Xploring India by boat offers some wonderful opportunities to see sites and
scenery inaccessible by road. In Kerala, sail along the quiet rivers and
lagoons of the northern backwaters aboard a traditional rice barge allows
you to immerse yourself in local culture. Alternatively, head to the
northeast to embark on a cruise on the Ganges, Hugli or Brahmaputra Rivers
to visit remote villages, river islands and national parks. Cruise durations
are varied and all vessels have specialist guides and managers on board.
Our suggested India cruising itineraries Each of these itineraries features an element, big or small, of experiencing
India by boat. As we've discovered, cruising lets you slow the pace and gain
a different - sometimes exclusive - perspective on a destination. As with
all our itineraries, treat these as just inspiration for your uniquely
South India's temples and backwaters
Kerala & the Maldives
Cruising in West Bengal
Cruising in Assam
Boats and ships selected by our specialists
Ranging from luxurious floating hotels to far simpler options, the selection
of India cruise vessels you can choose from all have one thing in common:
they offer unparalleled access to sights well off the beaten track.
Charaidew Originally built in 1973, the Charaidew has since been converted into a
small, luxury river cruiser. Delightfully, it retains its original character
in the bamboo panelling and handwoven upholstery. Glide down India's river
network with an experienced guide and naturalist.
Cruises on the Charaidew
Mahabaahu Meander India's Brahmaputra River in style aboard the Mahabaahu. Take
advantage of the pool, Jacuzzi and small spa or simply admire the dramatic
mountain peaks and the riverbanks' flourishing wildlife from the comfort of
your sun deck.
Cruises on the Mahabaahu
Rajmahal Plying the waters of the Hugli and Ganges Rivers, the Rajmahal keeps a lower
profile than some of its neighbouring vessels due to its shallow draught and
authentic Indian design. Go ashore and visit rural communities or spot
exotic birdlife from the colourful canopied sun deck.
Cruises on the Rajmahal
Sukapha The Sukapha can take various routes on the Ganges and Hugli Rivers. Offering
a friendly service, this vessel carries its passengers into the rural
corners of India in search of exotic birdlife, remote communities, and
colourful riverside towns.
Cruises on the Sukapha
While many of India's roads are well-trodden, there are vast swathes of the
country that remain almost untouched by tourism and some are only accessible
by boat. The history, wildlife, and tribal culture in the northeast are
unlike any other part of India, and here you're more likely to meet a
one-horned rhino than a hoard of tour buses.
Cruising along the Bhramaputra in Assam
One-horned rhino grazing in Kaziranga National Park
Nestled in-between Bangladesh, Bhutan and Burma, Assam is a long, narrow
state, intersected by the mighty Brahmaputra river. This is bordered on
either side by farmland and tea plantations stretching out as far as the eye
can see until they reach the Himalayan foothills. On a clear day the views
are simply beautiful, and the leisurely pace of a river cruise is an ideal
way to appreciate fully such a languid landscape. Alongside its natural
diversity, Assam is home to a fusion of different cultures and heritages -
Chinese, Tibetan, Bangladeshi and Indian.
Kaziranga National Park's one-horned rhino Lazing on the boat's sun deck and watching life unfold on the riverbank
could be all the sightseeing you need, but to do so would be to miss some of
India's finest wildlife in Kaziranga National Park
Despite the park being home to the only one-horned rhino population in
India, you may find that your group is one of only a handful. You may also
see tigers, whose numbers are on the rise, and excellent birdlife. The boats
always have a resident naturalist and back on board you can discuss the
day's sightings with guides and fellow guests over a pre-dinner drink in the
Traditional life on Majuli Island
What Kaziranga offers in terms of wildlife, Majuli Island rivals in cultural
interest. The largest river island in the world, Majuli is home to
indigenous tribes and, while this means you can't stay on the island, a
visit from the boat provides an opportunity to see the traditional way of
life still lived in the villages and the mask-making for which they're
Experiencing the local way of life
Assam is also known for its textiles and during one cruise I recall
disembarking the boat at a tiny village where most of the homes had hand
looms outside, operated by women who were amazed that we had come all the
way to Assam, let alone to their village, and their homes. The boats will
try to stop at different villages on each cruise so the residents may not
have welcomed any visitors for a few years and these ladies were quite shy
to start, but soon opened up. Our guide translated for us, as we shared
stories of our different lives.
The Charaidew cruises the Bhramaputra
A perfect cup of tea
No trip to Assam would be complete without a visit to the tea plantations that surround
Dibrugarh. Here, the neat rows of tea bushes, some of them hundreds of years
old, are punctuated only by the vibrant saris of the tea workers picking the
'two leaves and a bud' that you can then see made into leaf tea on a visit
to a factory. A special way to end a trip through Assam is on the veranda of
a plantation bungalow, cup of tea in hand, surrounded by a sea of green.
Cruising options in Assam
There is a variety of cruise options on the Brahmaputra as well as the
possibility to combine itineraries for travel from three up to ten nights.
