Mayuresh, told us that a few months prior they spotted a tiger at the base of the steep cliffs.

While we were hopeful, there were no elusive Bengal tigers to be seen. We did see many birds, deer and buffalo as we cruised upstream against the strong current.

That night we anchored at a large sandbank where we made a campfire. We walked across the narrow gangway onto the sandbank and were welcomed to “the Island” with drinks, music and a barbecue.

bonfire on the banks of the Brahmaputra

Cocktail hour on the sandbanks with a bonfire. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We played a lively game of charades under the stars, and capped off the evening by releasing traditional lanterns into the river while making a wish.

It was a magical evening.

sunset on the Brahmaputra River

Lovely sunsets nearly every day. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 6: Mishing Village

Our last two days featured visits to two unique villages. The first was the ethnic village of the Mishing with their bamboo homes on stilts. Their ancestry can be traced to Tibet and they are followers of Donyi-Polo animistic worship.

We stopped in the centre of the village to watch a demonstration on the tying of the Mishing’s traditional clothing. My 34-year-old son was dressed by the villagers in a dhoti and kurta, with a red and white traditional scarf, while one of our shipmates was dressed in a colourful silk Mekhela Chaadar sari.

The children followed my son, still dressed in his dhoti and kurta, for the rest of the day. I am not sure who enjoyed this more, my son or all of the children!

Mishing village with the locals

Judi’s son Dustin dressed in a kurta during a stop at the Mishing village. * Photo: Judi Cohen

To top off a perfect day we were treated to an Assamese-themed evening, which included being outfitted in local garb by Neena, dancing in the lounge with cocktails, and a traditional Assamese dinner. The maasai tinga (fish curry) and baanhgajor lagos kukura (chicken with bamboo shoots) were very tasty.

Just like Cinderella, we took off our beautiful outfits (mine was a stunning lime green sari and my daughter’s was rich red and purple), and placed them in front of our cabin doors before we went to bed, and they were gone by the morning.

This was another very special and memorable night for all of us on our Brahmaputra River cruise.

passengers in traditional Assamese clothes

Judi’s family dressed in traditional Assamese outfits. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 7: Majuli Island & Sivasagar

Our last sailing day proved to be busy with a morning visit to Majuli Island for immersion into the Neo-Vaishnav Hindu sect who calls this island home. The Neo-Vaishnavite movement started in Assam in the 16th century and reached its climax in the middle of the 17th century.  It had missionary components lifting up the lower classes and minimizing caste distinctions.

public ferry to Manjuli Island

A public ferry on the way to Manjuli Island. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We learned about the island’s many different dance forms and philosophies, and at the Kamalabari Satra temple, we watched an intriguing and complex dance performance by priests called “Gayan Bayan.”

brahmaputra river cruise dancing monks

Dancing priests performed the entrancing “Gayan Bayan” music. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The afternoon excursion took us by road on a five-hour visit to Sivasagar to learn about the history of the Ahom Kingdom, which had 600 years of influence on the history of Assam.

We climbed the Sivasagar Savadol structure built by the Ahoms and enjoyed seeing the local street activities leading to the temple, where we had blessing strings tied on our wrists.

Sivasagar Savadol on a Brahmaputra River cruise

The beautiful Sivasagar Savadol. * Photo: Judi Cohen

After our return to the ship, free cocktails in the Soma Lounge and a farewell dinner was served. We enjoyed the cruise video that Mayuresh put together. A USB drive with professional photos from the week was available for 2300 rupees. (about $33 USD)

Brahmaputra River cruise guide

Mayuresh and Judi in the restaurant. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Day 8: Time to Say Goodbye …

Our final stop was visiting a tea plantation for a home-made lunch and a presentation by a tea master. We met the owners and toured their property.

tea plantation on a Brahmaputra River cruise

A presentation at the tea plantation. * Photo: Judi Cohen

After lunch we were whisked off to the Jorhat Military Airport for our flight to Delhi.

Although this wasn’t the original Lower Ganges cruise that we had planned, this Brahmaputra River cruise offered us a glimpse into an unexpectedly vibrant, diverse, and geographically beautiful area of northeast India that was not at all on our radar.

I look forward to returning to the region again one day.

For booking details, visit Adventure River Cruises.

sunset on the Brahmaputra River

Lovely sunsets nearly every day. * Photo: Judi Cohen

RELATED: Heidi Sarna’s article about her Brahmaputra River cruise.

RELATED: Judi’s TIPS to help you prepare for a Brahmaputra River adventure!

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

 

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© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

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QuirkyCruise ReviewQuirkyCruise Review of Pandaw River Cruises

Pandaw has been offering high-quality expedition-style river cruises in Asia aboard traditional-style boats for more than 25 years. The growing fleet comprises similar-looking colonial-style teakwood riverboats built in Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos in the spirit of the 19th-century Scottish-crafted paddle steamers that plied Burma’s rivers at the height of the British Empire.

Each boat carries 10 to 60 passengers and has an ultra-shallow draft, two or three decks, and flat tops so they can slip under bridges and easily navigate small rivers, even when water levels are low. Wood-paneled nautical-style cabins are roomy and very comfortable and meals are tasty enough.

In every way, the Pandaw River Cruises experience is solid, authentic and eminently comfortable just like the boats, with the focus on the destination, not fussy décor or cloying service. Step on board and breathe in the refreshing scent of teak wood before wiping your sweaty brow with a chilled face towel handed out by crew at the gangway.

The company was founded in 1995 by Scotsman and Burma historian Paul Strachan with the re-building of an original Clyde-built steamer called PANDAW 1947, one of the last boats built for the original Irrawaddy Flotilla Company founded by Scots merchants in 1865. The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company was once the finest river fleet in the world with some 500 vessels that carried passengers and cargo, from bags of rice to blocks of jade, silk, tobacco and whisky, on Burma’s Irrawaddy and other rivers from the 1860s until the Japanese invasion in WWII when the British scuttled virtually the entire fleet to keep it out of enemy hands.

Family-run Pandaw was the first company to offer expeditions on both the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers and continues to stay true to its mission of building smaller ships, even as other companies build bigger ones, to offer river adventures in remote areas, especially in Myanmar and more recently in Laos. In 2015, Strachan published a book called The Pandaw Story about his adventures, Pandaw, and the history and culture of Myanmar. He’s also written guides to Bagan’s art and architecture.

Pandaw River Cruises on the Orient Pandaw

The embarkation adventure is half the fun! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count

Divided into two classes, the river boats number 16:

The smaller two-deck “K” class river boats — ANGKOR PANDAW (built 2012, 32 passengers), KALAW PANDAW (b. 2014, 36 p), KALAY PANDAW (b. 2013, 10 p), KATHA PANDAW (b. 2011, 28 p), KHA BYOO PANDAW (b. 2014, 20 p), KINDAT PANDAW (b. 2014, 36 p), ZAWGYI (b. 2014, 20 p), LAOS PANDAW (b. 2015, 20 p), CHAMPA PANDAW (b. 2016, 28 p) and SABAIDEE PANDAW (b. 2018, 24 p). On November 7, 2019, the KANEE PANDAW (28 passengers) takes delivery of the latest “K” vessels for Irrawaddy cruises between Prome north of Rangoon and Mandalay and the Great Irrawaddy Delta.

The larger three-deck “P” class river boats — BASSAC PANDAW (b. 2012, 60 p), INDOCHINA PANDAW (b. 2009, 60 p), MEKONG PANDAW (b. 2003 & totally refitted in 2013, 48 p), ORIENT PANDAW (b. 2008, 60 p), PANDAW II (b. 2002, 48 p), and TONLE PANDAW (b. 2002 & totally refitted in 2013, 56 p).

