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Back to Homepage / Testimonials / Jan 2020



Firstly, we did the Bhutan pre-cruise trip. We added two days to the beginning to give us a bit more time to cope with jet lag. This worked well, the hotels we stayed in were excellent and our guide and driver were top notch. With hindsight we would have liked more time in Punakha if only to stay in the fabulous Dhensa Resort another night.

We are seasoned hikers of the steep north shore mountains of Vancouver. In no way could you describe the Takstang monastery as a 'soft hike'. We laughed about this all the way down.

Navigating Delhi airport on the way to Bhutan is a potential nightmare for travellers. Fortunately we booked in to the Holiday Inn Express and their excellent rep met us and sorted out the baggage cock-up that is inevitable if you book in to the international part of the hotel. I have a lot of further information if Pandaw want to pass it on to other travellers. Incidentally, we had real issues with Indian eVisa which apparently cannot handle anything to do with Apple despite claims to the contrary. Other passengers on the cruise had no problems with PCs and our agent was also very surprised.

The last part of the pre-cruise was a day in Calcutta which was absolutely excellent. Our guide Partho turned out to be the guide for the cruise and we were well pleased with that. The Oberoi Grand is a fine hotel and a great jumping off point for the cruise. The assembly of guests prior to embarkation was well handled although we were a little bemused as we hadn't received any of the emails which seemed to have upset a few other passengers. I think this may be because we booked through our travel agent. It wouldn't have made much difference to us as we were getting on that ship no matter what. However it was a bit of a surprise that the ship would only go as far as Ghazipur and not all the way to Varanasi.

The first week of the cruise was a genuinely excellent Pandaw experience. The staff and crew of the Katha were lovely if a little inexperienced. The transfer to the Kalaw was handled with seamless efficiency and on we travelled. The Kalaw crew and staff were superb and very attentive. Unfortunately, a lot of the passengers got sick with a nasty diarrhoea. Some did not surface for several days. Jeanette was spared this scourge by, we think, avoiding meat, fish, seafood and salad and sticking to the excellent veggie options. I've never had to take antibiotics for TD before but I took azithromycin early on and that stopped it straight away. I was fortunate in that I only missed one shore trip.

Being stuck on a sandbar is an accepted hazard and we are used to it. We got stuck for a while on the Upper Irrawaddy. That was fun too. There was however a shortage of reliable information as to when the tug was coming and how the rest of the itinerary was to be handled given that we were nearly 48 hours behind schedule. In the end the cruise ended well short of Patna at the first of the pontoon bridges. A long way short of the expected end point, Ghazipur. It quickly became evident that we would go no further and this appeared to have been known by the ship manager for some time.

The shore trip to the Bihar Museum from this location was ill-conceived and poorly planned. Of the two buses ordered one arrived an hour late, the other we did not see until the return journey. Out of over six hours we had only 50 minutes in the Bihar Museum and had to leave as the museum was closing. The visit to Harmandir Sahib was abandoned. We arrived back at the ship tired and pissed off.

I was very glad that the onward itinerary was changed to an overnight stay at Bodhgaya and then an onward flight to Varanasi. The originally planned day would have entailed a train ride back to Patna and then the dreaded bus ride back to the ship. It would have been a long day even if we had been in the scheduled location. The train ride sounded like an excellent idea until we realised it would be in the dark and arriving in Patna at nearly midnight. In the end, it turned out to be a fair compromise but our luxury cruise had turned into a bus tour.

Nalanda was great and Bodhgaya was certainly an education in expectation. A long way from the site of peace and tranquility that we had envisaged. Overall we felt that Bodhgaya had been turned in to a Bhuddist theme park. Interesting to see how far Bhuddism has come in the last 2500 years. The hotel at Bodhgaya was comfortable enough. By now I was ready for a beer.

Our guide was now apparently running the show. I'm not sure that is what he signed up for and he certainly attracted some unwarranted flak from a couple of the guests. Overall he was very friendly, approachable and informative as you would expect. We usually plug the guides for a load of extra information and discussion and he did not disappoint.

Most of the next day was taken up with the flight to Varanasi and transfer to the Tree of Life hotel. Time we would have been much happier if we had been on the ship. The hotel was excellent and the food and service were top drawer. The evening boat ride was wonderful and dinner at the Great Kebab Factory was fine only miscommunications between the drivers meant we nearly made it back to the hotel before turning round and heading back in to Varanasi.

We loved Varanasi but by this time were exhausted by long hours of bus travel and airports. Jeanette missed the morning excursion due to being totally wiped. I managed to drag myself out of bed and made it with (only) five others. It was totally worth the effort, a wonderful morning. Sarnath in the afternoon was an oasis of calm as was the hotel but it was a big let down not being on the ship.

Overall this was a real eye-opening trip for us. This is what we have come to expect from Pandaw after cruises on the Mekong and Irrawaddy. However, the second half was a serious disappointment. It certainly seemed to us that no effort was made to proceed further than the first pontoon bridge and this seemed to have been known to the director long before we had any idea that we would have to leave the ship. The following itinerary was a hastily composed compromise that worked in part but was a long way from the ease and comfort on ship that we had paid for.

I'm prepared to accept that we weren't going to make it past Ghazipur; the Varanasi part of the trip was well handled from the Tree of Life. The bit in-between fell a long way short of what we have come to expect from Pandaw.

Best wishes for the New Year
John and Jeanette

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