In photos: straight cruisin’ through Assam

Photos of Assam, India from a two-week river cruise on the Brahmaputra with Assam Bengal Navigation, the first Indian river cruise company.

 

Well, this isn’t what I expected from my luxury river cruise in India.

A carpet of shockingly yellow mustard flowers spreads before me, punctuated by a pair of skinny legs touching the sky in a cheeky handstand. The tang of fresh coriander from the next field over tickles my nose. Cackles of curious children clicking the camera at my hip should make me nervous—I’m here on a photography assignment, and a broken camera is not an option—but all I can do is laugh and remind them not to leave fingerprints on the lens.

Luxury river cruise in Assam, India with Assam Bengal Navigation - Village kids in a mustard field in the Bangladeshi village of Khirakanta - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Skills that kills!

Luxury river cruise in India with Assam Bengal Navigation - Village kids in Khirakanta, Assam playing with camera - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Cheese!

This little Bangladeshi village of Khirakanta, on one of the thousands of islands amongst the Brahmaputra River, seems simple and insignificant. But looks can be deceiving; our Assamese guide, Mohan, tells us these fields supply most of the vegetables for Guwahati, Assam’s capital city.

River cruise on the Brahmaputra with Assam Bengal Navigation - Eggplant aubergines in the Bangladeshi village Khirakanta - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Mohan leads us ‘round piles of purple aubergines, through rows of bamboo houses. Curious looks and smiles run rampant as locals gather to watch.

Contrary to other villages in more touristic parts of India, there are no begging hands, no pleas for pens. We troop through backyards and courtyards, yet no one is particularly bothered by strange foreigners wandering through their homes; if anything, they’re amused.

A review of a luxury river cruise in India with Assam Bengal Navigation - Old Bangladeshi woman in Khirakanta village - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Whatchu up to, silly foreigners?

Luxury Indian river cruise with Assam Bengal Navigation - Mohan, the Assamese cultural guide - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Mohan leading us on our merry way

Review of Assam Bengal Navigation's Brahmaputra river cruise - Bangladeshi kids in Khirakanta village - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Coming to see what all the fuss is about

Before boarding our painted “country boat” to return to the main cruise boat, a girl in blue comes forward and gifts me a bag of freshly picked vegetables with a shy smile. I can’t identify half of the different varieties, but I grin with thanks, and climb aboard the boat with a wave of goodbye. The gaggle of children trailing behind us wave with gusto as the little blue boat sails off across the Brahmaputra river.

 

River cruise on the Brahmaputra with Assam Bengal Navigation - Blue country boat - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The “country boat”

River cruising on the Brahmaputra river in Assam - Children waving goodbye in Khirakanta village - Lost With Purpose travel blog

So long, farewell!

Assam anew

The walk was no opulent Raj-era outing, nor something you’d find on someone’s Great Indian Bucket List; just a simple stroll through one of the many riverside villages of Assam. But these kinds of simple pleasures and surprises are what made my cruise with Assam Bengal Navigation truly memorable.

Prior to the assignment, I expected a pleasant if uneventful cruise down the Brahmaputra river, playing photographer at bucket list sights I’d already seen. Assam was not new territory—I spent several months in Assam and the northeast earlier this year—but cruising with Assam Bengal Navigation was a chance to see Assam from a whole new perspective.

River cruise in India with Assam Bengal Navigation - Local women checking out the cruise boat - Lost With Purpose travel blog

From inside and out!

Misty mornings greeted our strolls through remote villages I’d never be able to reach on my own. Whispers of cows sifting through rice straws and the clickety clack of women weaving on wooden looms served as our strolling soundtrack.

Excursions on Assam Bengal Navigation's Brahmaputra cruise - Village man and cows sifting through rice - Lost With Purpose travel blog

In these areas, it’s common to drive cows in a circle through piles of harvested rice to separate the grains from the stalks.

A group of women from the Mishing tribe in Assam, India, in traditional colorful clothes.
A smiling Bangladeshi woman in yellow headscarf in Assam, India.
A local woman spinning thread in Assam, India.
Luxury river cruise in India with Assam Bengal Navigation - Assamese woman showing off gamosa scarf weaving on a loom - Lost With Purpose travel blog

This local lady was excited to show off her weaving: a gamosa, a traditional Assamese scarf.