In addition, Pandaw introduced the coastal cruiser ANDAMAN EXPLORER built for the Norwegian coast guard in 1963 and subsequently converted to a luxury yacht before passing to Pandaw. She carries 20 passengers in ten suites, nine of which have double beds and one twins).

Passenger Profile

Mostly couples, with some singles, in their 50s on up from the UK, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe mostly. Not recommended for children under age 12 or for anyone with trouble walking, as getting on and off the ships usually involves walking across narrow gangways and up and down muddy embankments.

Pandaw River Cruises aboard the Orient Pandaw

Watching the world go by from the bow of the Orient Pandaw. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passenger Decks

2 or 3; no elevators

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

All excursions led by a local tour guide who travels with the boat, bottled water and tips, though many passengers do leave something extra in the communal tip box at the end of the cruise.

Reasonably priced drinks package are offer for house wines, free-flow drinks (minus wine), and free-flow drinks including house wines.

Itineraries

The majority of Pandaw’s river expeditions are on three of South-East Asia’s great rivers: the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers in Myanmar, and the Mekong River that flows from China through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. From time to time the line experiments with new itineraries, for instance in Borneo, offering Pandaw fans great reasons to keep coming back.

A few itineraries venture into northern Vietnam, to Halong Bay and on the Red River that flows past Hanoi into the Gulf of Tonkin. River itineraries in India now number three with three different riverboats. A brand new 10-night itinerary aboard 20-passenger Andaman Explorer sails from the mainland to India’s Andaman Islands, an archipelago rich in its ethnographic mix, biodiversity and marine life. Fly both ways to/from the Andaman’s for a 7-night cruise. Below is an outline of the additional itineraries offered along the coast and to the islands.

  • A wide variety of 1- to 20-night itineraries along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers includes the popular week-long Bagan to Mandalay runs nearly year-round, with the highlight being Bagan’s stunning profusion of Buddhist pagodas. Shallow draft riverboats allow navigation to Katha, 1000 miles above Rangoon (Yangon) well above Mandalay and past the third and second defiles. Note: These cruises are subject to sufficient depth of water, and the shallow draft of the riverboats deployed on this route is 32 inches or 80 cm.
  • The most popular of the 3- to 14-night Mekong River cruises are the classic week-long journeys between Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, for visits to both rural villages and cities. Most people spend a few days before or after the cruise ogling the stunning monuments of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to take in Vietnam. Other itineraries traverse the more remote Mekong in China and Laos. The boats here have very shallow drafts and powerful engines 3 times the horsepower of the main fleet to “climb” the Laotian Mekong into China.
  • Every year in mid April, May and June, the fleet is taken out of service for maintenance coinciding with the extreme hot weather and very low water levels.
  • The upper Ganges itinerary operates from Kolkata well inland to Varanasi, the lower Ganges, not as far, to Farakka, and a third on the Brahmaputra.
  • The coastal ship ANDAMAN EXPLORER undertakes 7- to 18-day voyages in the Irrawaddy Delta, the length of Myanmar’s coast, amongst the Mergui Archipelago and to India’s Andaman Islands.
  • Note: For Indochina land travelers, Pandaw now offers short, three-day river cruises between Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, passing through the Mekong River Delta with stops at villages and a bird sanctuary. Includes hotel stays at both ends.
Mekong River Cruising

The gorgeous U Min Thone Se Pagoda outside of Mandalay. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Why Go?

To see remote parts of Asia with expert guides on charming period-vessels.

When to Go?

Pandaw cruises July through early April, with water levels the highest and landscape the lushest between about October and February. Even in dry season (March and April), though, the boats with their shallow drafts can navigate the rivers even when waters levels are getting low.

Cabins

Well laid-out with colonial decor, the wood-paneled cabins are roomy with comfy twin captain’s beds with ample storage beneath. There’s a closet, two bedside tables and a small desk. Large glass doors open onto the side promenade decks. Wood paneled bathrooms have very large showers, and shampoo and soap are provided; a few of the older boats, including ORIENT PANDAW, TONLE PANDAW and MEKONG PANDAW have recently refurbished bathrooms with natural stone-clad showers.

Other extras across the fleet include cotton robes, slippers, personal safe, individually controlled AC, and hair dryer. To avoid engine noise, choose a cabin as far forward as possible. There are no TVs and few PA announcements, assuring a peaceful journey.

These ships are not recommended for passengers using wheelchairs, as there are no elevators, only stairs between decks.

Cabins are wood paneled and very comfortable. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Cabins are wood paneled and very comfortable. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Public Rooms

Each has one restaurant, a combination bar and lounge, and lots of covered outdoor space on the uppermost deck for hanging out and scenery viewing. The open design allows air to flow through the vessels providing not only a welcome breeze, but also a stabilizing affect for the boats.

The larger “P” class boats have a third deck and amenities including a massage room, small boutique and art gallery, and a lecture and meeting room with a large flatscreen TV, projector and sound system to show movies about the region after dinner (like Indochine or The Quiet American). One of them, MEKONG PANDAW, has a small gym with cardio machines and weights.

Dining

On the larger ships the restaurant is inside, and depending on the temperature, with large French doors open to the river or closed with air-conditioning; on the smaller ships, they’re open-air on the covered top deck. Meals are served in one open seating at tables for four, six or eight, though different configurations can be made on request if there is space. Breakfast and lunch are semi-buffet and dinners are served.

Cuisine incorporates fruits and vegetables from the region into dishes such as chicken breast stuffed with tea leaves, roast pumpkin, prawn curry, fried rice, and various delicious Asian soups made to order with the ingredients laid out for diners to pick and choose from.

There are also western staples, from scrambled eggs to salads, fish and chips, and pasta. All meals are prepared onboard and nearly 100% of supplies are sourced from local producers in keeping with Pandaw’s commitment to support the local economies.

Meals incorporate local veggies, yum! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Meals incorporate local veggies, yum! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Activities & Entertainment

The boats make at least one stop a day, sometimes two or three. When sailing, most people are content to relax on a padded wooden deck chair or chaise lounge to watch the river traffic and scenery float by.

An expert tour guide from the country visited sails along for the duration of the cruise, leads shore excursions and gives talks on board about various aspects of the destination and local culture, such as demonstrations about how to tie a sarong or make the tree-bark thanaka face paint popular in Myanmar. (On weeklong Mekong itineraries through Cambodia and Vietnam, there is a guide from each country for that half of the journey.)

Generally once or twice per cruise a local dance or singing group, or maybe a troupe of puppeteers, are brought on board to entertain guests after dinner. Otherwise, it’s drinks and chatting about the day’s adventures with new friends before heading off to sleep to rest up before another eventful day begins.

Along the Same Lines

In Myanmar, Paukan and Belmond offer the closest equivalent to Pandaw, and on the Mekong River, Heritage Line does.

Contact

Pandaw Cruises, www.pandaw.com; information@pandaw.com.

HMS

 

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G Adventures

For more than 30 years, G Adventures has been offering affordable adventure travel around the world including small-ship cruises (about 10-15% of their total annual business) on private yachts, catamarans and oceangoing expedition-style ships, with more recent offerings on riverboats. They also sell travel by rail, road and air. Their MO is providing small groups with authentic cultural experiences, through local guides, cuisine, and transport and uncontrived excursions. The target skews younger — 20s to 50s — than most other travel companies; though any age will be comfortable if they’ve got a young-at-heart attitude and a decent level of fitness.

