ASSAM DESPATCH 1 - FRONTIER LANDS (UPSTREAM)
DHURBI TO GUWAHATI
This cruise on a scenic stretch of the Brahmaputra is ideal for combining with Darjeeling, Sikkim or Bhutan. There are frequent trains from New Jalpaiguri to Cooch Behar (eg Rajdhani Express 1105-1310), while Phuntsoling on the Bhutan border is a drive of c.120km. A variety of attractions are featured, ranging from a Maharajah’s palace to temples, tea gardens and a National Park on the Bhutan frontier.
Day 1. Collected from Cooch Behar station. Visit the great Indo-Saracenic palace of the Maharajahs of Cooch Behar, described by Gayatri Devi in “A Princess Remembers” before being driven c.80km to the river port of Dhubri where ABN Charaidew awaits you. While the ship is preparing to sail, take a short trip in gaily-painted cycle rickshaws past the great Sikh temple to pay homage at the town’s statue of Queen Victoria. Sail around dusk and cruise a short way upstream.
Day 2. A day spent on the river, taking in for the first time the vastness of this empty landscape of water and sand islands. There will be time to stop and walk through a riverside village, to see a side of India that the average tourist never gets to see.
Day 3. We cruise all morning, through a landscape punctuated with odd, abrupt hills and under the bridge at Jogighopa, to reach the town of Goalpara around lunchtime. We travel out by road to see the peaceful archaeological site of Sri Surya Pahar. Here we will see boulders which have been carved into stupas, lingams and bas-reliefs by early Buddhists, Hindus and Jains.
Day 4. This morning land at Jogighopa and drive c.130km to Manas National Park on the borders with Bhutan, and check in to the simple Bansbari Lodge. The Park has lovely scenery and good bird life, while rhinoceros have recently been reintroduced. although sightings at this time of year will be rare. We take an afternoon jeep ride through grassland and forest as far as Mothanguri Lodge, where the Manas River bursts from the hills. We can stroll to the frontier, and see the sun set over the the hills of Bhutan. Returning in the dusk, we could see some wildlife, perhaps including wild buffalo, sambar or gaur. After supper we watch a tribal dance around the camp fire.
Day 5. This morning we visit the tea garden and tea factory near the lodge to learn about the process of turning camellia leaves into Assam tea, as well as walking through the village and seeing Bodo tribal handweaving. After lunch we drive 2 hrs or so to Tarabari Ghat where we re-embark and set off again upstream.
Day 6. Another day spent mostly cruising, with a chance to enjoy the rich bird life and look out for Gangetic Dolphin. We should be able to stop and visit a bankside village.
Day 7. We arrive late this morning at the little town of Sualkuchi, disembark and visit its silk weaving workshops. We shall see the whole process of silk manufacture, from cocoon to spinning to dyeing and finally to handweaving into exquisite saris and dress lengths. We drive on to Hajo, a place sacred to Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. We visit a hilltop Muslim shrine with far-reaching views over the surrounding rural landscape, as well as the simple Hindu temple with its frieze of elephants and its sacred tank full of great carp, catfish and turtles. Later we return to Sualkuchi and reboard.
Day 8. We disembark in Guwahati close to the great Saraighat Bridge and take a tour of the city. Drive up Nilachal Hill to see the holy Kamakhya temple. With its tantric rites and animal sacrifices, the more squeamish may prefer to content themselves with the exterior. Visit the poignant Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and perhaps stroll through the bazaar area before transferring to the airport for final departure. Alternatively remain on board for Assam Despatch 2 cruise.