Indian rivers

River candles - Ganges

If your customers are looking for an unforgettable adventure, inspire them with the ‘next big thing’ in river cruising…  

It’s probably fair to say that most agents aren’t particularly well clued-up on river cruising in India. But those in the know say that waterway options are the next big thing.

Several specialists have added new India river cruise product recently. These include over-50s operator Saga, which introduced a seven-night cruise and two-night hotel stay to its Saga Holidays programme last year, and the adventure company G Adventures, which targets younger travellers – proving that a cruise in India is a huge draw across the generations.

G Adventures managing director Brian Young explained: “Cruising the Ganges is still a relatively new proposition for travellers, but it’s a fantastically relaxing way to see India.

“We get right into the smallest communities along the river, so it’s off the beaten track and you have the benefit of only having to unpack once.

Varanasi - India
The mighty Ganges River

“India is one of the most popular destinations for our UK travellers, so to be able to offer them a new way to see it is truly exciting. As adventure travel and cruising have both become more mainstream, it’s a natural fit.”

Few land-based holidays to India involve a single-centre stay. Many first-timers are likely to do the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’ – a night or two in a hotel in New Delhi, followed by a couple of nights in Agra – for the Taj Mahal – and then on to Jaipur.

A river cruise, where the scenery constantly changes but accommodation stays the same, is a popular add- on to a land-based tour or stay.

What’s more, while the places visited along the way may well be basic, the river boats themselves offer quality food, attentive service and home comforts.

Two main waterways

Advising a client on a river cruise in India needn’t be daunting. All agents need to know is that there are two main waterway options. The first is the famous Ganges – and tributaries – while the other, the Brahmaputra river, is less well known.

Both can be easily combined with the aforementioned Golden Triangle land tours. However, they both offer very different experiences, so it’s worth spending time investigating a client’s individual likes and interests to see which itinerary would best suit them.

Uniworld's Ganges Voyager II
Uniworld’s Ganges Voyager II

Sacred to Hindus, the Ganges flows for 1,600 miles from the Western Himalayas through northern India and into the Bay of Bengal. The Brahmaputra river, on the other hand, winds 1,800 miles through Tibet and Bangladesh to northeast India through Assam. The region is best-known for its tea, but it’s also a draw for history buffs and a haven for wildlife and nature.

Clients on a post-Golden Triangle Ganges cruise would hop on a plane from Jaipur and spend a day or more exploring Kolkata – where excursions take in Mother Teresa’s home and resting place – before embarking on their river boat.

Uniworld, for example, offers a 13-day land-and-river tour including Lower Ganges ports of call to India’s ‘Temple City’ of Kalna, and visits to the artisan’s village, Matiari, and the two architecturally important Bengali towns of Murshidabad and Baranagar.

On the other hand, Brahmaputra clients joining after a Golden Triangle tour would fly to Kolkata, and then take a short connecting flight to Jorhat or Guwahati – depending on whether the itinerary is an upstream or downstream sailing – to join their cruise.

Rhino, elephants – and tigers

A selling point for the Brahmaputra is its close proximity to Kaziranga National Park, home to some 480 species, including white rhino, Indian elephants and Bengal tigers.

Pandaw has scheduled six seven-night Mighty Brahmaputra sailings between October 2017 and March 2018 on board the 46-passenger MV Mahabaahu, operated by Far Horizon Tours. Highlights include small boat, jeep and elephant safaris to spot greater one-horned rhino and other wildlife, the chance to see the ‘Mishing’ people who live along the river, and visits to tea plantations.

Saga's MV Mahabaahu
Saga’s MV Mahabaahu

Another Indian river boat operator, Assam Bengal Navigation (ABN), runs four, seven and 10-night Brahmaputra cruises between October and April. Cruises can be combined to give durations of up to 14 nights and Travelpack is one tailor-made specialist that combines ABN cruises with land-based India stays.

“All Indian river cruises we offer are reasonably priced and can be tagged on to any itinerary,” said Rajiv Sehgal, Travelpack’s director of India operations. “We’re seeing plenty of enquiries for Kolkata among people who are interested in wildlife and exotic places. After the cruise they can tag on a trip to Darjeeling or a tiger rescue in Kolkata.”

To meet the demand for more ‘experiential travel’, operators have introduced options for passengers to get up close and personal in India. For example, guests on APT’s 18-day luxury, fully inclusive escorted Wonders of India journey, which includes a Lower Ganges cruise, are invited to an Indian family home to participate in a cooking class. Uniworld guests, meanwhile, can take part in a sustainable development project in Rajastan, run by social charity ME to WE, before joining their river boat.

“River cruising is such an amazing way to experience India as there is so much life and activity to see along the banks of the Ganges, giving guests a true sense of their locality,” said Uniworld UK managing director Kathryn Beadle.

“Through our charity partnership, we aim to deliver a luxury, yet authentic journey that will leave our guests with a new perspective and deeper understanding of the world.”


1 – Food safety and hygiene can be of concern to travellers to India. The high standards cruise boats operate should allay fears and significantly lessen the chance of becoming ill.

2 – An Indian cruise is the perfect ‘taster’ for adventurous clients who’ve never holidayed on water before, and such customers could well get hooked on cruising holidays.

3 – Don’t forget younger people who might, for example, be looking for a different type of honeymoon.

4 – Advise customers to bring plenty of cash for tips, as banks and ATMs are not easy to come by.

5 – For hygiene reasons, suggest clients pack socks to wear over bare feet in temples, where outdoor footwear is not allowed.


G Adventures offers an eight-day Ganges Experience, sailing to picturesque local villages to explore stunning temples, historic battlegrounds, tranquil gardens, and the Hazarduari Palace. Priced from £1,249pp from Kolkata return, including meals and excursions, exclusive of airfares. 0344 272 2040

Pandaw has a seven-night Mighty Brahmaputra sailing with cruise-only prices from $2,835 per person, which includes entrance fees, guide services, main meals, some drinks, and transfers to and from the boat. 0208 326 5620

Uniworld has a 13-day India’s Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges river cruise and land voyage from New Delhi to Kolkata, including seven nights on the 56-passenger all-suite Ganges Voyager II and five nights in Agra, Jaipur and New Delhi, from £5,979pp, exclusive of airfares. 0808 301 2833


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