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Review: India's Brahmaputra River Cruise

Posted by Vicki Briggs on May 02, 2019

Cruise India's Brahmaputra River

 

Last month I had the pleasure of joining Assam Bengal Navigation’s newest river ship Charaidew II on a voyage along northern India’s Brahmaputra River. India is a destination I’ve wanted to experience for many years, so when the opportunity arose to join my good friend Gianna on this seven-night cruise I jumped at the chance.

 

The Itinerary

The Assam region is located in the northernmost part of India, close to the foothills of the Himalaya. The Brahmaputra River is the region’s main waterway, flowing through Tibet, into India and down through Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal. The river itself is ever-changing, meaning that the ship’s charts are constantly being updated from voyage to voyage. As the river conditions are so variable it is generally only safe to cruise during the daylight hours, with the ship safely anchored overnight. 

Our itinerary was the 7-night ‘River Island’ program, cruising the Brahmaputra between Steemer Ghat and Jorhat. The cruise itinerary takes in the highest navigable reaches of the river and showcases the unique culture of the area, fusing Indian and S.E. Asian influences. Highlights include a visit to Sivasagar, the old capital of the Ahom kings, as well as to Majuli Island with its unique Hindu monastic communities famous for their dance drama. 

 

Brahmaputra River cruise map

 

The major drawcard for Gianna and I was the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kaziranga National Park, as we were keen to see and photograph as much wildlife as possible. We had our hearts set on catching a glimpse of a Royal Bengal Tiger (the park has also earned the distinction of having the highest density of these beauties), but alas on this occasion we weren’t fortunate enough to spot one. Our cruise director told us they had seen a Bengal Tiger patrolling the riverbank on the previous trip, but as is the case with wild animals you do have to be a little lucky on occasion. Not to worry however, as the park is blessed with a variety of wildlife including the world’s largest population of the Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros and the Indian Wild Water Buffalo. The park also supports large populations of Indian elephants, Indian bison, Barasingha (swamp deer), and Capped Langur along with myriad birdlife including the Oriental Honey Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite, White-tailed Eagle and Himalayan Griffon. 

We visited Kaziranga on two occasions during the voyage, the first time we ventured ashore in the park included a wildlife-spotting tour on the back of an elephant, a new experience for me.

 

Kaziranga NP elephant tour

 

When we weren’t in Kaziranga we were stopping at the traditional villages that line the river bank. We particularly enjoyed these villages as they were so untouched by tourism; it was interesting watching the locals go about their everyday business as we strolled through the villages, whether they be praying in the town’s temple or sitting at a traditional handloom weaving colourful fabrics. Of course they don’t get many westerners up in this part of the world, so everyone we met was keen to have a selfie with us and the people were so warm and friendly. The village visits were a definite highlight for us, and typically we had a couple of hours to explore and interact with the locals each time we went ashore.

 

Weaving brahmaputra river cruise

 

On each occasion when we returned from an excursion to the ship we were met by the crew bearing cold towels and refreshing beverages and we particularly enjoyed the crew’s attention to the small details such as these.

The itinerary is quite gentle in terms of physicality, anybody with a reasonable level of mobility will be able to enjoy it without too many problems. Most of the activities were scheduled for the morning, with the afternoon put aside to cruise to the next day’s location. While cruising aboard the ship there were activities to take part in, including the opportunity to dress in colourful saris (a lot of fun) and an interesting cooking class with the ship’s chef where he taught us about spices and preparing traditional Indian curries. We were also lucky enough to enjoy a performance by local Assam dancers on the first night of the cruise, and music from a renowned Buddhist flutist later in the trip.

 

Indiai cruise

 

A note about transfers to the ship…

To join the cruise we flew from Delhi into the city of Guwahati. We were met on arrival at the airport by the ship’s local representatives (driver and guide) for an included private car transfer to the Charaidew II. The car was modern and well-maintained and we enjoyed the four-hour ride through the countryside, which included an impromptu stop for lunch at a roadside restaurant offering some of the best Indian cuisine we enjoyed during our travels.

