Blue Water Holidays
Blue Water Holidays - ABTA - ATOL - CLIA
Experts in River and Small Ship Cruising Holidays since 2002
01756 706500 +44 1756 706500
Blue Water Holidays - ABTA - ATOL - CLIA
01756 706500
+44 1756 706500

Ganges and Brahmaputra River Cruises

India is a country of contrasts, from dynamic cities to traditional villages, spectacular forts to pilgrimage centres.

Our Indian river cruises on the holy Ganges and Brahmaputra offer an authentic glimpse of the real India. Longer itineraries include hotel stays in cities including New Delhi, Kolkata and Jaipur. Discover the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra, explore ancient Varanasi on the Ganges, and seek rhinoceros and tiger by elephant safari on a Brahmaputra river adventure in Assam.

  • River Ganges, Kolkata
  • Spices of India
  • Taj Mahal, Agra
  • Varanasi (tour extension)
  • Jaipur Amber Fort
  • Kolkata Flower Market
  • Deity
  • Jaipur City Palace

About India River Cruises


With tremendous assets in natural resources and an educated population, modern India is fast becoming an economic powerhouse in the world. With a 2016 population of 1.25 billion it will become the largest country within 10 years.

Occupiers through the years have made full use of India's resources, from the Moghuls in the last millennium to the British in the guise of the East India Company. With British rule switched to the Crown, traditions gained from the British are still noticeable in the independent India of today - it has the largest English speaking population in the world!

Food in India

Around 80% of the Indian population are Hindus, many of whom are vegetarian and who revere the cow. It follows that beef is not available in India, and although pork is possible it is not available in more muslim areas. Sheep and goat meat tend to be interchangeable, and many Westerners will therefore find chicken is the most reliably available meat.

Vegetables are of good quality, with lentils in frequent usage. Food can be spiced, from mild to hot. Fish from the Bay of Bengal is common in the Kolkata and Lower Ganges areas.

Rivers of India

The main rivers of India are the Brahmaputra (2900km) which flows through Assam in North East India and the Ganges (2500km) which flows through central India to the sea in the Bay of Bengal.

The Ganges is a holy river, worshipped by Hindus as the goddess Ganga, and along its length Hindus bathe in its holy waters. Some places are particularly holy, with Varanasi one of the most spiritual.

The Farakka Barrage on the India-Bangladesh border regulates the flow of the Ganges southward, into Bangladesh or as the Lower Ganges into West Bengal through Kolkata and to the sea. The land around the Lower Ganges is very fertile, and Ganges waters are used to irrigate crops such as rice, mustard, sugar cane, and potatoes. Clay from the river is used to make bricks, and its waters are also used for drinking, possibly after purification, and for washing.

River Cruises in India

Most Indian river cruises involve the Ganges, and the most common is a 7-night cruise on the Lower Ganges from Kolkata to Mushidabad and back. This gives a good perspective on life on and around the river, and viewing of settlements built by the British, French and Dutch as well as historical sites from the Moghuls and ancient empires. The varied sights include wealthy villages such as Kalna with thriving local markets, specialist metalworking villages like Matiari, and more spiritual locations such as Mayapur with its Krishna connections and Mushidabad.

Some one-way Ganges cruises are available which include the section of the Ganges above the Barrage towards Patna, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world and associated with Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Sikh religions.
The Brahmaputra is a fast-flowing river only navigable at certain times of the year, travelling from high in the Himalaya mountains through Tibet. The Assam Valley in North East India is one of its highlights with the World Heritage Kaziranga National Park offering wildlife to match Africa - one-horned rhinoceros, Bengal tigers, bison, vultures and a variety of animals. Our cruises on the Bramhaputra include an option to visit Bhutan in the Himalayas.

The Golden Triangle

India is a large country, so cruise tours tend to include the famous 'Golden Triangle' of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Extensions to Varanasi may be possible, and perhaps some time in Kerala with its famous backwaters or the seaside resorts of Goa.