A trained, local CEO, or Chief Experience Officer, guides all trips and acts as the point person to make sure things run smoothly. (On the G EXPEDITION ship, there are additional expert guides in various disciplines). The emphasis is on active exploring, using bicycles for example, and on supporting local businesses and communities (i.e. through visits to schools and charity-supported restaurants in Cambodia).

To keep rates reasonable on the various sailing trips, meals are not included, instead the skipper collects a modest amount of money from passengers who want to share a simple breakfast and lunch on board (skipper goes grocery shopping for the basics); for dinner, it’s expected that passengers will want to eat dinner in port on the islands (who wouldn’t want to!). A BYOB policy (bring your own booze) is in effect on board most of the Europe-based sailing and river cruises. The line matches same sex passengers to avoid single fares.

With 700 itineraries in more than 90 countries (including the new series of in-depth riverboat tours called National Geographic Journeys), G Adventures excels in offering trips geared to various ages, styles and interests — from families with young children to budget-minded “yolo’s” (the 18- to 39-year-old set).  Adventures is dynamic, cutting-edge, socially minded and hip (cue the great photos and video on their website), and definitely thinks outside of the typical travel company box. Quirky cruise anyone?

The line owns the G EXPEDITION ship for trips to the Arctic and Antarctica, and does full-ship charters for its many other small-ship offerings (hence ships may vary from year to year, and listings below reflect a portion of their current fleet). Consult their 150-page encyclopedia!

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

XAVIER III (built 1996, refurbished 2004; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

MONSERRAT (built 2005, refurbished 2016; 20 passengers) – Galapagos

QUEEN OF THE GALAPAGOS (built 2007; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

YOLITA (built 2007, refurbished 2016; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (built 1990, refurbished 2014; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

REINA SILVIA VOYAGER  (built 2020; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

EDEN  (built 2000, refurbished 2012; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

G EXPEDITION (built 1972, refurbished 2008; 134 passengers) – Arctic/Antarctica, designed to Ice Class 1B specifications

DANIELE (built 2015; 22 passengers) – Burgundy, France

TOUM TIOU II (built 2008; 28 passengers) – Mekong

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

SAILING VESSELS in Europe, the Caribbean and Asia may change from year to year, but those chartered generally carry about 8 to 16 passengers.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passenger Profile

Adventurous couples, singles, and families of all ages (though especially the under 40 set) mostly from North America, and a handful from the UK, Europe and other places. The ocean expedition cruises tend to attract largely couples, average age mid-50s, while the sailing tours draw mostly 30s singles.

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Generally meals are included across the board except on the small sailing yachts. For Galapagos and South America coastal cruises, snorkeling gear is part of the package, while bicycles are carried on French rivers and on the Mekong. On some itineraries guided shore excursions are also included.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Itineraries
  • Galapagos: There are mostly 7, 10 and up to 17-day cruises either round-trip from Baltra or San Cristobal islands, packaged with a 1- or 2-night hotel stay in mainland Quito, Ecuador with the longest more elaborate stays in Ecuador. Itineraries focus mostly on the Central (including Santa Cruz Santiago), Western (Isabela and Fernandina) and Southern (Floreana and Espanola) island groups, to get up close and personal with the amazing wildlife and diverse landscape. (Note: airfare between Quito and the islands is not included in the rates as it often is with other lines).
G Adventures

Estrella Del Mar in the Galapagos. * Photo- © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Europe Rivers: 6-night cruises round-trip from Dijon through France’s Burgundy region visit small villages and wineries, with excursions on foot and by bicycle.
  • India Rivers: 15-night cruises from Patna to Kolkata (Calcutta) on the Ganges River visit ancient temples, ornate palaces and sixth-century rock carvings. South, east and north coast catamaran sailing in Sri Lanka.
  • Southeast Asia Rivers: 7-night cruises (plus 2 hotel nights) on classic-style riverboats between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap go to wet and floating markets, temples (including a sunrise visit to the legendary Angkor Wat on the longer itins), stilt villages, and Vietnam war sites (such as the Cu Chi tunnels and Reunification Palace, associated with the Fall of Saigon in 1975).
  • Turkey & Croatia: 9-night super casual catamaran cruises travel between Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia, and between Bodrum and Fethiye, Turkey.
  • Greek Isles: 7-night super casual yacht cruises sail between Santorini and Mykonos with stops at untouristy offbeat islands in the Cyclades; maybe including Folegandros, Sifnos, Ios, Antiparos, Paros and/or Naxos.
  • Cuba: 6-night super casual catamaran cruises sail round-trip out of Havana and visit points on the Canarreos Archipelago with a focus on snorkeling, swimming and beach-bumming.
  • British Virgin Islands: 6-night catamaran cruises are round-trip from Tortola and hit all the best offbeat swimming, snorkeling and beach sites.
  • Maldives: 6-night cruises aboard a traditional dhoni (a dhow-like fishing boat) spend a week snorkeling and diving in the gorgeous waters of the Maldives islands, and its lagoons and atolls.
  • Thailand: Choose from 6 nighters round-trip from Phuket and 3-night cruises between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. Indonesia Interisland catamaran cruising from Bali to nearby islands and Lombok.
Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Amazon River: 7-night cruises on the Amazon depart from Iquitos, Peru; with optional pre- or post land trips to Machu Picchu.
  • Antarctica: 10- to 22-night cruises round-trip from Ushuaia, Argentina visit points throughout the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica Peninsula. Longest cruises add the Falklands and South Georgia..
  • Arctic/Norwegian Fjords: 10- to 14-night cruises between Reykjavik, Iceland, and Longyearbyen, Norway, visit ports along the coasts of Norway, Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard.
  • South America: 4- to 5-week-long cruises along the west coast of South America (Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia) are offered as the G EXPEDITION repositions between Antarctica and the Arctic region, with excursions to fjords, glaciers, national parks and rain forests, plus a 3-day overland trip to Machu Picchu.
No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

When to Go?

Galapagos is year-round, Antarctica late October through mid-March; Arctic late May through mid-September, SE Asia July-April, Maldives year-round, Thailand October-April, and Europe April-October.

Cabins

G EXPEDITION (Polar) is G Adventures’ owned ship for polar travel; it has five different cabin categories that range in size and layout. All have private bathrooms with showers, and a porthole or window. The two lowest categories are quads and triples with upper and lower bunk beds. All other categories have two lower beds, except for four larger suites that have a queen bed.

QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS (Galapagos) the most high-end of the company’s five Galapagos ships, has 9 luxury cabins all with windows, private bathroom and air conditioning, TV and DVD players — 7 have queen or twin beds, and 1 is a suite with a sitting area.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

YOLITA’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins have queen or twin beds, large windows, and TVs with DVD players. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

XAVIER III’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins are all double-occupancy with twin beds; 4 on the upper deck cabins with windows, and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All come with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

MONSERRAT’s (Galapagos) 10 cabins comprise 6 double-occupancy upper deck cabins with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All are equipped with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

EDEN (Galapagos) takes 16 passengers and a two wraparound decks to easily access all directions. 4 cabins are twin lowers, a double bed cabin, and  3 twin-share bunk cabins, all with private facilities and A/C.

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (Galapagos) has 8 double-occupancy cabins with bunk beds, 4 on the upper deck with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

DANIELE (France) is a canal barge with 12 lower deck cabins all with windows and private bathrooms, TV, radio, and air-conditioning.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong) has 6 upper deck cabins and 8 lower deck cabins, all with windows and en-suite bathrooms.

AMATISTA (Amazon) has 15 cabins — 7 upper deck and 8 lower deck, all with windows and private bathrooms.

VARUNA (Ganges) has 12 air-conditioned cabins, all with en suite bathrooms.

