River Cruise Testimonial for ANDREW AND MARGARET POLMEAR, UK, THE UPPER GANGES RIVER, DEC 2019 | Pandaw.com
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THE UPPER GANGES RIVER REVIEW

ANDREW AND MARGARET POLMEAR, UK, THE UPPER GANGES RIVER, DEC 2019

Concept: marvellous. There are more archaeological and historical wonders along the Ganges than on any other Pandaw trip we've taken. The villages we visited were unspoilt and the villagers wonderfully engaging.

Boats: splendid. We started on the Katha and transferred to the Kalaw because of engine trouble.

Staff: excellent. We were warned that the cruise would be run by an Indian management company. I thought the standards were as good as Pandaw. Ram as head of house-keeping was quiet, dignified, always there to help and superbly effective. The Ship Managers (Push Pak from Katha and the slim one from Kalaw) were fine, except when something went wrong, then they could be hard to track down. One example was a film show. They couldn't get it to work but instead of cancelling the showing they disappeared, leaving us to assemble, then drift away after 30 minutes. They were also not good when we got stuck on the sandbank. I accept that they didn't know how long it would take for the tug to get to us, but we would have been happier knowing that they didn't know, rather than being kept in ignorance.

Some exceptional things the staff did:

  • The sandbank party. I know it's a Pandaw regular thing, but these guys were marvellous dancers and got us all going.
  • Mick's 70 th birthday on board. They made a cake and made an occasion of it.
  • Excellent map of the Ganges with our destinations marked.
  • Excellent daily briefing notes with useful details (history, architecture etc.) on the back.

Food: excellent. We ate mainly Indian. The Sula wine was surprisingly good.

Excursions: superb, whether they were an unexpected stop at the town of Barh, or the two visits to Varanasi with excellent boat trips and a fabulous breakfast at the waterfront Hotel.

My only complaint is that, after our visit to Sarnath (which was a bit rushed), we were taken back into the chaos of Varanasi traffic to visit a silk weaving factory and shop. Those of us with no interest in shopping could have gone in one of the two minibuses, missed the traffic, and reached the hotel 90 minutes sooner.

Guides: Partha was not a success. He is thoughtful, well informed, and his talks to us as individuals or in small groups were excellent. His talk on Hinduism was truly enlightening. However, when he addressed the large group he adopted a slow delivery, often repeating key words, as though giving dictation to school children.

The other thing I found annoying was that he wouldn't sketch out the structure of a visit at the start, so, again, we felt like children being led around by teacher. He didn't explain why some changes to the excursions were being – e.g. we didn't go to Chandernagore, we went to Barrackpore. I still don't know why.

Finally, he ate all his meals with us and that didn't work. After a day we were a tightly bonded group totally at ease with each other. Partha has no small talk (at least in this setting) so everyone found themselves hoping he would go and sit elsewhere. The local guide in Varanasi was a more engaging character but he was much more interested in religion than in the sites – so much so that at Sarnath we left the group to go round by ourselves. And I think the trip to the silk weaving shop was his arrangement – see above.

Handling of the problems that occurred:

  • Broken engine on Katha: no problem. All was explained, transfer was smooth.
  • River closed to us for the last two days: no problem. All was explained (by Brett) at the start and the Tree of Life Hotel was very good.
  • Stuck on sandbank for 40 hours: I don't see what could have been done better. It was a low point in the trip, especially since it happened in the dry state of Bihar. We should have been better informed of progress (see above).
  • Pontoon bridges south of Patna. Not Pandaw's fault but we could have been better informed. We were told the good news (that we would go through at 9 pm) but not the bad news (we wouldn't go through, ever). That led to the worst event of the trip – the drive to the Museum in Patna (3 hours) giving us just 1 hour in that marvellous museum, followed by the drive back (2 and a half hours). But that wasn't Pandaw's fault. Pandaw did well to arrange a good hotel in Bodhgaya and plane travel to Varanasi.
  • Sickness: most of us had diarrhoea and vomiting, combined with feeling unwell. We counted 13/19 ill; others counted 15/19. It wasn't straight-forward food poisoning (I write as a doctor) because we didn't get ill at the same time – it started soon after joining Kalaw and we went down one by one. It was clearly an infection, not just unfamiliarity with Indian food. Staff were relentless in squirting anti-bacterial rub on our hands. Without stool tests I can't say more. Was there a carrier of shigella in the staff (or passengers)? I mention shigella because the explosive nature of the diarrhoea, followed by fairly prompt recovery, suggests shigella.
  • Alcohol: we had been warned, in our joining instructions, that alcohol "would not be served" in Bihar. We took this to be code for "but there's nothing to stop you drinking your own". So we were surprised that, at the Kolkata briefing, Brett took a much tougher line (and he thought we'd been properly warned, which we hadn't). So our Gin went into the Ganges.

A few more niggles:

  • The arrangements for taking our shoes off on returning to the boat didn't work – we were taking them off in the narrow corridor, putting them in pigeon holes, then collecting our key, before the next couple could get to do the same. Furthermore, shoes sometimes took 12 hours to come back to us. On previous trips we would hand the shoes to the staff on boarding, which avoided queuing in the narrow space. Perhaps handling shoes is a caste issue.
  • We booked cabin 105 10 months before the trip, to be far from the engine. We were given 109 (nearer to the engine) with no explanation. We queried it but got nowhere.
  • Staff would rearrange the dining room furniture (above our heads) after we went to bed. Noisy.
  • The shampoo and gel in the shower were too viscous to pour out. Most gel is viscous but you can squeeze the sides of the plastic containers. These containers were glass. How about handpumps?

Overall, we are glad we made this trip, even though enough went wrong for us to wonder at times. But those problems were not, on the whole, of Pandaw's making.

River Cruise itinerary for The Upper Ganges River

The Upper Ganges River

Kolkata - Varanasi

No Single Supplement on selected dates

14 nights

from US$6,138
members from US$4,910.40

River Cruise itinerary for The Upper Ganges River
River Cruise itinerary for The Lower Ganges River

The Lower Ganges River

Kolkata - Baranagar - Kolkata

No Single Supplement on selected dates

7 nights

from US$3,410
members from US$2,728

River Cruise itinerary for The Lower Ganges River
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