Muggy middays in Kaziranga National Park brought herds of elephants shuffling across dusty roads mere meters away, and baby rhinos trotting after their mothers through the grasses alongside our open jeep.

River cruising with Assam Bengal Navigation in India - Herd of wild elephants crossing the road in Kaziranga National Park - Lost With Purpose travel blog

… and then there was that day we casually watched 20 or so elephants cross the road in Kaziranga. No big deal.

Review of Assam Bengal Navigation - Bengal tiger in Kaziranga National Park - Lost With Purpose travel blog

On the same day, Mohan spotted a tiger from the country boat. Also no biggie. Can you find him?

River cruise on the Brahmaputra with Assam Bengal Navigation - Mother rhino and baby in Kaziranga - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The first day in Kaziranga, our group asked to stop every time we saw a rhino off in the distance. Our driver laughed. “Wait until you visit central Kaziranga. Then you’ll see many, many rhinos much closer than this.” He was right.

Some afternoons of sailing were peaceful and without issues. Others—to my devilish amusement—were more eventful as the crew scrambled to dislodge the grounded boat from one of the many sand banks lurking below the shallow winter water levels.

Indian river cruise on the Brahmaputra with Assam Bengal Navigation - Grounded boat stuck in the river during sunset - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Note the churning sand as the boat strains to unstick itself from the bottom. We were stuck here overnight, but it was hard to be too bothered about it with sunset views like this.

Review of my river cruise on the Brahmaputra with Assam Bengal Navigation - Country boat going out to test the water depth - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The boat has a depth detector, but the country boat crew occasionally went out to manually scout the water levels

Review of a river cruise on the Brahmaputra with Assam Bengal Navigation - Tugboat pushing the cruise boat - Lost With Purpose travel blog

When all else fails, a government tugboat is called to push the boat off the sand bank. Never fear, between tugboats and the country boat, you’ll never have to worry about missing your flight or train because you’re stuck… unless acts of god(s) are at play.

Breezy evenings were spent sipping cold beers from the comfort of wicker chairs on the boat’s sundeck. Around 16:30, the boat’s growling engine gave way to still silence—no sailing after dark—as we anchored on islands and riverbanks in time to enjoy some of the most spectacular sunsets and sunrises I’ve ever seen.

Luxury Indian river cruise on the Brahmaputra with Assam Bengal Navigation - Boat silhouette and sunset on the river - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Sunset from a random river island

Review of Assam Bengal Navigation's Brahmaputra cruise - Sunset from the boat in Guwahati - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Perfect spot with a suitable sunset to match in Guwahati, Assam’s capital

Review of Assam Bengal Navigation and Brahmaputra cruise - Foggy sunrise on the Brahmaputra - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Misty sunrises on the banks of the Brahmaputra

At the start of the voyage, I was ambivalent about the idea of being stuck on a boat for so long. Two weeks later, I’d do anything to be back on board.

All aboard

It’s an especially easy statement to make, given my current circumstances. I’m writing this from an ancient hotel in the depths of Calcutta, mere days after leaving the boat. The walls on the street are all peeling and coated with grime; the honking of motorbikes outside never ceases as drivers dodge men peeing against the wall near my window. To escape the incessant pollution of my senses, I lose myself in reveries of life on the Brahmaputra.

Review of Assam Bengal Navigation - Misty morning and ABN Charaidew - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Real or dream?

Life was dreamlike throughout the cruise, too; there was something definitively surreal about stepping out of modern-day Indian chaos and onto the deck of the historic Charaidew.

Wooden floorboards creaked beneath my feet as I circled the dining room, admiring portraits of Maharajas from the days of yore. 1920s editions of Rudyard Kipling novels intermingled with maps and avian field guides on the tables and bookshelves in the boat’s saloon. A cup of Assamese tea warmed my hands as Romeet, the boat’s manager, relayed the history of the ship: it was one of the last barges used to transport tea and goods down the Brahmaputra river more than 40 years ago.

Brahmaputra river cruise with Assam Bengal Navigation - ABN Charaidew boat sailing on the water - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Could be 1977, could be 2017.

