River cruising in India doesn’t get much more memorable than the Ganges Voyager. Not only is the vessel a luxurious way to travel — it offers beautifully appointed suites, an on-board spa, and one-of-a-kind guest excursions — but it also trawls a stunning tract of the sacred Ganges. On the cruiser’s weeklong itineraries, travellers set off from Kolkata before exploring hidden corners of West Bengal, from its historic palaces and temple towns to its vibrant markets and untouched villages.
The Ganges Voyager offers a luxurious cruising experience © Ganges Voyager
To learn more about this must-try mode of Indian travel, we spoke with the Ganges Voyager’s Arjun Sinsinwar. He’s shared more tantalising details about the ship’s journey — and why river cruising in India is unlike anywhere else on Earth.
Greaves: The Ganges Voyager first set sail in 2015. What makes it different from any other Ganges river tours?
Arjun Sinsinwar: ‘That’s easy! Simply put, there’s no other Ganges river cruise that offers this level of luxury and service. The Ganges Voyager was designed and built in India, and her team comes with almost a decade’s worth of experience cruising the Ganges.’
Kalna © Ganges Voyager
Tell us about the Ganges Voyager’s itinerary. What are some of the highlights of the region that guests can expect to see?
‘The Ganges Voyager usually embarks on a seven-night programme from Kolkata. Highlights include Kolkata itself — a magnificent colonial city — as well as Kalna (a town that’s famous for its terracotta temples), the Hare Krishna Temple at Mayapur, and the grand Hazarduari Palace (whose name means “Palace of the Thousand Doors”).
Most of all, though, I’d say the people of West Bengal are a highlight. The rural parts of the state are rarely visited, but offer up lively markets and the charm of a real discovery. The region’s culture mingles Hindu, Christian, Muslim, and Jain traditions. I don’t think that experience happens on any other river cruises!’
The Viceroy Suite © Ganges Voyager
What is the accommodation like on board?
‘All of our suites — the Signature, Colonial, Heritage, Viceroy and Maharaja — have floor-to-ceiling French doors with panoramic river views. The size of the rooms starts at a spacious 24 square metres, and goes up to the 37 square-metre Maharaja Suite, which comes with its own large bathroom and bathtub — quite unusual for a river cruiser. All the rooms are designed in the style of the British Raj, but feature a good deal of Indian character, too.’
Does the Ganges Voyager have on-board entertainment and other activities for guests?
‘Besides our film and documentary screenings, we host classes about Indian spices, cookery demonstrations, and tutorials on how to wear a sari. We also invite guest musicians and dancers on board to perform at least twice per cruise, which gives visitors the chance to learn about the traditional and modern dances of West Bengal. Additionally, we give informative talks about the history of India and the special sites we visit. And we have our own spa and fitness centre, along with indoor and outdoor lounges which are perfect for reading, playing games, or simply enjoying the ever-shifting landscape.’
The sundeck © Ganges Voyager
What makes travelling by water in India special? What do you think is the most memorable part of the experience?
‘Rivers are the life of a country, and for India, the Ganges is a holy river. Hence, we think of the Ganges River Cruise as a journey for the body and also the soul.
I think the most memorable part of the experience is observing the rural way of life, and listening to the sound of prayer and religious songs from temples along the riverbanks. Each day, we explore a different site of cultural, colonial, historical or religious significance. Many of the landmarks we visit were cultivated for centuries before the advent of the railways, and offer a rare insight into a pristine India whose identity has been interwoven with the Ganges since antiquity.’
What is the cuisine like on board? Will guests have the chance to sample traditional Indian dishes?
‘We have a beautiful dining hall where the meals are served. The cuisine on board offers a variety of choice between continental and local Indian dishes. We also serve street foods from different regions of India, prepared fresh from our kitchen.’
Suite bathroom © Ganges Voyager
Tell us about the shore excursions that are included as part of the trip.
‘The shore excursions are all done with local transport. At one stop, we take tonga horse-drawn carriages, at another we go by cycle rickshaw, and on others we explore on foot. Our commitment to sustainable tourism means giving back to the local communities we visit along the way. Guests have the chance to see hard-to-reach villages and beautiful temple towns — even Nawab palaces — but most of all, they can interact with locals (and travel without meeting almost any other international tourists).’
What are your plans for the coming years? Will the Ganges Voyager be looking to expand its itineraries going forward?
‘Yes, we are always looking to what comes next! As river cruising pioneers in India, we are constantly innovating, and will be introducing completely new programmes for India in the coming year. Keep in touch and watch this space!’