Anyone who has travelled through India by train or road will be amazed to learn that there is actually a form of surface transport through the country that offers total serenity and comfort: for it is possible to cruise for some 2,820 kilometres along the rivers of India, passing great cities, wildlife sanctuaries and historical monuments, and journey into the very heart of rural India by boat. Indeed once, such rivers as the Ganges, Hugli and Brahmaputra were all vital arteries for the East India Company, as for other empires before them, and British-run passenger boats plied these rivers from the early 18th century until competition from the railways became just too great by the end of the 19th century. Passenger boats on the Brahmaputra, however, continued to operate until the early 1950s when the tensions that emerged between India and Pakistan after Partition in 1947 finally spelt the end for river traffic. Until that time, daily passenger boats from Kolkata plied the Brahmaputra through Assam, aboard them a complement of tea planters, forest officers, soldiers and district magistrates; indeed, during the Second World War, they also played a vital role in bringing in troops and evacuating casualties during the great battles of Imphal and Kohima in 1944. Today, however, in association with a pioneering Indo-British cruise company, Naturetrek offers you the opportunity to re-live the experience of those days of the Raj, aboard a luxury 24-berth vessel exclusively chartered by us to provide a river cruise with a dedicated focus on the wildlife and national parks of Assam.
This 10-night cruise will include most of the highlights of Assam, with a particular focus on the wildlife, wilderness and tribal villages and cultures that represent the key points of interest along the mighty Brahmaputra, for often the riverbed is 20 to 30 kilometres across, an empty world of grass-covered and forested islands, sand spits and channels, favoured only by rural fishermen and a marvellous birdlife. We will also look out for mammals, especially when passing through Assam’s national parks, although throughout our cruise we may expect to see the endangered and enigmatic Gangetic River Dolphin, a real highlight of this journey.
We begin our cruise, after a night in the fascinating old colonial city of Kolkata and a domestic flight, near Jorhat in Assam. Our first point of call will be the Gibbon Sanctuary at Mariani, where we will walk in the forest in search of Hoolock Gibbons, India’s only species of ape, and a wealth of birdlife. Next stop will be Majuli Island, reputedly the world’s largest river island and short-listed for future UNESCO World Heritage status on account of its rich culture. Here we will visit some of the island’s unique Hindu monasteries (famous for their dance drama performances), experience a typical Mising tribal lunch in a stilted bamboo hut, and enjoy the birds of Sakuli Bheel (lake). On other occasions we will spend time gently cruising down the Brahmaputra, relaxing and birdwatching from the sundeck, perhaps with a visit to a tribal village.
On our fourth day Kaziranga National Park will appear on the left bank and we now have a chance of seeing wild Asian Elephants and wild Water Buffalo from the boat, perhaps even a Tiger! During the next three days we have the pleasure of India’s finest national park alongside us, and in it will enjoy an elephant ride and jeep safaris. Kaziranga is a 430 square kilometre park, consisting of broad tracts of tall elephant grass interspersed with evergreen forests, shallow lakes and reedbeds. It is probably the best place on Earth to observe the very rare Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros and it is possible to encounter as many as 40 of these prehistoric-looking beasts during a day in the field. Asian Elephants and wild Water Buffalo are also plentiful, as are Sambar, Hog and Swamp Deer, and Wild Boar, the prey of the Leopards and Tigers which roam the park, although amid so much cover they are always hard to see. We may even chance upon some of the more elusive residents such as Gaur, Leopard Cat and Sloth Bear, whilst the rare Capped Langur, Assam Macaque and Hoolock Gibbon form a trio of primates that inhabit the woodlands. Despite the profusion of mammals, the birdlife is not eclipsed and a tremendously diverse bird list features many rare or local species such as Bengal Florican and Adjutant Stork.
Leaving Kaziranga, we will next explore Nameri National Park (which lies in the Himalayan foothills an hour’s drive north of Tezpur) both on foot and by means of a raft journey through the park. We will also visit Orang National Park, which lies alongside the Brahmaputra, exploring it by means of a smaller boat which we will take up a tributary into the heart of the park where we will search for birds and mammals by jeep.