The boat’s age did have its downsides at times. Occasional issues with power cuts and disappearing hot water arose over the course of two weeks… but remember, this is India! Nothing ever goes precisely according to plan, and that is half the fun.

Assam Bengal Navigation’s fleet includes newer and more luxurious boats—generally reserved for Ganges cruises, though a new and far more luxurious boat will be introduced on the Brahmaputra in October 2018—but the Charaidew is where an era ended and a new story began. The experience of being on such a significant and nostalgic boat far outweighed the issue of an hour without hot water. In my opinion, anyway.

River cruising with Assam Bengal Navigation - Captain at the old steering wheel - Lost With Purpose travel blog

No power steering on this boat!

Is cruising with Assam Bengal Navigation right for me? 

Despite my pre-cruise skepticism, at this point, I’m sold. The crew was excellent, the excursions interesting, the boat more than comfortable. There was a harmonious balance of seclusion aboard the boat, and immersion in local life once on land. Cruising the Brahmaputra with Assam Bengal Navigation was a true pleasure, one I would happily recommend to any family, friends, and followers who can afford it.

Of course, in the name of keepin’ it real, this cruise isn’t for everyonе. I wouldn’t recommend the Brahmaputra cruise for people who… 

  • … constantly need to be doing something. The shorter 4-day cruises are relatively packed with excursions, but the longer cruises involve a lot of sailing and free time. If you’re an antsy traveler, think twice, or opt for a shorter cruise.
  • … like to have everything just so. Sailing on the Brahmaputra can be unpredictable at times. In mid-December, there were several days where our departure was delayed due to fog. The ship got stuck several times as river channels shift every few hours, and sand banks change every monsoon. Neither the ship’s design nor the captains’ mad skills are to blame—getting stuck is simply part of sailing on the Brahmaputra! If a beached boat sounds more stressful than adventurous to you, take note.
  • … need ultimate luxury. Though the boat is luxurious, and the local workers (important) are all impeccably trained, it’s not the kind of place where you need to get dressed up for dinner and have men in penguin suits catering to your every whim. I admittedly showed up barefoot to every meal, and that was a non-issue. I think.

If, however, you’re looking to adventure to off the beaten track parts of Assam without sacrificing your comfort, this is the way to do it.

Catch you on the Brahmaputra?

For more information, check out Assam Bengal Navigation’s website for Brahmaputra cruise itineraries and schedules for future cruises.

 

Want to explore northeast India without sacrificing your comfort? A river cruise through Assam is the perfect way to get in some off the beaten track sightseeing... in style! Read on for inspirational photos and stories of Assam Bengal Navigation's luxury Brahmaputra river cruise, plus advice on whether or not this river cruise is right for you.

 

Yay transparency! Assam Bengal Navigation sponsored this cruise in exchange for photography services. Never fear, I can—and did—write whatever I want about them, and I’d never steer you wrong. Not on purpose, anyway 😉

Alex

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

More about Alex

9 thoughts on “In photos: straight cruisin’ through Assam

    Anjci says:

    Good Lord – I LOVE it! I have been to India several times but never to the North East. I would absolutely love to be stuck on a boat and put my camera to work if the views are as incredible as you present. What a wonderful way to explore a unique part of the world! Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    Alex says:

    Ah, you must visit the Northeast eventually, it’s a dream and a completely different world from the rest of India. And, of course, if you have the means, boating down the Brahmaputra is one of the chillest ways to explore Assam 😉

    Farenexus says:

    wow.. looks so amazing!!
    India is indeed a beautiful country
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Nina says:

    I love your photography! Is there any way I can subscribe to your blog via email by any chance? Please let me know. Thank you! 🙂

    Alex says:

    Thank you! I’m not the best at sending out email updates, but you can sign up for my newsletter (where I usually include the latest posts and updates) here: http://eepurl.com/bKV5jz

    Techma says:

    Assam is a beautiful and lush green state. I still have Assamese Tea at home. My Muga silk Saree is going to arrive soon.

    Alex says:

    Mmm, Assamese tea. Totes jealous of your silk sari! If only I could pull off wearing a sari somewhere…

    achinta says:

    so beautifully portraying few glimpse of assam. nice blog

    Alex says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it—Assam is a beautiful state!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Lost With Purpose

Send this to a friend