For many, “cruising” conjures up the image of ticking off a number of Mediterranean ports or Caribbean islands from a floating hotel. Rest assured, the colonial-style Rajmahal, with its 22 air-conditioned cabins, small spa, saloon, elegant dining room and spacious sun deck, could not be further from that. Anglo-Indian operator Assam Bengal Navigation is run by two families whose personal touches are ubiquitous. The owners prefer to recruit and train all their staff locally, which meant we were looked after by people who took an obvious sense of pride in making sure that we wanted for nothing.
Life on board settled into an easy ebb and flow of lazy days on the sun deck watching river life float by, sipping cooling drinks and swapping stories of India with fellow passengers, who included a BBC documentary maker and many who had travelled the country’s rivers before with the Assam Bengal Navigation company.
India's Brahmaputra cruises come of age
Brian and Vereen Marcer from Norwich, UK, wanted to do something special for their ruby wedding anniversary so they chose to take this once in a lifetime cruise on the river Brahmaputra in India's northeastern state of Assam. And they have no regrets.
"We enjoyed it all - the birds and mammals, the temples and culture, the wonderful meals," Brian said. "The most exciting were the 96 sightings of birds in 10 nights onboard."
Al Jazeera (US)
Assam: An Unchanged Land
The vast, braided and silverish waterway of Brahmaputra, Assam's heart and artery, is an antecedent river, older than the Himalayas themselves. Everywhere on its huge and quiet flood plain, scattered with great white egrets and water buffalo, there is a feeling that time has not so much stopped as aged. Near the city of Jorhat I boarded the MV Charaidew, a river cruiser built in colonial style: wide, flat-bottomed with cabins done out in bamboo and hardwoods. Watching the river banks go by, I felt like a successful tea planter from the 1940s. Plugs of water hyacinth slid down the great stream, as if the whole world were a tilted glass table. The air was apricot and the bird calls so profuse it seemed to me the mists were singing.
Conde Nast Traveller (US)
Along the banks of a river, the India of old
All of us were up on deck long before breakfast on our first morning, wearing robes and holding cups of tea, mesmerized by the life along the river: women dressed in saris washing themselves and their children in the latte-colored water, laundry hanging on trees, fishermen working their boats, farmers bearing produce on their heads and youngsters sloshing about, waving and calling and blowing kisses.
Watching the river life became a pleasantly automatic routine: up on deck at 6 a.m. to find one of the crew emptying a bottle of mineral water into the kettle to make tea (fine Darjeeling or the coarser Assam) and then into a lounger to gaze at the scenery as we puttered past.
New York Times (US)
River cruising: Navigating India's unknown waters
Anita and I dodged the dawn safari on elephant-back because of the driving rain. But later, in a Jeep, we saw enough one-horned rhino amid the park's primeval landscape of bogs, lakes and forest to last us a lifetime. We also saw deer, serpent eagles, wild boar, langurs and macaques, storks, pelicans, elephants, wild buffalo, a hint of dozing python and two trees where tigers had left terrifying claw marks. There are reckoned to be around 100 tigers in the park and Heinz actually saw – and photographed – one. I did feel slightly jealous. But on the other hand, it was I, not Heinz, who'd steered a ship – albeit zig-zaggedly – along one of the great rivers of the world.
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The mighty Brahmaputra river is home to rare Ganges dolphin that move like quicksilver and occasionally arch right out of the water. (Blink, though, and you'll miss them.)
On the western bank of this great waterway, about halfway along its course through Assam, is the Kaziranga National Park. This watery world of lakes and marshes is inhabited by more than 1,500 one-horned rhino, as well as wild buffalo, otters and a fabulous range of birds. Happily, there's a great way of seeing all these creatures: the Assam Bengal Navigation Company (assambengalnavigation.com) operates cruises in atmospheric river boats that stop at the park.
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The Brahmaputra River begins in the glaciers of Tibet before winding through India and emptying, 2,900 kilometers later, into the Bay of Bengal.
While the cruise aboard the delightfully anachronistic 24-person Charaidew trundles along from Guwahati to Tezpur, you can sip local tea and enjoy mild Assamese curries onboard. A visit to the UNESCO-listed Kaziranga National Park, for elephant, rhino and (maybe) tiger spotting, is one of the diversions en route.
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#8. Gently down the Ganges
For culture and history, few regions can match the Indian sub-continent and the rivers offer great opportunities. The Ganges has the chaotic and colourful city of Varanasi. Assam Bengal Navigation runs a flat-bottomed boat, the Rajmahal, from here in August and September...
The Guardian (UK)
Indian river cruises: Down the Ganges with G Adventures
"This method of travelling is slow, desperately slow, but it is convenient; for while the boat is gliding gently through the water, the occupant may be employed in drawing, writing, music or any other pursuit of the kind without the annoyance of rolling, tossing or shaking."
The words of Lieutenant Thomas Bacon of the British East India Company seem as apt today as they were in 1837. And although we see only two or three other riverboats all week, live-aboard cruising is surely one of the best, and easiest, ways to experience India.
India: Gliding the Golden Gateway
Travel in India can be frenetic, confronting and sometimes overwhelming. This river cruise offers the rewards with little of the hassle. The riverboat is a haven of fine food and conversation, inspired by the sights and sounds and the lectures and the talk that link them.
On the banks of the river people watch and wave, and we wave back. The welcomes continue all the way to the Ganges.
The Examiner (AU)
Twenty destinations for 2014: The Ganges, India
Cruising up the middle of the Ganges channel, the Rajmahal will end her journey 10 miles beyond Varanasi. The itinerary also includes two days’ sightseeing in the city . This intimate small-ship cruise (the Rajmahal has just 22 cabins, all with French balcony, and features a spa, saloon, dining room and large sundeck) can be taken either upstream or downstream. The itinerary includes visits to a Moghul fort and a Maharajah’s palace, Sarnath, where the Buddha preached his first sermon, as well as the once-in-a-lifetime experience of witnessing Varanasi’s bathing ghats at dawn (by rowing boat). Besides the vignettes of rural life there are opportunities to spot native birds and Gangetic dolphins breaking the surface of the sacred river. The season is short, with sailings in August and September when India at its most verdant.