Two Asian rivers and two experiencesAuthor: John M. (More Trip Reviews by John M.)
Date of Trip: May 2007
The twin-bunk cabins are a little smaller than those of the "Mekong Pandaw", but still well equipped with an ensuite shower and toilet, writing desk, chairs, and wardrobe. It's a more intimate cruise due to the significantly smaller number of passengers - but on trips like this you generally find that only interesting people book them. My cruise, for instance, included a hilarious Italian millionaire businessman (he once rented a vast apartment in the centre of Rome to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) and his wife, the owner of one of Britain's most successful independently-owned travel agencies, the UK's first female Uniting Church minister (she professed to hate Easter and always took holidays at that time), a former CIA officer, and a couple of very humorous Indian travel agents.
Meals are similar to those of the "Mekong Pandaw", although much more casual, and there is no table service for the evening meal. While local alcohol and soft drinks are free on the Pandaw, the ABN charges. Excursions are more remote, and made via a much smaller tender vessel that accompanies the "Sukapha".
We visited a number of Missing tribe villages where visiting Europeans are still regarded as a novelty; Majuli - the world's largest river island where we saw magnificent dancing monks; Hindu monasteries and temples; and majestic Kaziranga National Park - which is home to tigers, one horned rhinos, elephants and teeming birdlife. ABN has since opened a small luxury resort near the Park's entrance.
The river is much quieter than the Mekong. Most cargo travels by road, so the river is very sedate in terms of traffic. The widespread flooding during the monsoon means that the river is constantly changing direction and creating new sand islands and channels - which makes navigation difficult. It is quite common to spend a day zigzagging and travelling twice as far as one needs to. But, as the with Pandaw, the top sundeck is comfortable and affords splendid views as you laze on lounges sipping a gin and tonic or take photographs.
The cruise, which covered about 350 km, ends near Sibsagar, and passengers are either taken to their prearranged accommodation in Dibrugarh or Jorhat - or to the cities' airports for either the return flight to Australia, or the next section of one's visit to India. Unlike the Pandaw, which operates the same trip up and down stream, the ABN offers a choice of about 6 different cruises as well as voyages along the Hugli River.
You can't possibly compare the cruises, for each is so different despite being undertaken in very similar vessels. But each provides lifetime memories. Both navigate two of Asia's greatest rivers, and both have wonderful on-shore excursions. Photographers, in particular, would love either cruise - for subject matter abounds.
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