Delhi has ancient sites such as the Red Fort and Qtab Minar, more modern vestiges of the British Raj, and the facilities and trappings of a modern capital city. Agra is home of the Taj Mahal, one of the most famous and romantic buildings in the world, and Jaipur, the 'pink city' due to its terracotta buildings, has the notable Amber Fort and the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) amongst its treasures.

Varanasi is one of the most holy cities for Hindus, and its famous ghats (steps leading down to the water) are used for bathing, the nightly Hindu Aarti ceremony, or laundry. One ghat is reserved for Hindu cremations in this most holy place. Boat trips along the river past the ghats are available at sunset and sunrise.

Red Fort, DelhiRed Fort, Delhi Sunrise at the Taj MahalSunrise at the Taj Mahal Amber Fort, JaipurAmber Fort, Jaipur Local fish marketLocal fish market Vegetables are plentifulVegetables are plentiful Fatehpur SikriFatehpur Sikri

Cruise Collection 2019 / 2020

  • Kolkata and Brahmaputra River

    11 Nights - Kolkata to Guwahati

    Mahabaahu Mahabaahu

    Combine a 2-night hotel stay in the lively city of Kolkata with a Brahmaputra river cruise and discover ancient temples, traditional tea plantations and the amazing wildlife of Kaziranga National Park 2019 - Mar, Apr, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec 2020 - Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr Save up to £975pp – flight inclusive package from just £2439pp!

    Kolkata Fly Cruise Package
    From £2439pp
    View Full Details

  • Golden Triangle and Mighty Brahmaputra

    15 Nights - Delhi to Jorhat

    Mahabaahu Mahabaahu

    A superb value, once-in-a-lifetime holiday to the dazzling highlights of India, combining a 6-night Golden Triangle tour to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur with a 7-night Brahmaputra river cruise through the national parks of the Assam Valley 2019 - Mar, Apr, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec 2020 - Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr Save up to £975pp – flight inclusive package from just £3359pp!

    Sunset in Assam Fly Cruise Package
    From £3359pp
    View Full Details

  • Bhutan and Brahmaputra

    16 Nights - Kolkata to Guwahati

    Mahabaahu Mahabaahu

    Uncover the secrets of magical Bhutan, a Himalayan holy land with sacred temples and ancient monasteries, then enjoy a 7-night Brahmaputra river cruise through the Kaziranga National Park on this unique 16-night cruise holiday with return overnight flights and included excursions 2019 - Mar, Apr, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec 2020 - Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr Save up to £975pp – flight inclusive package from just £4599pp!

    Taktsang Monastery Fly Cruise Package
    From £4599pp
    View Full Details

  • The Golden Triangle to the Strait of Malacca

    28 Nights - Delhi to Singapore

    Aegean Odyssey Aegean Odyssey

    A magnificent 29-day cruise tour through 8 fascinating countries which includes 7 overnight hotel stays, a 19-night full board cruise and 14 exceptional guided tours. Starting in the historical hotspot of India, this adventurous cruise tour voyages to the stunning Maldives and the cultural country of Sri Lanka before stopping at Andaman Islands. The cruise then journeys to the glorious beaches of Thailand and the vibrant city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia before finishing with a two-night hotel stay in Singapore. Includes guided excursions and expert guest lecturers.

    Agra Fort, India View Full Details

India Highlights

Agra (India)

Agra is home to one of the most famous buildings in the world - the Taj Mahal. Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, this gleaming white marble structure is one of the most popular tourist destinations. Sunrise and sunset show the massive dome in different lights, and the iconic picture of the Taj with the lake in front has become a romantic vision familiar the world over. The city of Agra has over 1.5 million people, and it is also noted for the Red Fort, a huge complex close to the Taj Mahal.


Chandannagar (India)

This riverside town was established by the French and remained under their control until 1951 even after Indian independence. There are still many traces of French influence - the riverside promenade (Strand), the Catholic Church of Sacre Coeur, and the house of former French Governor Joseph François Dupleix now a museum with a famous collection of antique French 18th century wooden furniture.


