Friday, February 14, 2014
The Ganges, India
One of the world’s holiest and most alluring passages of water will open up to visitors in an entirely new way this year. Varanasi – where the Hindu faithful come to cremate loved ones and wash away their sins in scores of bathing ghats along the Ganges’ western embankment – is considered by many to be the spiritual heart of India. Walking along the river bank or soaking up the atmosphere from one of the many rowing boats that ply the river has long been possible.
This spring, the Rajmahal – a new boat operated by the Assam Bengal Navigation Company – departs on its inaugural sailing from Patna to Varanasi. Designed with a shallow draught to accommodate the low-water levels at Varanasi, the ship signals the arrival of river cruising to India’s great holy city. Cruising up the middle of the Ganges channel, the Rajmahal will end her journey 10 miles beyond Varanasi. The itinerary also includes two days’ sightseeing in the city . This intimate small-ship cruise (the Rajmahal has just 22 cabins, all with French balcony, and features a spa, saloon, dining room and large sundeck) can be taken either upstream or downstream. The itinerary includes visits to a Moghul fort and a Maharajah’s palace, Sarnath, where the Buddha preached his first sermon, as well as the once-in-a-lifetime experience of witnessing Varanasi’s bathing ghats at dawn (by rowing boat). Besides the vignettes of rural life there are opportunities to spot native birds and Gangetic dolphins breaking the surface of the sacred river. The season is short, with sailings in August and September when India at its most verdan