On India’s Bramaputra River, singular serenity
We were met at the airport in Guwahati
by our guides and on route to the boat
stopped at the 17th-century Kamakhya
Temple complex, with its traditional beehive domes and tantric history and practices, including animal sacrifice.
Dedicated to the goddess of desire,
Kamakhya Devi, and her various avatars, stone sculptures of female deities
were smeared in blood-red paint and
kumkuma powder to
symbolize fertility. An
important Hindu pilgrimage site, especially
for newlyweds who
want to start a family, we watched devotees swipe a bit of the
red powder from the
statue’s groin and put
a dash on their own
foreheads for blessings and good luck.
Our small group walked amid nosy goats
spared from sacrifice and sadhus (holy
men) with dreadlocks and wild eyes. It
was classic India in overdrive.
After an hour or two we were back in
our convoy of comfortable taxis heading
for the Mahabaahu, a boat as quirky as its
itinerary. A bamboo gangway connected
us to the vessel, with its funnel and red
davits poking out from the stern. Inside,
lots of wood and Indian fabrics created
a homey feel, like a visit to Grandma’s
It’s not cookie cutter in the least, so I
loved it, and so did the other 25 passengers,
a mix from the U.K., Australia, Canada, India and the U.S. Owned and operated by
India-based Adventure Resorts & Cruises,
a subsidiary of tour operator Far Horizon
Tours, the Mahabaahu was built in 2011
and is one of the few tourist riverboats on
the vast, remote and fascinating Brahmaputra River system.
From Guwahati, we
sailed more than 232
miles upstream, ending
our seven-day journey
in Jorhat. Neither city
is particularly attractive, but what’s in between them is magical.
The vast Brahmaputra
is braided with sandbars
for much of the year, born of the sediment brought down from the Himalayas.
The boat’s top deck chaise lounges are
the favorite place for gazing at the sandy
scene, looking for leaping Ganges river
dolphins — I saw several — and watching
government skiffs mark the river’s navigable channels with bamboo poles. The
excessive silt and shifting sand can be an
issue for boats if the river isn’t dredged
Sanjay Basu, chairman of Far Horizon
Tours, cited the operator’s close relationship with the Assam and Indian governments for the deployment of dredgers
who keep the navigation channels open.
Our November trip was smooth sailing
from start to finish.
The Mahabaahu’s pair of comfortable,
open-air excursion boats shuttled us to
the riverbanks for one or two daily excursions. The highlight of the week was
the Kaziranga National Park, a Unesco
World Heritage site and the world’s largest habitat for endangered one-horned
rhinos, with more than 2,000 there. The
day started before dawn in heavy mist and
just as the sun was rising. My friend and
I were on the back of an elephant, sandwiched between a mahout (the driver)
and a park guard toting a shotgun. Our
By Heidi Sarna
I’ve been to India many times, but never on a river cruise and nev- er to the country’s northeast corner in the state of Assam. That changed last November when a friend and I spent a week on the Brahmaputra River that started even before we stepped onboard the 46-passenger Mahabaahu.
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The Kamakhya Temple
in Guwahati, India, is
dedicated to the Hindu
goddess of desire. It
is a pilgrimage site for
newlyweds who hope to
start a family.
Kaziranga National Park is the world’s largest habitat for
the endangered one-horned rhino.
The Mahabaahu is one of
the few tourist riverboats
on the vast, remote and