Delhi (India)

The capital city of India is a world mega-city with over 18 million inhabitants. Its population is growing rapidly as migrants from within India are attracted by the jobs and facilities on offer. It is a reflection of the world economic powerhouse that India will become. Delhi has sights from throughout the ages. Old Mughal structures such as the Red Fort reflect the wealth of that period. Delhi's wide streets and solid Government buildings go back to the era of investment by the British Raj. The India Gate area is a memorial to the Indian soldiers who fought with the British in World War One.


Jaipur (India)

Jaipur is known as the 'Pink City' because of its terracotta coloured buildings. The city centre is a bustling area which includes the City Palace, still lived in by the Maharajah of Jaipur. Nearby is Jantar Mintar, an ancient collection of outdoor astronomical structures used for telling the time and date - including the largest (and accurate) sundial in the world. Also in the city centre is Hawa Mahal, the 5-storey Palace of the Winds designed so that members of the Harem could see the happenings of the city without being seen. Outside the city is Jaipur's main attraction - the Amber (Amer) Fort on a hillside overlooking a lake. This huge complex with its many courtyards resembles a palace.


Kalna (India)

Kalna is an affluent riverside town with a market selling all kinds of vegetables and foodstuffs, and with a well-stocked fish market section. Kalna has some of Bengal’s most distinct terracotta temples, including the Rajbari royal palace complex of gardens and round-domed temples. The nearby Shiva temples comprise two perfect circles, one with 74 temples made entirely out of white marble and black stone, the other with 34 temples made of white marble alone.


Kolkata (India)

Kolkata was the centre of British rule in India before the capital moved to Delhi. It still retains British connections - and a replica of 'Big Ben' stands near the road from the airport. Probably the most famous Kolkata building is the huge Victoria Memorial raised in honour of Queen Victoria after her death. It is home to paintings from the Raj era and its museum is informative of Old Calcutta. One of the most famous residents of Kolkata is Mother Teresa, whose work with the poor through her Missionaries of Charity will lead to her canonisation in 2016. Mother Teresa's simple rooms and tomb in the Charity headquarters are open to the public.


Matiari (India)

The riverside brass-working village of Matiari contains many workshops which turn brass, often recycled, into pots, lamps, trays and other items using unique and skilled methods. Craftsmen can be seen using simple tools to create patterns in the brass; others are at work melting down brass offcuts for further use. Nearby is the site of the Battle of Plassey where the British East India Company defeated the Nawab of Bengal in 1757, preparing the ground for the company's rule in Bengal and India.


Mayapur (India)

Mayapur is the home of the Krishna Consciousness Movement (ISKCON), and the birthplace of the 15th-century Hindu saint Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, worshipped by followers as the full incarnation of Lord Krishna. Wealthy supporters have contributed to the construction of the massive Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, just slightly smaller in size than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, and still some way from completion. The town and its other temples are dominated by the new structure. All attract huge numbers of pilgrims, making Mayapur a very busy destination.


Mumbai (India)

This is the largest port in Western India, noted for its financial centre and Bollywood, the world's largest film production centre. Mumbai's most famous symbols are the Gateway to India, a grand arch, and the nearby Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. British influences can be seen in the stained glass and sculptures of Victoria Rail Terminus, a World Heritage Site. Mumbai is a pleasantly chaotic city packed full of bazaars, roadside stalls, traffic and some of India's best restaurants.


Murshidabad (india)

Once the capital of Bengal, Murshidabad still bears memories of the Nawabs with mosques, tombs, and gardens, and is noted for carvings in ivory, gold and silver embroidery and silk weaving. The most conspicuous building is as the Hazarduari Palace built by British Duncan McLeod in 1837, and reputed to have 1000 doors. It now houses an extensive collection of European paintings, china and weapons. Opposite is the Nizamat Imambara, the largest in India, and rarely open to the public. Just outside town is the Katra Masjid (Katra Mosque), the tomb of Nawab Murshid Quli Khan built in 1724. It is known as a great centre of Islamic learning and its most striking feature are two large corner towers with loopholes for musketry.