At the conclusion of the cruise we were flying out from the city of Dibrugarh and again a private transfer was provided. En route our attention was drawn to some amazing prayer calls emanating from a temple and the driver and guide were only too happy for us to drop in for a quick visit. 

The transfers were very well organised and we felt very safe in the hands of our skilled driver (the roads in India can be quite an experience!).

 

Read the Daily Newsletter from each day of the expedition.

 

Village India Brahmaputra River Cruise

 

The Ship:  Charaidew II

Assam Bengal Navigation operate a small fleet of river ships in India on both the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers. We were lucky enough to cruise aboard the brand-new Charaidew II which they had launched just eight weeks prior in mid-January 2019.

At 44 metres in length, the Charaidew II provides extremely comfortable accommodation for up to 36 travellers sharing 18 cabins and approximately 30 crew. We were travelling during the ‘off-peak’ time of year, so the ship wasn’t full, but we did note that there was plenty of public space so we don’t think the ship would ever feel too crowded, even with a full complement aboard.

 

Charaidew II lounge

 

The ship’s decor reflects traditional Assamese design, with touches of colonial elegance, brought to life by hand-woven cotton fabrics. The lower deck houses the comfortable dining room, with the bulk of the cabins located on the mid deck. On the top deck you find the lounge and sun deck, both pleasant locations to sit back with a good book or to take in views of the river. There’s plenty of comfy chairs to make yourself at home, and a bar to purchase a refreshing drink (tea/coffee and water/fruit juices are included at no additional cost). In the lounge you also have access to complimentary WiFi, which allowed us to stay in touch with friends and family at home and share some of our photographs each day.

 

Charaidew II dining room

 

There’s also a small gym on board, along with a spa offering massages and beauty treatments (additional cost). 

Being brand-new, the ship is in excellent condition and the crew did a great job ensuring she was looking at her absolute best each day.

 

The Cabin:  Double Cabin

The Charaidew II offers three grades of accommodation; there are two highly sought-after Deluxe Cabins (32 square metres) with private balconies, 12 Double / Twin Cabins (22 square metres) and four standard Cabins (16 square metres) that are also available to solo travellers. 

Gianna and I shared a Twin-bedded cabin on the mid deck. We were very impressed by the generous size of the accommodations and enjoyed the fact that the French Balcony allowed plenty of fresh air in while an insect screen kept the bugs at bay. The cabin featured individually-controlled air conditioning, comfortable beds (you may choose either a double bed or two singles), a writing desk with chair, plenty of hanging space and an electronic safe. There were also in-cabin tea and coffee making facilities and a small bar fridge.

 

Charaidew II cabin

 

The cabin’s en suite was also very well designed, with a full-size shower (there was never a shortage of hot water), toilet, basin and hairdryer. Complimentary Biotique toiletries were provided and replenished during the daily servicing of the room.

 

The Dining

We were particularly looking forward to sampling some local cuisine during the cruise, and we enjoyed the menu the chefs in the galley were able to produce. As the ship’s guests originate from all around the world the menu offers a combination of western and Indian dishes and we did find that the spice had perhaps been ‘toned down’ a little to suit most palates. We recommend a gentle word to the chef if you would prefer a more spicy offering, they are sure to oblige.

Breakfast and lunch were served as buffets in the dining room, with a typical array of bacon, sausages, and eggs (cooked to order) on offer. There was also a variety of fruits, yoghurts and cereals for those keen on a lighter start to the day. Tea and coffee and fruit juice are also on offer throughout the day. If you prefer an espresso-style coffee (rather than typical filter coffee) there is a barista in the lounge but do note that these premium coffees come at an additional cost on board.

 

dining aboard Charaidew II

 

Lunch was again a buffet, featuring a mix of both western and Indian dishes. At lunch each day you also make your dinner selection for that evening’s meal choosing from a small a la carte menu. Dinner typically consisted of four courses, a soup, entrée, main and dessert. On one occasion we enjoyed a bonfire BBQ ashore for the evening meal which was a highlight.

