Cruising from Kolkata with G Adventures aboard the Varuna

G Adventures’ Varuna on India’s Ganges River. Photo courtesy of G Adventures

On Monday, I’m going to spend nearly 25 hours on three airplanes and four airports in order to reach my newest river cruising destination: India’s Ganges River with G Adventures.

Departing from Kolkata, India (which you might remember by its former name, Calcutta), this nine-day Ganges River Experience looks like the ideal way to experience India and the Ganges for the very first time. Beginning and ending in Kolkata, it combines a one-night pre-cruise stay at the HHI Kolkata with an eight-day voyage along the Ganges aboard the 24-passenger Varuna.

Toronto-based G Adventures prides itself on its well-priced, culturally-immersive tour packages, the vast majority of which are all small-group experiences. India lends itself well to the this, and our itinerary takes advantage of that.

After a day of rest in Kolkata and a welcome meeting the first evening after arrival, we’re setting out for our first experience in India: a six-hour train journey between Kolkata and the port city of Farakka.

Itinerary map courtesy of G Adventures.

You’ve probably heard a lot about Indian trains. So have I. My guidebooks (and friends) are filled with horror stories about them. And yet I am supremely excited to be doing a train journey through India in order to embark the Varuna. Adventurous though I am, this probably isn’t something I’d ever attempt on my own, so I appreciate a little ‘hand-holding’ from G Adventures in this respect.

From Farakka, we’re cruising southbound on the Ganges, eventually returning to Kolkata. Along the way, we’re stopping in Jangipur, Murshidabad, Matiari, Mayapur, Chunchura, and Barakpur. I don’t expect you to have heard of them before. Except for Kolkata, I hadn’t heard of any of them myself. But I am very much looking forward to discovering them.

Getting prepared for Kolkata’s legendary traffic. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

On the ground, G Adventures makes everything ridiculously simple: transfers are provided to and from hotels, airports and the ship, so you don’t have to worry about negotiating your way through India’s notorious taxis.

But there are still a lot of details to look after beforehand, and a few things I wish I’d spent more time on to prepare for my first visit to India.

Keep Checking Your Air

This may just be me, but my air arrangements on KLM and Jet Airways seemingly changed with the wind. Both airlines repeatedly swapped out aircraft on me, causing me to lose my pre-picked seats every time. And I don’t just mean this happened once or twice; it happened half a dozen times as both airlines swapped Airbus A330’s and Boeing 787’s out for what looks like an all-Boeing 777 itinerary now. Maybe that’s what happens when you book airfare seven months out, but it eventually became an annoyance.

Prepare Mentally for Massive Layovers

When you’re flying to India, at some point you’re going to have a massive layover somewhere. I’ve got a 6 hour, red-eye stop at Delhi Indira Gandhi Airport on my return leg, and another five hours to kill at Amsterdam Schiphol. But, I’ve planned ahead: I made reservations for the Plaza Premium Lounge in Delhi in order to shower and maybe get some sleep. In Amsterdam: I’ll probably just hit the Starbucks and pull through.

India’s e-Visa Process

Good news! Most tourists can apply for an e-Visa to India online. The bad news: it’s a tough site to navigate, and some of the technical requirements are baffling. For example, your headshot needs to be a JPEG image, but your passport scan has to be a PDF that’s no greater than 300 kilobytes. I had to use Adobe Acrobat Pro to compress my passport scan down to the appropriate size – and that’s software that not everyone will own. Also, be prepared for some baffling questions and strange wording that you’ll have to figure out as you go along. At one point, the questionnaire asks you what religion you are, but only provides a drop-down menu of about four. Don’t fit those? Tough luck. Pick one.

On the plus side, the Visa was inexpensive (about $50 USD) and I had approval 24 hours later.

Bring Along a Small Pharmacy

This is one area I did not skimp on: I’m bringing nearly every conceivable medicine I can think of, from pain killers to hand sanitizer to throat lozenges to, of course, Imodium. Just in case. It might be overkill, but this is one destination where being overly cautious isn’t a bad thing.

Research!

This is one area where I could have done more. Buy a couple of guidebooks, and read some fiction set in India just to get a better idea of the place you’ll be visiting. I did read Dan Simmon’s excellent book, Song of Kali, a few years back – but it might not be the best introduction to Kolkata, as it’s something of a descent into madness for the protagonist.

Dive Headlong into the Adventure

I’ll travel to India on KLM and Jet Airways, which recently began Boeing 777-300 service to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Photo courtesy of Delta Air France-KLM.

This is more than just a river cruise for me. It’s the chance to learn about a country I’ve never been to and know embarrassingly little about. It’s an opportunity to discover the Ganges River and try out G Adventures for the first time. I have absolutely no idea what to expect – but I can’t wait to share it all with you here, on From the Deck Chair.

Since there’s likely to be little to no Wi-Fi coverage on this journey, I’ll be running the complete Voyage Report beginning on the week of March 20th, in order to allow for live coverage from the annual Seatrade CruiseGlobal Convention in Fort Lauderdale from March 13 to March 17, 2017.

Our Voyage Report aboard G Adventures’ Varuna along the Ganges will begin on March 20, 2017! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

 

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