Varanasi (India)

The most spiritual location on the River Ganges, Varanasi is where Hindus come to worship the river as the goddess Ganga. Ritual bathing in the water is a common sight along the ghats, or riverside steps, extending for some distance along the Ganges waterfront. The various ghats have different functions - most famous is the Dashashwamedh Ghat where the evening Hindu Aarti ceremony is performed nightly before thousands of followers. The Manikarnika Ghat is reserved for cremations in this most holy place by the Ganges, with shrouded bodies washed in the Ganges before ceremonial cremation - taking place throughout the day and night. An evening or morning boat trip along the ghats is a popular activity to see the religious and everyday activities taking place.


Customer Reviews

Spirit of India Cruise and Tour with APT

Tuesday 2 February 2016: This review is best read in conjunction with the cruise itinerary

Incredible India - the official slogan is entirely accurate. India has amazing sights, sounds and smells to assault the senses like no other country. In India several centuries can be seen in one day - a hand-pulled rickshaw containing a female entrepreneur studying a smart phone, a holy cow wandering across a busy dual carriageway, and villagers washing themselves and their clothes in a river overshadowed by expensive apartments. There is poverty, the streets are not always clean, the traffic can be chaotic, but everywhere there are signs that India is on its way to becoming a new world power. A fascinating time and place to visit!

We chose the APT Spirit of India cruise tour because it combined a guided tour of the famous Golden Triangle - Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, including all meals and 5-star hotels, with a visit to Kolkata and a 7-night cruise on the River Ganges into rural India. We also added the 2-night extension to Varanasi for sunset and sunrise boat trips along the Ganges riverside ghats where religious and everyday activities take place.

Red Fort, Delhi Bazaar Shop, Delhi Hindu Temple, Delhi Gallery at the Imperial Hotel, Delhi Jama Masjid Mosque, Delhi Royal Enfield motorcycle made in India Sikh Temple, Delhi Slightly Overloaded Vehicle Bukhara Restaurant, Delhi Qtab Minar, Delhi

Arriving at Delhi airport we used our e-tourist visas to speed through immigration, and were met by the APT representative and driven to the Imperial Hotel. Exiting the airport we saw a huge hoarding advertising Range Rover - owned by Tata of India! The Imperial Hotel is a luxury hotel retaining the style of the Raj, with historic paintings and photographs, gifts from Royalty on display, and an oasis of calm amid the bustling city. The hotel offered a choice of restaurants and was noted for its afternoon teas taken inside or in the garden.

Our first evening dinner was at the hotel's 1911 Restaurant, one of the best dining places in Delhi. We met our fellow travellers and our Tour Director, Girish, who would accompany us throughout the holiday. In his excellent English, Girish reminded us that India had the largest population of English speakers in the world! Sure enough, as we progressed through India we had absolutely no communication problems.

Our first full day in India included guided tours of Delhi's amazing sights reflecting thousands of year of history (see itinerary Day 3). The vast numbers at the massive Red Fort illustrated how increasing prosperity meant Indians were now able to be tourists in their own country. In the evening we dined at the acclaimed Bukhara Restaurant, where the traditional Kashmiri food was eaten by hand without implements. A good way of getting to know your fellow travellers!

Our second day in Delhi saw us at the ancient Qtab Minar, a tower so high its summit was obscured by a combination of smog and fog. After lunch at a local house in a wealthy suburb we used the free afternoon to walk around Delhi, soak up the atmosphere, and watch the traffic battling around the many roundabouts. To some locals we were a curiosity, to others an opportunity to practice their English and to give helpful directions. A fascinating afternoon. The evening offered a choice of restaurants in the hotel, French, Italian, or Indian but the majority chose Spice Route, a Thai option with stunning decor and fabulous murals.

Taj Mahal before sunset View from the Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel Gateway to the Taj Mahal Taj Mahal at sunset Taj Mahal is a huge building Detail of the Taj Mahal Full bus to the Taj! Red Fort at Agra Classic arch design at the Red Fort Drying cow pats contrast with new house building

On the way to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal our air-conditioned coach passed new Delhi suburbs being built for the growing Indian middle class, complete with Metro train links to the city. Agra is a city of 1.5 million people, with traffic to match, and our first stop was the huge Red Fort built not far from the Taj Mahal. After lunch we checked in at the luxury Oberoi Amarvilas, where every room had a sensational view of the Taj Mahal. The hotel's golf carts took us the short distance to the Taj Mahal main entrance, where all visitors were carefully searched.

