India on the Rivers.
India’s layered landscapes and cultural diversity mean that travellers are always going to experience something new, something not quite like what they may have seen in other parts of the country. In East India, discover a new way to travel: glide gently down thousands of kilometres of waterways on the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers on restored river boats, as it takes you to sanctuaries teeming with wildlife, colonial remnants along riverbanks, and into the heart and hearth of rural India.
Explore India in a unique way as you sail down India’s greatest rivers and get a glimpse in to life along the banks of the rivers.
Know Your Host
Assam Bengal Navigation (or ABN) is an Indo-British joint venture, set up by Ashish and Jahnabi Phookan and Andrew Brock.The first to open the doors to luxury Indian River expeditions, they operate a fleet of four specially-designed small ships on the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers, as well as houseboats...
Assam Bengal Navigation (or ABN) is an Indo-British joint venture, set up by Ashish and Jahnabi Phookan and Andrew Brock.The first to open the doors to luxury Indian River expeditions, they operate a fleet of four specially-designed small ships on the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers, as well as houseboats and safari lodges.
Andrew Brock, first discovered his passion for India when after Eton and Oxford University he drove out to the North West Frontier on a travel scholarship. He joined one of the main UK tour operators to India and has run his own company, Andrew Brock Travel, from 1981 to 2009. He has Asian river navigation in his blood: his grandfather was a director of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company while another forebear ran Dennys on the Clyde, which built many of the paddle steamers for the Brahmaputra and the Ganges.
Ashish Phookan’s background was in tea, with periods working in both London and Assam as a Tea Taster. He still retains an interest in a family tea garden. In 1989, he set up Jungle Travels India in Guwahati with his wife, Jahnabi, handling both incoming and outbound services.
A pioneer of river cruises in India since 2003, Assam Bengal Navigation offers discerning travellers an immersive experience of culture, wildlife, history and life along two of the Subcontinent’s greatest rivers – the Ganges and Brahmaputra. ABN was the first to put Indian long-distance river cruises on the 'World River-Cruising' map amongst the likes of the Nile, the Amazon, the Yangstze and European river cruises.
Each trip is aboard boutique cruise ships that feature comfortable cabins with ensuites, that are decked out with modern amenities. The unique objet d'art and handlooms on the ships are sourced directly from artisans; and locally made furniture and textiles represent the rich heritage of Assam and Bengal with pride. While there are ample facilities and amenities on board including a spa on all ships and a gym aboard the newset ship, there is something pleasingly vintage about the cruise ships of ABN. It could be the good old-fashioned hospitality, slow strides in the countryside or the thrill of going on a voyage of discovery. One thing is for sure. This is no plain sailing.
Travellers can choose between three- to seven-night cruises on the Ganges and Lower Ganges (Hooghly).
The Brahmaputra river travels for 2900 km across Tibet, India and Bangladesh, enriching the lands and bringing life to the regions it flows through. The ABN experience on the Brahmaputra is offered in four to ten nights of adventure, nature, wildlife and eye-opening cultural trysts with the locals and indigenous riverine tribes of the Brahmaputra valley.
All ships come with a comfortable saloon and bar, dining room, a spa and a vast canopied sundeck. All cabins and public rooms on the ships are air-conditioned. The cabins are spacious and can be individually climate controlled, come with ensuite shower and water closet with amenities, and generous cupboard space and under-bed storage. The large sliding glass windows are what makes these ships stand out as they offer panoramic views of the river.
Food on board is prepared fresh by expert chefs who are skilled in both regional and Indian cuisine as well as Continental fare. A favourite pastime of many travellers is to relax on the sundeck with a glass of G&T as they return the waves of curious schoolchildren from the shore. Guests can avail of complimentary garden-fresh loose-leaf Assam tea and coffee with homemade cookies throughout their stay. A wide choice of wines, spirits and beer is available as well.
Cruising on the Ganges
Travellers can choose between three- to seven-night cruises on the Ganges and Lower Ganges (Hooghly). This cruise starts from the eastern edge of the country in Kolkata, passing through the terracotta temple town of Kalna; the historically rich Plassey and Murshidabad; the Mughal ruins of Gaur, among others. In the summer months, Assam Bengal Navigation operates cruises all the way into the ghats of the oldest inhabited city in the world, Varanasi; here, waking up in your comfortable cabin with panoramic windows to the sound of prayers from the ghats is truly a special experience.
The Brahmaputra’s Spell
These Brahmaputra cruises have been rated among the world's top 10 most adventurous cruises by the CNN for it is a mighty river that was previously deemed too wild to navigate, too moody in its channel changes until Assam Bengal Navigation embarked on their first maiden voyage. The downstream cruise starts at Dibrugarh, wending its way past the largest river island of the world, Majuli; the tea town of Jorhat; the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park (home to the largest population of one-horned rhinos); and other stops.