If you like to indulge in a glass of wine with your evening meal there is a small selection available on board for purchase. While the wine list is not expansive, we did find that the choices on offer were more than adequate and reasonably priced. 

 

Our Verdict

For the uninitiated, India can be an assault on the senses; the constant movement, noises, smells, colours and crowds in cities like Delhi and Varanasi can take a bit of getting used to. In comparison, the pace of life on the river can be very genteel and our time exploring the Brahmaputra River aboard the new Charaidew II allowed us the opportunity to experience a completely different – and unexpected - side to this amazing country. 

Rarely visited by the tourist masses, the Assam region is full of friendly people and interesting discoveries and we suggest there is no better way to experience this part of the world than on a 7-night cruise aboard Assam Bengal Navigation’s new Charaidew II. 

So if India’s on your bucket list, make sure you add the Brahmaputra River to your itinerary – you wont regret it!

For more information about cruising India’s rivers contact our expert team today on 1800 90 20 80 (+61 7 4041 2101) or visit www.expeditioncruisespecialists.com.

Click here to visit our Charaidew II webpage.

 

Photographs courtesy of Vicki Briggs, Gianna Galeotta and Assam Bengal Navigation. Not to be reproduced without written permission.

 

cruising india's brahmpautra River

Review: Exploring Alaska's Coastal Wilderness

Posted by Vicki Briggs on September 01, 2016

 

Vicki & Tony Briggs review Lindblad Alaska cruise

 

Tony and I were lucky enough to join Lindblad Expeditions in August to cruise Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park aboard one of their expedition ships, the National Geographic Sea Bird. We had wanted to explore this part of the world for many years, and it’s fair to say that Alaska didn’t disappoint. Here’s our review of the trip.

 
The Itinerary

We chose the seven night Exploring Alaska's Coastal Wilderness expedition between Juneau and Sitka, both relatively easy small cities to reach. Highlights of the expedition included exploring Glacier Bay National Park, a visit to historic Petersburg and lots of wildlife encounters. There were excursions each day, and regular walks ashore (moderate difficulty). We also loved the opportunity to jump in the kayaks (they have both single and double) to paddle out from the ship amongst the glaciers. Happily for us we encountered lots of wildlife, from feeding brown bears to playful whales and that most iconic American symbol, the Bald Eagle. You can view a map of our voyage below.

 

Lindblad Alaska cruise map

 

You don’t need to be super fit to join the expedition, anyone with a general level of mobility will be able to get a lot out of the trip. There were some longer walks (optional) that do require a bit of stamina if you are inclined to join them.

Although we travelled in August - the peak of the North American summer - being so far north it was of course still quite cool. When packing for this voyage always think about layers. On some of the walks ashore the sun did manage to peek out and having the ability to peel off a layer or two was a godsend.

Being seven nights long the itinerary was an ideal length for us as it was part of an extended trip in the US. If you’re after a longer expedition however, Lindblad Expeditions do offer a 15 day adventure between Sitka and Seattle, which includes Haida Gwaii.

 

The Ship: National Geographic Sea Bird

Lindblad Expeditions currently operate two sister-ships on their seven night Alaska programmes, Sea Bird and Sea Lion. Tony and I travelled aboard Sea Bird. Launched in 1982, she carries 62 guests (plus 25 crew) and at just 50 metres in length she is small enough to access all the coves and tributaries you want to explore on a cruise like this. Indeed the ships are small enough to pull close to shore to allow guests to see brown bears feasting on a kill, an encounter we were lucky enough to experience.