Towards the end of our river cruise we will explore a range of jungle-covered hills and visit the idyllic and isolated village of Ganesh Pahar where we will take a birdwatching walk through rice paddies and unspoilt forest. These pretty hills, or the Golden Langurs of Peacock Island, are likely to be amongst our final memories of the stillness and beauty of the mighty Brahmaputra, before we must disembark at Guwahati and commence our journey homeward. For tour members wishing to extend their holiday, we recommend a post-tour visit to the Sunderbans, the world’s largest delta and mangrove swamp, renowned for its waterbirds and man-eating Tigers!
A memorable holiday with fantastic guides and boat crew. The trip could have been repetitive but each day was different and memorable for different reasons.
A fascinating exploration of wildlife and the way of life of local people on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra. The Sunderbans extension was well worth the additional days.
Sujan's ability, together with Imran and the local guides, to spot and identify species of birds and mammals, then to pinpoint them in the telescope, enabled us to see clearly what we otherwise might have missed, especially since my skill with binoculars is lacking! His humour and wealth of stories kept us entertained and we commend his organisational talents.
Mr & Mrs H.
The two guides, Sujan Chaterjee and Nick Acheson, were out of the top drawer and made this such a great wildlife holiday. Their knowledge of the area and its wildlife, together with their good humour, made this a trip to remember for a long time.
A thoroughly enjoyable holiday from start to finish. I did not want to come home. Far and away the best Naturetrek holiday yet. I cannot praise the staff highly enough. Nothing was too much trouble and they went out of their way to provide extra experiences. Just the right mix of wildlife and culture.
This was a fantastic holiday. Well organised and plenty of advance information supplied by Rajan. The boat and its crew were top class in terms of accommodation and the service provided. The local naturalists and cultural guide were also excellent and very kind. Sujan and Bunty were also excellent and Sujan in particular was a very pro-active leader and great fun as well as being knowledgeable. We had high hopes of this holiday, but they were exceeded - a fantastic combination of wildlife, culture, the boat, guides and India!
The content and organisation of the trip was first class as was the knowledge and friendliness of Sujan and Bunty.
The holiday was wonderful and the leaders were excellent. Sujan and Bunty made a superb team - the one larger than life and extrovert and the other more thoughtful; both were extremely knowledgeable and very good company. They organised a tour of Kolkata (for those who wanted) before our flight home, and came with us - I love to make the most of my time on holiday and this was a real bonus.
It was a wonderful tour made special by Nick, Sujan, Babajan, Imran and Niv, whose great efforts and smiling faces made a great holiday even better. The crew of the boat led by Pratik deserve great credit in the way everyone looked after us -nothing was too much trouble.
Mr. & Mrs. W.
We cannot speak highly enough of the team looking after us. We could not have had better leaders than Nick and Sujan. Their ability to impart their incredible knowledge, with such enthusiasm, patience and sense of humour helped make the holiday truly unforgetable
Mr & Mrs R.
The leader had a great sense of fun which made him very easy to talk to and we enjoyed our time spent with him.
The tour leaders were exceptional. Nothing was too much trouble and they maintained good humour throughout. Rajan, in particular, was quietly and cheerfully wonderful!
The cruise was outstanding. The crew of the boat could not have been more helpful and we were particularly impressed with the food that was provided. Sujan, Tika and Rajan went out of their way to make the experience of Assam as interesting and enjoyable as they possibly could. They all worked hard to ensure we had a fabulous holiday. We were very grateful.
We could not have had better leaders/guides than Sujan and Tika – very knowledgeable, approachable and good company. The local nature guides, Imran and Babjan, and Udit, the culture guide, were also excellent, as were the whole crew of the Sukapha. The accommodation and the food on the Sukapha was very good.
Nick and Sujan had got remarkable eyesight for spotting birds! They were both very knowledgeable and looked after everybody very well, as well as taking our teasing and banter with grace! I would recommend them to everybody.
A most enjoyable holiday with a really good mix of wildlife and culture. All staff and guides did a wonderful job. Can’t praise too highly the enthusiastic and cheerful guides.
Altogether a well balanced and above all a very interesting holiday.