CATAMARANS/SAILING YACHTS (Cuba, BVIs, Greece, Croatia, Thailand, Maldives), the vessels may vary from year to year, but generally have 4 to 8 double cabins often (but not always) with private bathrooms.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Public Rooms & Dining

All Galapagos vessels and the polar ship G EXPEDITION have an indoor observation lounge for talks by the naturalists, plus a bar, small library, outdoor observation deck with chairs for relaxing, and indoor dining area for casual and relaxed meals. The menus where possible incorporate local ingredients, such as fish.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong River) has a main lounge with a large-screen TV for watching a limited selection of DVDs, a library, bar, and open-air dining area and indoor/outdoor lounges. DANIELE (France) has a lounge with bar, dining area, sun deck with loungers and parasols, and a hot tub.

The small catamarans and yachts in the Caribbean, Europe, Thailand and the Maldives, and the riverboat on the Amazon, all have a combination lounge and dining area indoors, plus outdoor seating for sunbathing and hanging out.

Some vessels have reliable Wi-Fi, including G EXPEDITION, but on many, connectivity is spotty.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Activities & Entertainment

In general, the entertainment is the destination and interaction with fellow passengers, sharing conversation and drinks on deck. Activities happen in port or in the water while snorkeling, diving, kayaking or zipping around in zodiacs or small skiffs. The Galapagos boats carry 2 zodiacs for expeditions and snorkeling equipment for passengers’ use (wet suits are free of charge on QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS and YOLITA only). DANIELE (France) has a hot tub, and it and the Mekong riverboat carry a handful of bicycles.

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

G Adventures, 19 Charlotte Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H5; 416-260-0999. US office: 179 South Street, 1st floor, Boston, MA 0211, 877 390 9050. Additionally in USA & Canada 1-888-8000-4100; UK 0344 272 2060; Australia 1300 853 325; New Zealand 0800 333 415. Consult the website for additional international telephone numbers.

— HMS

 

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Brahmaputra River

Brahmaputra River Cruising

By Heidi Sarna.

I have been to India many times, but I had never taken a river cruise there, until the Mahabaahu. The week I spent cruising on the Brahmaputra River would leave an indelible impression on me and offer a fresh take on a country I thought I knew so well. For my friend and travel mate Sue, it was her first time to India and she fell in love.

Brahmaputra River

Two old friends enjoying their Indian adventure.

After several days in Delhi enjoying a family wedding, we flew east to the state of Assam to start our cruise. We and other passengers were met at the airport by friendly crew and ushered to our convoy of comfortable taxis. When we reached the muddy riverbanks of the Brahmaputra, a creaking bamboo gangway connected us with our home for the week, the 46-passenger Mahabaahu.

Brahmaputra River

Bamboo gangway to adventure. * Photo: Noni Chawla

Not sleek like Europe’s riverboats, this one was appealingly quirky with its stubby funnel and red cargo davits poking out from the stern, and a hull cluttered with a necklace of tires. I loved it already.

The 2011-built boat, owned and operated by India-based Adventure Resorts & Cruises, a subsidiary of tour operator Far Horizon Tours, was moored below us along the Brahmaputra River, one of India’s most important inland waterways. Named after the son of Lord Brahma, it’s India’s only “male” river and the Mahabaahu is one of only a few tourist riverboats sailing on it.

Brahmaputra River

The quirky and loveable Mahabaahu. * Photo: Noni Chawla

RELATED: 10 Reasons to Take a Brahmaputra River Cruise.  by Heidi Sarna.

A Remote Corner of India

Our upstream journey would begin in Guwahati and end 374 kilometers later in Jorhat, both in Assam. Neither city is particularly attractive, but what’s in between them is magical.

From its glacial source in southwestern Tibet on the slopes of the Himalayan Mountains, where it’s called the Tsangpo or “Purifier, the river surges east cutting through deep canyons and gorges. It then makes a sharp U-turn and enters the northeastern corner of India and into the Assam Valley on route to the confluence with the Ganges River before emptying into Bangladesh’s flood-prone Bay of Bengal.

In the state of Assam the Brahmaputra widens greatly — some five miles at its broadest — and redistributes an enormous amount of sediment collected along the way, resulting in a river system braided with islands of sand.

Brahmaputra River

The sand goes on for miles at some points. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

RELATED: Another take on a Brahmaputra River Cruise. by Judi Cohen.

Day 1: Brahmaputra River Cruising

Before we’d get to those serene expanses of sand, we’d get a dose of classic India in over drive. Our first excursion, on route to the Mahabaahu from the airport, was a visit to the 17th-century Kamakhya Temple complex, with its traditional beehive domes, tantric history and practice of animal sacrifice. We removed our shoes as required at the entrance and tried not to think about what we might step in as we waded through the throngs behind our guide and naturalist for the week, Venky.

Dedicated to the goddess of desire Kamakhya Devi and her various avatars, stone reliefs of female deities along the outside of the temples were smeared in blood-red paint and kumkuma powder to symbolize fertility. An important Hindu pilgrimage site, especially for newlyweds wanting to start families, we watched devotees swipe bits of the red powder from the statues’ groin and apply a dash to their own foreheads for good luck. We walked around the bustling compound, stepping around nosy goats spared from the knife and fascinated by the bare-chested sadhus (holy men) with their dreadlocks and wild eyes.

Brahmaputra River

Temple scenes. * Photo: Noni Chawla

Shifting gears, after an hour or two, we were back in our taxis and soon walking down that bamboo gangway and into the Mahabaahu’s homey wood paneled reception area, where we were greeted by our smiling cruise director Neena and a glass of refreshing juice. Our cruise had just 25 passengers (average is about 30), a mix of mostly 60-plus adventurous folks from the UK, Australia, US, Canada and India.

We’d have the chance to meet some of them at lunch, where a delectable buffet of flavorful seafood and other curries and Indian-style eggplant, chickpeas, spinach and breads had us going back for seconds and thirds. Continental options were also offered. We could tell early on that Brahmaputra River cruising would be delicious.

Brahmaputra River

Mealtime was always a treat aboard the Mahabaahu. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Late afternoon, we were off on another exploration via the Mahabahuu’s pair of comfortable open-air excursion boats. We headed to a nearby island for a look at a hilltop temple and the resident golden langur monkeys, a rare and endangered species, and we collectively oohed and aahed at the glowing orange sunset on display for the short ride back. Almost every evening the sunsets were stunners.

Brahmaputra River

Breathtaking sunsets night after night. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Dinner the first evening was convivial, with assigned seating to encourage mingling. It worked and we had a lovely time meeting new friends and drinking Indian-made Sula wine; not the best I’ve ever had, but good enough. Dinner was at 7pm and the menu always offered a western choice along with a yummy Indian medley often served on a thali, a metal plate holding several small bowls — the original tasting menu. The rest of the week we were free to sit where we pleased.

Though the comfy Soma bar was an option for pre- and post-dinner drinks, we saved a visit for another evening. Sue and I were back in our cozy cabin by 9pm, as were most of the passengers, ready to sink into our comfortable twin beds after a long fulfilling day. Our Deck 2 cabin had large windows, while some have balconies, and all have mini fridges, TVs, and roomy bathrooms with showers.

Brahmaputra River

A standard cabin on the Mahabaahu. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Day 2: Brahmaputra River Cruising

Most of the second day was spent lounging on the top deck, getting familiar with the river and watching local crews dredge and build basic bamboo fences in the river to help keep silt from getting into the navigable channels. After lunch, we went ashore to visit a tiny settlement of migrant families from Bangladesh tending fields of peanuts along the river.