Exploring lesser-known destinations and rural India. Also great for private getaways, special occasions, intimate weddings, family get-togethers and reunions and small corporate groups.
Ganges river cruises: Closed in May-July; Open in August and September for Varanasi cruise. Brahmaputra river cruises: Closed May-September.
A total of 5% of every room booked with Assam Bengal Navigation is contributed to the ABN Foundation to fund various causes.
No Single Use Plastic: Water is provided in reusable bottles with water filling stations. There is minimal use of single use plastic. The employees work with villagers on steps to reduce plastic. Bathroom amenities are provided in wooden dispensers.
Safe Garbage Disposal: All the boats are equipped with sewage tanks that do not disperse waste in the rivers. Garbage generated on board is brought back to the shore and disposed accordingly.
Nature and Biological Diversity Conservation: Apart from regular tree planting drives, through the ABN Foundation, ABN has been involved with flood relief efforts in Kaziranga National Park where, in the last few years, 95% of the park’s wildlife was affected. Assistance is provided to the forest authorities by offering services of ABN’s naturalists and guides in any wildlife relief efforts during the floods. Additionally, when the park isn’t flooded, ABN collaborates with NGOs like WWF India to run young naturalist training programs in Kaziranga National Park for anyone interested to upskill in this profession.
Local Community Engagement: All staff and crew members on ABN ships, lodges and houseboats are handpicked directly from local communities in the vicinity of the establishments. ABN supports local suppliers by hiring jeeps, guides, sourcing produce from local farmers markets and are patrons for local dance troupes by hiring them for performances for guests. Almost all the ships' decor and the ships themselves have been handmade by local people. The gift shops store only work created by local artisans of the regions ABN operates in.
Light Footprint Tourism: All the cruises are small in size, hence no more than 24 to 40 guests are on offshore land excursions to temples, monuments, villages and other places of interest. This avoids the impact that mass tourism can have on fragile ecosystems such as national parks and ancient temples.
Sensitive Destination Discovery: Traversing two mighty Indian rivers, the Brahmaputra and Ganges, Assam Bengal Navigation, the routes taken allow for quiet discovery of the region. Places visited are devoid of large number of travellers, thus not adding to stress on local resources.
Heritage Preservation: ABN Charaidew I is a heritage passenger vessel from the 70s that was lovingly restored in and M.V. Rudra Singha - ABN’s private houseboat on the Brahmaputra river, was locally built in the city in the traditional Pansoinau (Assamese boat) style. All properties feature exemplary craftsmanship and handlooms made by local artisans. ABN ships on the Brahmaputra river feature generous bamboo – the “green gold of Assam” panelling in its interiors, sourced sustainably from local farmers in the state. Decor on board features handlooms made by rural women weavers that ABN Foundation supports and the fabrics feature indigenous Assamese motifs all intricately woven to showcase the cultural and natural diversity of the state.
ABN ships on the Ganges river feature arts and crafts, objet d’art, antiques and textiles sourced directly from rural artisans in Bengal, vintage stores and small businesses in Kolkata as well as the villages that the cruises visit.
Human Touch: Staff are provided with hospitality and English language skills before they take up their positions within the company, and hired as full-time employees for the entire year. More than half the staff and crew have been with ABN for more than a decade, with many of them having been with them since inception. They support local schools by working closely with the teachers of government-run schools with their Mid-day Meal Schemes. ABN has been involved initiatives like renovating the roof and floors of the school building, constructing lavatories, donating a library, or directly participating in the classroom through organisation of field trips. Additionally, in 2019, the Baranagar English Tuition Centre was constructed to fuel the dreams of a passionate educator, Kalyan Mandal – a true changemaker in his village.
The RARE Sustainability Quotient is a self-audit tool that is used by our hotel partners to measure, document and assess their planet and people friendly practices and is based on the RARE Touchstones.
by David F on 05/09/2023
In 2019 we cruised the Ganges for 7 nights with Assam Bengal Navigation (ABN) and had such a good time we booked the Brahmaputra Maximum 10-night cruise for 2020 also with ABN. Due to Covid the...
by luandanjenny on 04/27/2023
We could not have been better looked after on our 7 day cruise along the Brahmaputra River last month. Mr. Pratik, our Cruise Director, and his staff took wonderful care of us all. Our ship was...
by EstherP1882 on 03/24/2023
I enjoyed a week on the RajMahal in March 2023. It is a wonderful experience and an opportunity to see the “real” India. I chose to do the Hoogli River itinerary as it us narrower than the...