You can cruise both up and downstream.
Best time to cruise in Assam The best time to enjoy a river cruise in Assam is from November to April,
when Kaziranga National Park is open, the monsoon rains have gone, and the
temperatures are moderate. It's best to avoid Christmas, when the
temperatures plummet and the mists are heavy, potentially disrupting the
Cruise boats on the Bhramaputra We work with only a couple of boats. The smaller of the two is the Charaidew, which has only 12
cabins so you can be sure that you will not be in a large group when on
shore. The Mahabaahu is larger with more facilities such as a small spa and pool. As the crews
are local, you'll find that they're eager to tell you all about their home
state. The food also tends to be Assamese, milder than other Indian cuisines
and bearing more similarities to the fragrant dishes of Southeast Asia.
Navigating the history of the Hugli in West Bengal
Nava Kailish temple complex in Kalna
So much of India's rural life depends on the river that settlements tend to
congregate around the banks, including the historic, chaotic city of
Cruising along the river you'll be able to experience the bustle of the
ghats and city industries, as well as farmlands where ploughs are still
pulled by ox and local temples honour village deities.
A seven night cruise along the Hugli from Calcutta uncovers the diverse
history of India, from one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the
world to Dutch, French and British colonial settlements and the former
capital of the East India Company.
One of the most popular cruises begins in Calcutta, where you spend a few
days exploring this frenetic city and its colonial past, before cruising out
into the countryside, leaving behind the crumbling warehouses and mansions
that line the river for a more verdant landscape and relaxed pace.
The boat will stop off each day so you can explore small towns that chart
the cultural and religious history of the area and your guide will bring to
life the extraordinary history of West Bengal, weaving tales around the
statues of former viceroys and the portraits of elegant ladies and gentlemen
of the Raj.
As you cruise further from the main cities, the villages become smaller and
more infrequent, and your boat will cause ever greater excitement in the
children who run along the banks, attempting to practise their English on
you from a distance.
Depart from Calcutta on the cruise boat Sukapha
A few days into the cruise you reach Kalna, a personal favourite of mine as
the temple complex here is unlike any other I've seen on my travels around
India. The Nava Kailish, built in 1809, is made up of more than 108 Shiv
Mandirs (small shrine temples home to deity statues). They are constructed
in two circles: 74 in the outer, 34 creating the inner circle. Although too
small and sacred to enter, the clever design means all deities can be seen
and worshipped from the centre of the temple complex.
Cruising options in West Bengal
As in Assam, we work with only a small number of boats, and the dates of
your travel will largely dictate the choice of boat. The Sukapha
has only 12 cabins in
comparison to the larger and newer 22 cabin Rajmahal
The cruises start at
seven nights and can be easily combined to create a 14 day trip. The most
popular cruise departs from Calcutta and travels up through the colonial
settlements of Serampore, Chandernagore, Barrakpore and Kalna.
Best time to cruise in West Bengal I would suggest travelling from October to April, when the temperatures are
pleasant. Unlike Assam, this area is not usually affected by fog so it's
possible to travel over the Christmas period.
Cruising the Ganges
Devotees on the banks of the river Ganges, Varanasi
Before the mighty river Ganges forks into Bangladesh and becomes the Hugli
in West Bengal, it flows down through India from the Himalayas.
Hindus, the Ganges is incredibly sacred, especially in holy cities such as Varanasi in
Cruising India's most spiritual river is a rewarding cultural experience and
allows you to see many sites that aren't easily accessible by road. Mughal
ruins of palaces and forts litter the area and cruise itineraries offer the
opportunity to see Buddhist monasteries in Vikramshila, 6th century rock
carvings in Bateshwar and silk markets in Bhagalpur. Some guests are even
treated to the sight of Gangetic dolphins.
Experience an evening aarti in Varanasi
Arriving into Varanasi by river is just one of the highlights of a Ganges
cruise. Leaving behind the sparsely populated countryside and sailing into
one of the most populated parts of India is a very special introduction to
one of the country's most sacred cities. Take a small boat from the bathing
ghats to experience the evening aarti
ats-including-boatride> from the river and you'll be immersed in the smell
of the incense, the clang of bells and the lights of the numerous candles
floating on the water.
Cruise the Ganges up or downstream on the Rajmahal
Cruising options on the Ganges
Cruises along the Ganges last between six and eight nights. The only boat we
currently work with on the Ganges is the 22 cabin Rajmahal
, which has
air-conditioned cabins, spacious sun decks, sociable dining rooms and
lounges as well as attentive and friendly service. The Rajmahal is
specifically designed for the varying water levels of the Ganges. As with
the cruises on the Bhramaputra and Hugli, you can travel either up or
Best time to visit Varanasi and cruise on the Ganges
Visiting Varanasi and cruising on the northern parts of the Ganges is only
possible in August and September when the water levels are high. As this is
towards the end of the monsoon, the weather may not be perfect but the lush
beauty of the revived green landscape will more than compensate.