We scaled the dusty banks, grabbing onto bamboo poles crewmembers held between them like a railing, greeted at the top by a few children and their mothers, as fascinated with us as we were with them.

Brahmaputra River

Exploring a small settlement along the Brahmaputra. * Photo: Noni Chawla

Day 3: Brahmaputra River Cruising

A drive to the Kaliabore Tea Estate on day three included a stop to examine the large bright green leaves of the Assamese tea plants (Chinese tea leaves are smaller), one of the world’s principal varieties. Next was a visit to a Victorian-era jute mill straight out of a Dickens novel. Jute fiber dust hung in the air as we walked through the aisles of the large dimly lit factory between rows of workers operating the ancient clanking machines that turned the fibers into course threads and then into ropes and grain sacks.

Brahmaputra River

Exploring a tea plantation in Assam. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Day 4: Brahmaputra River Cruising

Day four was the week’s highlight, an elephant safari in Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site and the world’s largest habitat for endangered one-horned rhinos. Current numbers have the population at more than 2,000. Sue and I were sandwiched between a mahout (the driver) and a park guard toting a shotgun, and following along behind us was our female’s adorable baby. A sign, we were told, that these elephants were well treated and not separated from their young.

Within minutes of tramping through the tall grass in the early morning mist, we spotted wild water buffalos with their impressive arc of horns and soon after, several large rhinos, swamp deer and wild boar. By the end of the one-hour safari atop the lumbering beasts, the sun had risen on a beautiful blue-sky day. After a breakfast of delicious dosas at a nearby hotel, we were back in the park for a two-hour jeep safari, seeing many more animals, including wild Asian elephants.

Brahmaputra River cruise

An elephant safari in Kaziranga National Park. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Days 5-7: Brahmaputra River Cruising

The rest of the week’s excursions entailed walks through villages with Venky, peeking inside basic wooden houses on stilts and shopping for inexpensive hand-loomed saris and fabrics slung over fences and washing lines for our visit. We visited a monastery for a mesmerizing performance of chanting and drumming by a group of young priests.

In the ancient city of Sibsagar, we explored the 18th-century Shiva Dol temple and Rang Ghar royal sports pavilion with their spare elegant Assamese lines. Folk dances, music performances, and a riverside play enacting scenes from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, added more color and culture to the ports.

Brahmaputra River

Performances of the Hindu epic Ramayana along the Brahmaputra. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

On Board the Mahabaahu

Back on board, when we weren’t soaking up the river views and looking for Gangetic Dolphins — I saw several leaping out of the water! — some of us hit the mini spa for Auyervedic massages. The classic Indian-style treatments incorporate generous amounts of herb-infused mustard oil and firm kneading and were extremely relaxing and renewing, not to mention inexpensive compared to large cruise ships.

Brahmaputra River

Yoga on a Brahmaputra sand bar. * Photo: Noni Chawla

The Mahabaahu has one stationery bike for exercising and a small outdoor pool that didn’t get much use, I suspect because of its location in the shadows of the ash-spewing funnel. A daily ritual for about a dozen of us was a relaxing morning yoga session led by Neena, typically on deck, and once on a sand bar next to the boat. Informative port talks from Venky were also a daily affair and so were pre-dinner “happy-hour” bonfires set up in the sand (the boat never sails at night) where passengers would chat and sometimes even sing.

Brahmaputra River

Soul stirring sunsets day after day.

This was a cruise of simple but profound pleasures.

The last day, like the first, included an excursion between the boat and the airport, to a colonial-era tea estate for a talk, a walk and some tea and pakoras (fried vegetables). It was a perfect ending to a very special week.

To Know Before You Go

Fares: 7-night upstream or downstream cruises between Guwahati and Jorhat range from $2,462 to $3,830 USD (157,500 to 245,000 Indian Rupees) per-person/double-occupancy and include meals, all shore excursions and coffee/tea. Wine, beer, spirits, soda and tips are additional, as are popular land extensions to Bhutan, Calcutta or the Golden Triangle (the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur). Two fleetmates, the 2-cabin Sauver Nigam and 9-cabin Vaikundam, offer cruises in the backwaters of Kerala, on India’s southwestern coast.

Weather: The cruising season is October through April; Nov-Feb is the best time to cruise with evening temps dipping to 45 °F and day time to as high as the low 80’s °F. (Heavy monsoon rains fall between June and early October.)

Money Matters: The Indian Rupee is the official currency, and keep in mind torn notes may not be accepted.

Company Contact: Reach out to Adventure River Cruises to book this and other India cruises; for pre- and post-cruise land/hotel tours in India, contact sister company Far Horizon Tours. Both are Indian-owned and operated.

Brahmaputra River

We had the option of donning masks for the tour of a jute factory, as the jute fiber dust and particles are mild irritants to some people. We were fine and just enjoying a masked selfie!

 

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QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Claude Bahout from France.

Cruise Line: Far Horizon Tours (also known as Adventure Resorts & Cruises).

Ship: M/S Mahabaahu.

Destination: On River Brahmaputra in Assam, northeastern India.

# of Nights: 7.

Departure Date & Ports:  December 2016, from Guwahati to Jorhat, Assam, visiting small villages and Kaziranga National Park.

OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? This was my first.

Review:  A great cruise!

Having never been on a cruise before, I must admit we went on this cruise only to join our Indian friends. We had a wonderful week aboard; the ever changing scenery is amazing, the wildlife guide was extremely knowledgeable, patient and so full of enthusiasm!

The food was very good, the crew was always pampering us. The cabin was roomy and very comfortable.

I would recommend this cruise to anybody who has already a basic knowledge of India.

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Nripjit Singh Chawla from India.

Cruise Line: Far Horizon Tours (also known as Adventure Resorts & Cruises).

Ship: Mahabaahu.

Destination: On River Brahmaputra in Assam, India.

# of Nights: 7.

Departure Date & Ports:  November 2016, from Guwahati to Jorhat, Assam, visiting small villages and Kaziranga national park.

OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? This was my first.

Review: A Super Cruise.

Our one week on board the M. V. Mahabaahu was an exceptional experience. The small ship is very comfortable with all modern conveniences. The food is excellent, with a choice of Indian, Continental and Far Eastern cuisines. The staff are outstanding. The shore excursions (to wildlife parks, temple towns, tribal villages, etc.) on their own tenders were very well organised. The level of hospitality and personalisation is very high. I would happily do it again.

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer

Sue from the USA.

Cruise Line

Adventure Resorts & Cruises (also known as Far Horizon Tours).

Ship

Mahabaahu.

Destination

Assam, India.

# of Nights

7.

Departure Date & Ports

November 2016, from Guwahati to Jorhat, Assam, with stops at small villages and the amazing Kaziranga national park to see rhinos.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

I’ve been on 3 small ship cruises.

Review

Brahmaputra Paradise.

I was so amazed by the beauty and peace of the Brahmaputra, I loved the moving sand islands, the nightly bonfires, and the safaris. The meals highlighted lots of Indian food and delicious options. The weather in November was perfection — sunny days and warm nights. The staff were amazing and became our family. I still miss them! This cruise was a life-changing experience — do it!

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

 

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

small ship India cruises

10 Reasons to Take a Brahmaputra River Cruise.

by Heidi Sarna.

The 46-passenger M/V Mahabaahu, owned by India-based Adventure River Cruises and also sold by companies like Pandaw Cruises, is one of just two riverboats offering voyages on the vast, remote and fascinating Brahmaputra River system in the eastern Indian state of Assam (the other is the humbler 24-passenger Charaidew).

With my friend Sue, I sampled a weeklong Mahabaahu cruise in late November and here’s my quick take on why this quirky, very comfortable small ship cruise needs to be on your bucket list.

