Anyone who has travelled by train or plane through India, or who has been driven on Indian roads, will be amazed to learn that there is actually a way to travel through the country in total serenity and comfort. Yet it is in fact possible to cruise for some 1750 miles on the rivers and inland waterways of India, passing through great cities, alongside wildlife sanctuaries and historical monuments and into the heart of rural India.
A trip to South India is incomplete without a journey on a traditional house boat. Locally known as kettuvallam, these traditional rice barges are made by tying jackwood planks together with coir rope and then coating them with black resin made from boiled cashew nut shells.
Today these giant 80ft long crafts have been converted into comfortable, furnished houseboats with one or two en suite bedrooms, an open lounge and eating area, a deck, a kitchenette and a crew comprising captain and cook. Cold-water showers are available, but the crew can provide a bucket of hot water on request and the bedroom air-conditioning can be switched on at night. You will board your houseboat for lunch and cruise the backwaters until the boat moors just before dusk.
If you are looking for a bit more luxury, there are luxury cruises like the Oberoi Vrinda or the Malabar Discovery, which unlike the usual Keralan houseboat, have been blended with the traditional hull of a wooden rice barge with contemporary tropical architecture, creating the space for an air-conditioned suite. The cabins are elegantly designed with timber flooring. Each has its own private and well-appointed bathroom with shower. They have a sundeck above that becomes your grandstand as the fascinating life along the waterfront passes by.
For those who want to cruise for a longer duration, we offer cruise boats on the Brahmaputra River in Assam and the Hooghly River in Bengal. These are twin-engine steel-hulled passenger boats with 12 cabins with en suite facilities. From the wildlife reserves in the north-east to the historic Ganges, their journeys take you to the little-known but fascinating and culturally-rich parts of India and they are a wonderful soft introduction for the first time traveller to India as well as returning travellers wanting to explore further afield.
ASSAM BENGAL NAVIGATION are pioneers in this exploration. They have been operating some of the finest cruises on Indian rivers and due to their growing popularity; recently they commissioned the ABN Rajmahal a 22-cabin boat specifically designed for water levels on the Ganges.
Finally, we offer the luxurious, all suite Sanctuary Ananda ship that travels down the Ayeyarwady River in Burma. She has just 20 suites on three decks with an outdoor swimming pool. It travels through Bhamo and Yangon, visiting temples, pagodas, palaces and monasteries along the way, whilst journeys on its great tributary, the Chindwin, will take you to places visitors rarely see – through the jungles of the north, forgotten villages and ancient towns almost to the Indian border.