Entering the gatehouse, in front of us was the Taj Mahal - every bit as stunning as its pictures. Dodging the crowds we were able to take many pictures as the sunset bathed the Taj in colour. It was also possible to visit the actual mausoleum, and we then realised how massive the building was. We left with much anticipation of the sunrise visit the next day, but first our evening meal at the hotel was available in either the western or Indian style restaurants.

Our morning visit to the Taj Mahal saw it in a different light, and with far fewer people we were better able to appreciate the building and its various inscriptions and motifs. After breakfast our coach set off on the main road to Jaipur. On this busy route we saw buses with people sitting on roofs, cars with people hanging on to door and windows, and the decorated Tata trucks and buses unique to India.

Amber Fort, Jaipur Inside the Amber Fort, Jaipur Jaipur City Palace Cows wander freely Palace of the Winds, Jaipur Self-contained mobile shop, Jaipur Lake Palace, Jaipur Fast food, Indian style Oberoi Rajvilas Hotel, Jaipur Colourful garments at Jaipur shop

Jaipur is known as the 'Pink City' because of its gateways and buildings in terracotta colours. It was the setting for the film 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' and a recent BBC reality follow-up, and with over 3 million inhabitants it is a microcosm of Indian society. Its highlight is the huge Amber Fort perched on a hill overlooking a lake. Reached by jeep, or elephant, the various courtyards and buildings give superb hillside views including the 'Great Wall of India' surrounding Jaipur.

After lunch at a local hotel overlooking the Lake Palace, we checked in at the luxury Oberoi Rajvilas, whose rooms are set in small villas among the 30-acre landscaped grounds. Time to relax before the evening at Dera Amer, a dedicated country facility offering a short elephant safari followed by a buffet meal with local traditional dance accompaniment.

The second day in Jaipur (itinerary Day 8) was spent in town, first at the City Palace, part of which is still lived in by the Maharajah of Jaipur, and then at Jantar Mintar, home to ancient astronomical structures used for telling the time and date. Lunch was at a haveli mansion near the City Palace, and provided by a long-established local family. Evening dining options at the hotel were a western style meal or an Indian option served in the open air with heating by wood fuelled braziers.

An early start the next day saw us at the airport for the 2-hour flight to Kolkata on IndiGo, one of India's latest airlines. The growing demand has led it to acquire over 150 new A320 aircraft, and the whole experience was very good. As domestic passengers our baggage was screened and sealed before check-in, and our carry-on bags were also checked and stamped for later security inspection.

Victoria Memorial, Kolkata Washing in the Ganges, Kolkata Mother Teresa's House, Kolkata Hooghly Imambara, Bandel Welcome to Ganges Voyager Rajbari Palace, Kalna Shiva Temples, Kalna Ganges Riverside Festival and Ferries Hay wagon at Matiari Ganges Voyager Tender Boat

The journey to the ship from Kolkata airport took us through the centre of the city and over the Ganges to the jetty at Howrah where Ganges Voyager was moored. After settling into our cabin there was time for lunch before setting off to the city. Our destinations were the massive Victoria Memorial, commemorating Queen Victoria and home to paintings and local history, and the headquarters (Mother House) of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. Here we could see the tomb of Mother Teresa and the room where she lived for many years.

On Day 10 Ganges Voyager set off up the Ganges from Kolkata. Those taking a tour to the Flower Market plus a classic tramcar ride would meet us later. The ship passed the enormous Howrah Station, the largest in India, before sailing under the Howrah Bridge, the world's busiest cantilever bridge.

The fascinating sights along the river continued for the next week - urban vistas near Kolkata, rural areas where the fertile river plain generated excellent crops, villages where the Ganges was a key factor of life - for water, for washing, for fishing and for commerce, and riverside steps thronged by locals in colourful clothes going about their everyday business. Everywhere our progress was marked by children and adults waving as Ganges Voyager passed by, and even the shyest of our party found themselves waving back from the Sun Deck!