RELATED: Read the full feature article by Heidi Sarna here.

The Sand

The fascinating fluvial geomorphology (river geography!) of the Brahmaputra means the broad river is streaked and braided with sand bars and sand islands for much of the year, especially pronounced when the monsoon waters have receded and the river levels are low. The pristine shelves and carpets of sand are born of the sediment brought down from the massive Himalayan mountains and they create the perfect setting for surreal morning walks and yoga sessions, and pre-dinner drinks around a bonfire.

small ship cruises on the Brahmaputra

An early morning view of Brahmaputra’s wide expanse of beach-like sand. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Sunsets

Some of the most stunning creamy orange lingering sunsets I’ve ever seen are a daily highlight. The sun seems bigger here than in other places around the world and even after the fiery orange ball has slipped into the horizon, for another half hour its glow leaves the darkening night sky blushing with streaks of color.

Brahmaputra sunsets are out of this world. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Serenity

India isn’t generally known for peace and quiet unless you’re holed up in an ashram somewhere, but a Brahmaputra River cruise is ever so different. When not on shore or exploring via one of Mahabaahu’s two tenders, enjoy relaxing on deck as the boat glides along the wide calm river. In between napping, reading or sipping a drink, keep a look out for leaping Ganges river dolphins and watch wooden skiffs from the Inland Waterways Authority of India marking the river’s navigable channels with bamboo poles.

Relaxing on deck along the tranquil Brahmaputra. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Wildlife

The Brahmaputra River system runs right along the edge of the Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site and the world’s largest habitat for more than 2,000 endangered one-horned rhinos. On elephant, jeep and boat safaris, we easily spotted the rhinos and wild water buffalos too, the latter with their impressive arc of horns, as well as wild Asian elephants, swamp deer, gibbons, boar, and hundreds of birds species, including various types of storks, egrets, kingfishers and eagles. Early risers up on deck may also catch sight of wildlife drinking or bathing along the riverbank.

The endangered one-horned rhino in Kaziranga National Park. * Photo: Noni Chawla

The Excursions

Besides the wildlife safaris, experiences on shore included walks through fields of peanuts, turmeric and rice with our trusty naturalist and guide Venky in the lead for visits to local villages to have a peek inside the basic dwellings and bargain for locally-made textiles. We explored tea plantations, old stone Assamese temples, monasteries and a fascinating Victorian-era jute factory, all while rarely encountering other tourists. Several folk dance and music performances, as well as plays, added even more color and culture to the ports.

The children of tea plantation workers performing a folk dance. * Photo: Noni Chawla

The Food

The river and the stops along the way are the main course, but eating on board the Mahabaahu was certainly a highlight as well. Tasty Indian dishes prepared by Indian chefs are served buffet style at lunch (as well as western options if passengers ask for them), from spicy (but not too spicy) prawn and fish curries to Indian-style eggplant, cauliflower, spinach, chickpeas and farmer’s cheese (panir) prepared myriad ways reflecting different regions of the country. We always went back for seconds and thirds. At dinner, a western choice is offered along with a yummy Indian medley served on a thali, a metal plate holding several small bowls — the original tasting menu.

The yummy Indian papri chaat snack is savory and sweet. * Photo: Heidi

The Beds

The super comfortable mattresses and Indian-made bedding from Bombay Dyeing were juuuust right, creating a sleeping nest that lulled us into peaceful slumber moments after lying down. Our cabin’s three large windows took up most of the wall and from our twin beds we were treated to close-up views of the variable Brahmaputra and the sunsets, sandbars and life on the riverbanks without even crawling out from under the cozy duvets. Roomy bathrooms, a mini-fridge, TV, safe and air conditioning rounded out our very pleasant abode.

The Indian-made bedding and beds are super comfortable. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Yoga

The practice of deep, slow breathing to reach an enlightened state started in India thousands of years ago. In the spirit of getting the day off to a good start aboard Mahabaahu, an hour of yoga was offered nearly every morning by the resident yogini and cruise director, Neena. On deck or next to the ship atop a sandbar, she guided her daily dozen or so acolytes through the holding and releasing of breathes while stretching and tapping on pressure points.

Magical morning yoga on a Brahmaputra sand bar. * Photo: Noni Chawla

The Massages

Another thing we can thank India for are Auyervedic “mind-body” healing and health practices, and the Mahabaahu does its part offering a menu of relaxing massages, most incorporating the generous use of herb-infused mustard oil and firm kneading. Thanks to therapist Raj and his magic hands on my neck, head, shoulders, arms and feet, my knots, tension and type-A tendencies were rubbed into oblivion. Ditto for Sue. Hair treatments, manicures and pedicures as well as the use of a sauna and steam room are also offered.

Raj, one of the fantastic massage therapists. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Camaraderie

Small ships are conducive to fostering an almost immediate sense of community with the other passengers and the crew, and our week on the Mahabaahu didn’t disappoint in that regard. Sue and I made friends easily, and the shared meals, drinks and excursions with our favorite new pals greatly added to the specialness of our very memorable Brahmaputra journey.

small ship cruises are intimate

It’s easy to make friends on the intimate Mahabaahu. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

 

To book this awesome cruise, reach out to Adventure River Cruises; for pre- and post-cruise land/hotel tours in India, contact sister company Far Horizon Tours. Both are Indian-owned and operated!

RELATED: Brahmaputra River Cruise Tips. by Judi Cohen.

 

 

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Mahabaahu on Brahmaputra River

International Expeditions ranks amongst the top adventure travel firms and is known for its creative itineraries and highly qualified staff who accompany its small group land and sea tours.

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Snapshot

International Expeditions (I.E.) belongs to a consortium of high-end travel firms that include Quark Expeditions and Zegrahm Expeditions, both covered on QuirkyCruise.com, and TCS World Travel and TRAVCOA (not yet covered), both with selections of small-ship travel in their overall land and air programs. While I.E. offers mostly adventure land travel, there are some excellent small expedition ship itineraries offered as well.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

As several very different ships are involved in the expedition program they will be matched with the specific itineraries. See the itinerary details below, which at any given time are representative of I.E.’s offerings.

Price

$$ to $$$ Expensive to Very Pricey. Included features will vary greatly from tour to tour, as the boats are chartered not owned by International Expeditions.

Itineraries – A Sampling as itineraries changes from year to year

Cuba Voyage: A 10-day land and cruise itinerary includes two full days on land with nights on board in Havana and visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, Juventud (Isle of Youth) and a nature reserve. Then embark in the 46-passenger PANORAMA, a sleek motor sailer for the rest of the itinerary, including docking near Havana for three days with access to the capital city. Excursions include visits to historic town centers, national scenic areas and meeting locals while visiting student activities, art and music workshops, shop owners, markets and museums. The itinerary also operates in the opposition direction. Departures: January to April.
Ship: PANORAMA

See the following website to answer questions that allow US citizens to travel to Cuba with International Expeditions: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf

Internatioal Expeditions

Colorful arcaded buildings along a Havana street. * Photo: Cuba Tourism

Amazon River Cruise: A 9-night cruise tour with two nights in Iquitos that emphasizes the Amazon River and its tributaries with seven nights aboard the 38-passenger ZAFIRO, while visiting local villages (which vary between cruises) to see their way of life, the key feature is Peru’s Pacaya-Samiria Reserve to look for sloths, monkeys, pink and gray dolphins, and a wide variety of tropical birds. The check list runs to 143 different birds from the Amazonian Umbrellabird to Long-billed Woodcreeper. Departures: year-round except a brief hiatus at the beginning of the year. Available extensions to Guayaquil, Machu Picchu, Ecuador’s Amazon.
Ship: ZAFIRO 

