Above: The Charaidew plies Assamâ€™s Brahmaputra River.
Four ways to explore India by boat.
By Sari Wijaya
Spot mudskippers and kingfishers from the sundeck of the Oberoi Vrinda as it navigates the palm-fringed backwaters of Kerala. The three-night cruise departs from Vembanad Kayal, the largest lake in the backwaters, and travels the Alleppey Canal to the Pamba River, where traditional rice boats take you ashore to visit scenic watertowns. Onboard, recline in wicker chairs while enjoying classic South Indian cuisine, or sip cardamom tea in the privacy of your smartly appointed stateroom (91-484/266-9595; oberoivrinda.com; doubles from US$1,975).
Two of Asiaâ€™s largest rivers, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, empty into the Bay of Bengal at the Sundarbans, a system ofÂ tidal mudflats and mangrove forests that forms the largest delta in the world. Also a World Heritageâ€“listed national park, the Sundarbans is best explored aboard the MV Paramhamsa, a 32-cabin cruiser equipped with a library, massage rooms, and a spacious sundeck. Hop aboard in Kolkata and spend four days floating amid the sundari and gewa trees that characterize the swamplands, and perhaps spotting one of the 500 Bengal tigers that call the area home (sunderbancruises.com; doubles from US$836).
From October to April, sister riverboats the Charaidew and the Sukapha ply the Brahmaputra River on its course through Assam, one of Indiaâ€™s easternmost states. Both vessels come with just 12 cabins, comfortable for journeys lasting between four and ten nights. Onshore diversions include jeep and elephant excursions to national parks and sunset barbecues on deserted river islands (91-361/260-2223; assambengalnavigation.com; doubles from US$750 per night).
Ganges and Hugli Rivers
Spend 15 days exploring the cultural heartland of India aboard the intimate RV Bengal Pandaw, recently refitted following four years of service on Myanmarâ€™s Irrawaddy River. The boatâ€™s maiden voyage in India departs Kolkata in September, traveling the Hugli and Ganges rivers to Varanasi, some 1,300 kilometers upstream. Relax in spacious, wood-paneled suites while the shallow-draft boat takes you to remote reaches of the rivers, allowing you to visit small towns and villages across Bihar, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh (pandaw.com; doubles from US$7,990).
Originally appeared in the August/September 2009 print issue of DestinAsian magazine ( â€śSubcontinental Driftâ€ť)