Ending Our Indian Journey on the Ganges

G Adventures’ Varuna, on the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

I crossed the street nonchalantly, dodging electric rickshaws, tuk-tuks, and iconic white Tata cars. I sidestepped a sleeping dog, waved to an old man selling Chai at the side of the road, and stopped on the other side, next to a man receiving an outdoor shave with a straight razor.  Nothing unusual – nothing strange. Just another day in India’s West Bengal region.

Today is the last day of my river cruise along India’s Ganges River with G Adventures, and it seems inconceivable to know that tomorrow I’ll head back to Kolkata Airport and leave India behind, just at the point I finally feel like I’m beginning to know this strange and wonderful place.

This morning, we visited an English school in the town of Chandernagore, West Bengal. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

When I arrived here eight days ago, I was intimidated by a world of foreign sights, smells and sounds. In Kolkata, I holed up in my hotel room in, unsure of my own skills. Even as an experienced world traveller, my first hours in India intimidated the hell out of me.

Over the past week, G Adventures hasn’t just shown me India; it’s demystified it. Laid bare is a country that is filled with friendliness and resourcefulness; a country of paradoxical poverty and ingenuity.

The Kingfisher beer I’m drinking as I write this cost me 300 rupees – about $5 USD. It is more than some of the people in the villages we’ve been to make in a week. But there is little resentment and hostility towards us as foreigners. While the older generation may eye us cautiously as we pass by with our iPhones and our cameras, the younger generation is more easygoing. They wave, practice their English, and greet us as friends.

In the streets of Chandernagore, more kids playing cricket… Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and strolling along the riverfront promenade. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

These kids and teenagers are the future of India. They have a monumental challenge ahead of them; despite our positive experiences, India remains a country of crushing poverty, limited education, and a caste system that flourishes in all but the country’s largest cities. Rail and electrical networks are ageing; and pollution of all kinds is so widespread that after eight days here, I’ve accepted garbage, refuse and choking smog as a natural part of life.

But this younger generation has the tools that their parents -and their parent’s parents – did not. Phones, the internet, and better education in cities will mean that India will continue to evolve and change, just as it has for hundreds of years. This change isn’t always easy, or welcome, but Indian history is full of acts of pride and resilience.

Earlier, I used the word ‘paradoxical.’ That’s India in a nutshell. India has tested me more than any other country I’ve been to, but I love it here. And if you haven’t travelled here, you should. India will confound you. It will frustrate and even frighten you. But there’s nothing else like it on Earth.

This afternoon, torrential rains hampered our touring plans… Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…so I set up shop in the comfy Saloon aboard the Varuna instead. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I’ve also been more than impressed with G Adventures. My first outing with the Toronto-based company has proven that the company’s brochures are spot-on. G Adventures provides authentic tours that are respectful of the unique culture, cuisine and history with each destination. The company wants to showcase the regions they travel in, by land, marine, or rail, in a way that is educational and fun, but that stays true to the company’s roots. Groups are small and experiences are rewarding.

As one of only a handful of companies offering river cruises on the Ganges (the other major players are the all-luxe Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Southeast Asian river cruise line Pandaw), G Adventures is the most cost-effective. This entire itinerary goes for a brochure rate of $2,199 USD per person – little more than what you’d pay to go to Alaska for a week in a balcony stateroom on a big mainstream cruise ship.

Aboard the Varuna… Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…as we pass the Howrah Bridge… Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and Kolkata’s Howrah Station, where our journey began one week ago. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This is only the second year that G Adventures has offered this Ganges river cruise, but already the product is more polished than I would have expected. This has truly been the sleeper surprise trip of my year. I expected good things from G Adventures, based on the company’s reputation. Instead, I got an exceptional experience at every turn.

There’s a joke in India that when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, a chai walla rolled along past him. That’s not far off the mark. Bollywood cinema rivals mainstream Hollywood, and India is at the forefront of technology. It’s a country that has one foot in the future, and one foot firmly planted in the past. The Industrial Revolution is waiting in the wings. And you’re going to want to see India now, before it changes forever once more.

The Howrah Bridge and the Hooghly River. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report aboard G Adventures’ Varuna along the Ganges has sadly come to a close, but stay tuned for our Voyage Recap and Photo Tour of the MV Varuna! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

On the Ganges with G Adventures

March 1, 2017Arrival in Kolkata, India
March 2Train to Farakka and embarkation of Varuna
March 3Guar, West Bengal
March 4Barangar & Murshidabad, West Bengal
March 5Plassey, West Bengal
March 6Matiari & Mayapur, West Bengal
March 7Kalna & Chinsura, West Bengal
March 8Barakpur, West Bengal
March 9, 2017Disembarkation in Kolkata

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