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unkown

EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unknown

Galapagos Islands: 10-day itineraries cover two different island itineraries with all year-round departures, beginning with a flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to the islands and a week aboard the 32-passenger expedition vessel EVOLUTION noted for its roomy public spaces, indoor/outdoor dining, open decks with outdoor bar, hot tub, and comfortable cabins ranging in size from 140 to 263 sq. ft. Some departures are geared to families. The islands are noted for highly diverse landscapes from desert dry to well-watered forests, and some of the wildlife is unique to these islands. Enjoy walking amongst penguins (yes, not only Antarctica), sea lions, marine iguanas, tortoises and those blue-footed boobies. Talks aboard from the Darwin Station staff and small groups ashore. Departures: Year-round except September.
Ship: EVOLUTION

Panama Cruise: This 9-day cruise embarks in Panama City aboard the 24-passenger DISCOVERY to seek wildlife and visit with distinctive local inhabitants living in relative isolation much as they always have, and transit a good portion of the Panama Canal, quite a different experience on a small ship. Sail out into the Pacific Ocean and enter the Darian jungle region via narrow waterways in a small launch to visit with the Embera Indians. Then as a complete contrast onto the Pearl Islands just off the coast for some snorkeling and swimming. Enter the Panama Canal and sail through two separate sets of locks that raise the ship 85 feet while hearing about the recent enlargement of the canal to handle the world’s largest container vessels. Enter Gatun Lake and stop at the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Center located on one of the islands. Wildlife to be seen include crocodiles, iguana, sloths, and monkeys, then enter the Chagres River for bird sightseeing and a visit to a 16th-century Spanish fort, built to protect the gold mining trade. Travel back to Panama City via the Panama Railroad, the world’s shortest transcontinental railroad at 48 miles in length, and predating the Panama Canal.
Ship: DISCOVERY

Diccovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

Discovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

Papua New Guinea: This 16-day tour to Papua New Guinea is largely by air beginning and ending in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. However, three nights along the Sepik River aboard the SEPIK SPIRIT positions you well inland to remote backwater people who first had outside contact in the 1930’s. Besides visiting the Huli “wigmen” and hearing Mt. Hagen’s “sing sing” performed by locals in elaborate costumes and body paint, there is much wildlife to see — some only seen in this part of the world such as cassowaries, kookaburras, bowerbirds, lorikeets, cockatoos and birds of paradise. Departure dates are on request.
Ship: SEPIK SPIRIT

Kaziranga's one-horned rhino. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Kaziranga’s one-horned rhino. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

India’s Kaziranga and Brahmaputra: This 12-day itinerary combines land travel to Indian state of Assam and its Kaziranga National Park and a 6-night cruise on the Brahmaputra River, plus a stay in Kolkata (Calcutta), Bengal’s capital city. After two nights seeing the city’s distinctly Bengali and British colonial sections, head north via a short flight to Assam for a jeep safari to Kaziranga National Park to see the world’s only one-horned rhinos, plus wild Asian elephants, water buffalo and hog deer. The cruise aboard the riverboat MAHABAAHU lasts for six days following a portion of the massive Brahmaputra River that spreads far and wide in Assam before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. (The river starts high up in the Himalayan range and tumbles down the steepest gorge in the world, eroding and picking up sediment as it goes, passing through China before reaching India, and then finally flowing through Bangladesh and to the sea via the Bay of Bengal.) The cruise visits Assam tribal villages and tea plantations, with gangetic dolphins leaping in and out of the river and Kaziranga’s wildlife coming down to the banks to drink at dawn. Depending on the river levels when you travel, marvel at the vast expanse of sand bars within the striated Brahmaputra. Visit Mishing villages built on platforms over the river, watch priests performing religious services, and view Hindu temples to the Lord Shiva as well as indigenous Tai Ahom architecture. Cruises operate for International Expeditions in the cooler months.
Ship: MAHABAAHU

Villagers along the banks of the Brahmaputra. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Villagers along the banks of the Brahmaputra. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

 

The Ships Used in the Above Itineraries

DISCOVERY is a 24-passenger catamaran built in 1994 manned by 11 crew. The 12 cabins have either queen or twin beds and windows that stretch the length of the rooms. The dining room and bar on the upper deck are enveloped by floor-to-ceiling glass. Above that the observation deck has lounge chairs and a BBQ. At the stern, there is a platform for lowering kayaks and Zodiacs.

EVOLUTION, completed in 2005, takes 32 passengers in double, queen and twin-bedded cabins that range in size from 140 to 263 sq. ft. Meals offer both Ecuadoran and Continental choices at one sitting. The observation deck is canopied covered and has a bar for relaxing at the end of the day’s activities ashore or in the water. Two kayaks are available for passenger use, and the bridge has an open policy most of the time. A doctor is carried and may accompany passengers on excursions.

ZAFIRO takes 38 passengers in 19 suites (17 at 226 sq. ft., master suite 248 sq. ft., & Zafiro suite 480 sq.ft.) on two decks with floor-to-ceiling windows (Upper Deck suites with balconies), indoor lounge with bar, outdoor deck with bar and Jacuzzi, dining room aft, massage room and gym.

MAHABAAHU, meaning “mighty arms,” is a five-deck 46-passenger Indian riverboat, completed in 2011, with a crew of 28. Good-size windowed cabins with en-suite bathrooms have satellite TV, personal safe and minibar. Meals are a selection of Indian and Continental menus using locally sourced food. As the boat is tied up at night, the evenings present local entertainment, lectures keyed to the sights ashore and atmospheric bonfires and drinks on the remote sandbars where the boat anchors and ties up to stakes banged into the ground. Mornings, an hour of yoga is offered on deck or on a nearby sandbar. The top deck is partly open and partly covered for river viewing while underway, and there is a small swimming pool, spa and library collection. An elevator connects the decks.

small ship India cruises

Yoga on a Brahmaputra River beach. * Photo: Noni Chawla

PANORAMA is a three-masted motor sailer built in 1993 that accommodates 46 passengers in 24 cabins arranged over three decks, the top two with windows and lowest with portholes. Inside spaces are the restaurant, lounge and library with an open foredeck at the bow and after deck at the stern. A swimming platform may be used when conditions permit. The crew numbers 16-18.

SEPIK SPIRIT offers 9 windowed cabins for 18 passengers and a bar-lounge that connects to the restaurant, both spaces decorated with Papua New Guinea carved wooden art. The top deck has both covered and open sections. She is moored in the river as a hotel ship (she does not sail) with excursions undertaken daily in launches.

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

Along the Same Lines

Abercrombie & Kent, G Adventures, Tauck, and Zegrahm Expeditions

Contact

International Expeditions One Environs Park Helena, AL 35080; 855-246-0399 (USA/Canada) Worldwide 205-28-1700; www.ietravel.com.

— TWS

qc-copyright-300x16

10 Best Small Ship cruises include the Sweden-based Juno

The 10 Quirkiest Cruises.

By Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

This list changes in accordance with the tides, our moods, the stock market, and the new and cool cruises we learn about all the time.

Currently, here are our picks of the 10 quirkiest cruises for those who really want to do something different.

Light Vessel Patricia

Trinity House

Trinity House is a centuries-old British organization that looks after lighthouses and buoys in the waters around England, Wales and the Channel Islands using its spiffy light vessel PATRICIA. This hardworking little ship that has had Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip spending time aboard offers comfy accommodations for 12 passengers.