As we sailed, some were lucky to catch a glimpse of the elusive Ganges dolphin, a solitary creature smaller than the common dolphin, and being blind, using sonar for location. A frequent sight were the ferries criss-crossing the river, usually full or overloaded, and seemingly travelling from nowhere to nowhere! There was little commercial traffic, only a few barges surprisingly bringing Australian coal to the many small brickworks in the countryside near the river.

Fully Loaded Ganges Boat Ganges Riverside Festival Cowpats drying for fuel Ganges Fisherman Hazarduari Palace, Murshidabad Fuel Sticks from Cow Dung Intricate brickwork, Baranagar Temples at Mayapur Cow asleep on pavement, Chandannagar Going ashore from Ganges Voyager

Ganges Voyager and its sister ship are described as the best vessels on the River Ganges. The cabins are quite large, and have excellent bathroom facilities with a spacious shower room. The dining room has windows overlooking the river and offers three meals per day. Breakfast and lunch are buffets, with a wide range of choice including an omelette/egg station at breakfast. Dinner is a served meal, with four courses including some western choices. Indian options vary in level of spiciness, and for maximum choice it is best to try some of these options. Unlimited local wine and beer are served with lunch and dinner, and there are copious quantities of bottled water.

On the Sun Deck, the Governor's Lounge and Bar offers a cool place to sit and watch the river. Coffee, a range of teas and local beer are freely available and local wine and spirits after 5pm. The Sun Deck has a variety of chairs and settees and to the rear of the deck are sun loungers.

The crew on Ganges Voyager are very helpful, and a number join the shore excursions to carry water and provide assistance. The one or two daily shore trips are in the ship's own boat. All passengers wear life jackets to go to and from shore, and are assisted on and off the tender. Where necessary a handrail (a long bamboo held by a crew member at each end) is used to help access onto shore. On return to the ship there is a soft drink, cold towel, and outdoor shoes are cleaned.

The shore excursions were assisted by three local guides using quietvox headsets for clear communication. There was a huge variety of places visited (see itinerary Days 10 to 15), from small rural villages to ancient temples with amazing decoration to bustling towns and pilgrimage centres. Among the last a notable visit was to Mayapur, the spiritual home of the Krishna movement. The village was thronged by pilgrims visiting the birthplace of their saint and the whole was overlooked by the massive new temple of the Vedic Planetarium. Still under construction, and over half funded by the grandson of Henry Ford, this huge temple will rival St Peter's in size. Plans are mooted for a shrine at Mayapur to the Beatle George Harrison.

Aarti Ceremony, Varanasi Ghats at Night, Varanasi Aarti Ceremony, Varanasi Late Night Opening, Varanasi Boating at Sunrise, Varanasi Cow comes for breakfast, Varanasi Sunrise ceremony, Varanasi Holymen at Varanasi Ghats in the morning, Varanasi Kingfisher watches the washing, Varanasi

After returning to Kolkata we left the ship early for our IndiGo flight to Varanasi. On the banks of the Ganges, Varanasi is a spiritual place for Hindus to come and wash in the holy waters of the Ganges. Varanasi is noted for its ghats - kilometres of steps which come down to the water - enabling the faithful to purify themselves in the water. One of the ghats is reserved for Hindu cremations in this most holy place.

Our trip to Varanasi included evening and morning boat rides along the river in front of the ghats. In the evening we were able to watch from our boat the Aarti ceremony, a Hindu religious ritual of worship, taking place at the main Dashashwamedh Ghat. The crowds assembled for this ceremony were quite amazing, and the streets through Varanasi were jammed before and after the ceremony.

An early start in the morning took us back to the ghats at sunrise, with mist shrouding the Ganges. Already there were people bathing in the Ganges, and as we sailed along the ghats we could see what took place at the different ghats. One was seemingly dedicated to washing of clothes, and what looked to be commercial washermen washing bedlinen and putting it out to dry.

The 2-day extension to Varanasi was a magical experience, and all too soon we left Varanasi for Delhi and the flight back to the UK. We could look back on a fascinating holiday in a country which certainly deserved the title 'Incredible India'.

Review by Thalia Turner, Blue Water Holidays

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