 

Lindblad's National Geographic ships in Alaska

 

While not state-of-the-art, both Sea Bird and Sea Lion are hardy little ships with a lot of charm, and once you’re settled in you will realise they have everything you need for a successful expedition, including a fleet of zodiacs and a number of single and double kayaks. Recent refurbishments have brought the ships up to date somewhat, but you do need to moderate your expectations; these ships were built as true expedition ships over 30 years ago and don’t have all the bells and whistles you are likely to find on new ships today. Having said that, we thought the ship was very comfortable and was well suited to the itinerary. There was a pleasant dining room and other spaces to gather with fellow travellers to check out the stunning views whilst underway. For those seeking a little pampering there is also a small spa / beauty salon.

 

Take an expedition cruise in Alaska with National Geographic

 

Both Sea Bird and Sea Lion will be retired over coming years as two new ships join the Lindblad Expeditions fleet, the first being National Geographic Quest in 2017 followed by a yet un-named sister ship for 2018. Slightly larger than the existing ships, these new vessels will accommodate up to 100 guests.

 

The Cabin:  Category 2

Our first thought once being shown to our cabin for the week was “wow, it’s compact!”.  At around 8 to 9 square metres (about 100 square feet) there’s not a great deal of space, but once you’ve unpacked, put the suitcases under the bed and settled in you will find there’s more than enough room to relax. Our cabin, which was designated Category 2, had two single beds, as is the case in most of the cabins on these ships, and they are laid out in a ‘L-shape’ fashion.

 

Comfortable rooms with Lindblad in Alaska

 

All rooms open directly on to the deck, and with a large window you’ll always be reminded that you’re in Alaska by the wonderful views right outside. For added privacy there are curtains on all windows. Other amenities include temperature control and also WiFi access, which does incur a small additional cost.

Of course each cabin has its own smallish en suite, with toiletries including shampoo and bodywash replenished daily. The rooms are serviced daily by the unobtrusive crew with towels regularly changed.

Slightly larger Category 3 cabins also offer the option of a Double bed.

 

The Dining

Dining during the cruise was hearty and plentiful. Breakfast and lunch were served as buffets in the dining room, whilst dinner was offered as table service from a small a la carte menu. Outside of meal times there is always something to nibble on if you’re a bit peckish. Each night Tony and I marvelled at the massive platters of cheese and local Dungeness crab served during pre-dinner drinks, we had to be very restrained to ensure that we would be able to fit in our clothes by the end of the week!

 

The dining room aboard Lindblad's ships in Alaska

 

Dinner was always a popular event, with a throng of travellers eagerly awaiting the nightly dinner call… exploring Alaska takes a lot of energy that needs to be replenished! Inside the dining room the seating is open, meaning you can choose to sit with friends, or mingle about and join others on their tables. It’s always great to sit with some different folks for dinner, you’ll find that you end up meeting many fascinating people who have interesting stories to tell.

The dining is by no means Michelin-star quality, however it is plentiful, hearty, and fresh. Lindblad Expeditions also pride themselves on their sustainable food program, meaning that all produce used on board must me sustainably produced and farmed.

 

The Expedition Team

Lindblad Expeditions are noted for their expedition teams, and we couldn’t fault ours. Made up of three Guest Lecturers, along with Expedition Leader Linda, and a photographer/videographer, the expedition team ensured our experience in Alaska exceeded our expectations. The expedition team know this part of the world like the back of their hands. They knew where we were likely to see brown bears, the best places for walks and had a wealth of knowledge that was simply incredible and a joy to listen to. On most trips a native Tlingit interpreter joins the ship for a day to share some local tales and secrets.

 

Wildlife on Alaska cruise with Lindblad

 
Our Verdict

Tony and I loved our time aboard Sea Bird, and Alaska certainly surpassed our expectations. For us, no one “does” Alaska better than Lindblad Expeditions, and in a large part these plaudits are due to their exceptional expedition teams, certainly ours was the best we’ve ever travelled with.

This is a trip we highly recommend to everyone, and with Lindblad’s two brand new ships coming online over the next 18 months we’re sure the experience will be even better.

This expedition departs during the northern summer, between May and August each year. For more details and upcoming departures click here or telephone us for further information and bookings.