Join for a week, or two, and observe the inspections and replacements of channel markers and fueling and repairing unmanned lighthouses dotting the islands and rugged coastline. Often the itinerary is not known until a week or two before departure and it may change at sudden notice. The cozy social life aboard is a big draw.

Visit the Trinity House site for more info.

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

M/S Juno on Sweden’s Göta Canal

Göta Canal Steamship Company

Launched in 1874, the 29-cabin M/S JUNO is the world’s oldest registered ship with overnight accommodations, and its journeys along the 19th-century Göta Canal system are a fascinating way to experience small-town Sweden. One of our 10 quirkiest cruises for good reason, JUNO’s 3-night cruise between Gothenburg on the west coast and Söderköping near Stockholm on the east coast (a total of 382 miles) takes you through 58 locks, some single and some in stepped sets.

Charming cabins are like train compartments (bathrooms are shared!) and the dining room serves very taste set meals. Daily excursions include visits to old fortresses, churches and Viking sites, as well as the chance to bike or walk along the tow bath.

The whole experience is wonderfully old fashioned.

Visit the Göta Canal Steamship Co website for more info on this amazing cruise.

The Juno inches along the Gota Canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Juno inches along the Gota Canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

New York to Chicago via 3 Rivers, 3 Canals & 6 Lakes

Blount Small Ship Adventures

(Rivers = Hudson, Mohawk and Detroit; Canals = Erie, Oswego and Well; Lakes = Oneida, Ontario, Erie, St. Claire, Huron and Michigan.)

Yes, they all string together to form a continuous and diverse watery route for Blount’s two super nimble ships to follow while sailing between two of America’s largest cities. Head north from New York to see stately homes with Hudson River views, stopping along the way. Slide under low bridges on the Erie Canal with inches to spare.

Break out into Lake Ontario and lock through the Welland Canal in tandem with giant ore carriers. Navigate the Detroit River with the US to port and Canada to starboard and on into Lakes Huron and Michigan, with pretty towns to visit. Then Chicago’s skyscrapers begin to rise above the horizon a good hour before berthing at the Navy Pier.

Visit Blount’s website for more info.

Blount's Grande Caribe at Chelsea Piers, Manhattan. * Photo: Ted Scull

Blount’s Grande Caribe at Chelsea Piers, Manhattan. * Photo: Ted Scull

Rembrandt Van Rijn in the Arctic

Oceanwide Expeditions

Cruising the poles may be thrilling and exotic enough, but exploring the Arctic on a sailing ship as explorers did centuries ago is out of this world and good reason to deem this one of our 10 quirkiest cruises. The 3-masted, 33-passenger Dutch schooner REMBRANDT VAN RIJN was built in the early 20th-century as a herring lugger and rebuilt in 1994 to operate as a pleasure cruiser in Greenland and occasionally Iceland.

Today it’s a comfy, cozy craft for coastal voyages, and if the wind dies, the auxiliary diesel engine kicks in to keep you on course and into fjords to see Viking ruins and wildlife or just let the sails luff and stay silent while amongst a pod dolphins or whales.

For more details, here’s Oceanwide’s website.

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

M/S Katharina in Eastern Indonesia

SeaTrek Adventure Cruises

This 12-passenger Indonesian pinisi schooner has a sheer so dramatic, it’s an uphill walk to get to KATHARINA’S bow. The chunky ironwood workhorse bucks through the seas at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago with an Indonesian crew leading the way.

There are opportunities to snorkel in the middle of nowhere, laze on white-sand beaches, and experience encounters with exotic wildlife and tribal people you’ve definitely never seen before. The best itineraries are the ones with an expert lecturer on board.

For more info visit wwwSeaTrekBali.com.

10 best small ship cruises include SeaTrek Bali

The Bugis schooner Katharina takes the adventurous back in time. * Photo: Seatrek Sailing Adventures

High-tech Exploring in the Galapagos

Lindblad Expeditions

Since the 1960s, Lindblad Expeditions has been pioneering expeditions to the Galapagos and other far flung places, and in recent years enhanced by a partnership with National Geographic Magazine that brings top photographers and scientists on board. Besides the team of Ecuadorian naturalists, there’s an undersea specialist and a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor on board every Galapagos cruise.

But it’s the techy stuff that pushes the envelope: the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR carries aboard not only a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks and a glass-bottom boat, but also underwater cameras and a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that dives down 500 feet to film what lies beneath. After each long and exciting day of exploring, the staff produces an amazing recap of photos and videos for passengers to marvel over.

For more info, contact Lindblad.

10 Quirkiest Cruises include Lindblad in the Galapagos

National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. * Photo: Sven-Olof Lindblad

Aranui 5 in the South Pacific

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime’s (CPTM)

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime’s (CPTM) has operated passenger-freighters in the remote South Pacific Marquesas Islands for decades, and the Tahiti-based 254-passenger ARANUI 5 is the latest of them. It’s clear why it’s one of our favorites and makes our 10 quirkiest cruises list. Visit idyllic islands with perfect beaches while observing the workings of a cargo ship.

While the 5th ARANUI carries everything and anything the remote islands need, you travel in great comfort along with an international passenger list that is searching for the paradise that Paul Gauguin sought. Trips ashore head to cultural sites, observe local customs and enjoy a beach barbecue.

For more info, here’s the line’s website.

10 quirkiest cruises include the ARANUI 5 Passenger Cargo Liner

The Aranui 5. * Photo: Peter Knego

Russian Nuclear Icebreaker in the North Pole

Quark Expeditions

Standing on the site 60 Degrees North is made possible by sailing aboard 50 YEARS OF VICTORY, the world’s most powerful icebreaker.

When she is not doing duty keeping the Northeast Passage above Russian Siberia open to commercial traffic, she plows her way through thick ice to reach the North Pole, at one time only accessible on foot and then by air in ideal weather. As a bonus, you can have a bird’s eye view of the icy scene from a hot air balloon.

Click over to Quark’s site for more details.

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Mahabaahu on the Brahmaputra River

Adventure River Cruises (ARC)

India’s rivers are holy places, and a cruise on one is to see India in all its glorious contrasts. The Brahmaputra flows from high in the Himalayas of Tibet, down into India’s Assam valley in the northeast and finally into the Bay of Bengal.

Pandaw’s 46-passenger M/V MAHABAAHU traverses part of it, visiting tea plantations, tribal villages and the Kaziranga National Park to see the greater one-horned Indian rhino. The boat has 11 cabins with balconies (and the rest with large windows), a massage room and a small pool, but it’s India that will keep your attention. If you’re looking for something truly different, consider the MAHABAAHU, one of our 10 quirkiest cruises.

Go to Adventure River Cruises (ARC) site for more details.

Pandaw on India's Brahmaputra. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

Pandaw on India’s Brahmaputra. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

RMS St. Helena to St. Helena Island

RMS St. Helena

Sadly, this ship is due to go out of service sometime in 2018. But up until then, it holds the title of one of the quirkiest ships out there. The 128-passenger Royal Mail Ship ST. HELENA is the very last in a long line of passenger, mail and cargo ships that connected the mother country to her dependents; in this case the remote and beautiful South Atlantic island of St. Helena, and intriguingly the last domicile of Emperor Napoleon.

An airport is nearing completion that will put the island residents within five hours of Johannesburg instead of five days to and from Cape Town, and apart from the convenience for the island’s population, it is hoped that foreign visitors will come in larger numbers for a holiday stay.

St. Helena’s remoteness was, for some, its principal attraction, coupled with a true liner voyage albeit rather minuscule compared to the QUEEN MARY 2, the only other true ocean liner afloat. So, if you act fast, there is still time to experience a unique combination — space available. For many, she will be missed.

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull

 

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