India ~ Assam

February 6, 2020

In Assam at a Bodo silk-weaving village before watching a beautiful Bagudumba dance.
India is mind-blowing. One out of every six people on earth live in India. Its population of over 1.3 billion is more than North America, South America, and Western Europe combined! By 2025, India will surpass China as the world's most populous country.

My prior three visits to India were fascinating and you do have to see the Taj Mahal, but I've barely begun to explore all the country's varied cultures, foods, terrain, and sites.

A cruise up the Brahmaputra River offered a chance to see diverse rural villages (some with descendants of people from Tibet, China, Bangladesh, or Burma) and other slices of life in the northeast corner of India.

After flying up from Kolkata, our travels were entirely in Assam, the largest Indian state in the northeast with over 31 million people (larger than Australia and New Zealand combined).

Noble Caledonia's 2020 cruise up the mighty Brahmaputra in India's state of Assam.

Our ship, the handsome, new ABN Charaidew II, carried two dozen mostly British travelers and about two dozen crew. Few other ships were seen on this major river for one critical reason:

The Brahmaputra is wide (often over 5 kilometers wide) but sometimes quite shallow with shifting submerged sandbanks. Our ship had only a 6' draft but still had to maneuver slowly and zigzag cautiously to avoid getting stuck on a dangerous sandbar.

From Google Maps, view this 20 kilometer (12 mile) stretch of the unpredictable river's maze of channels and tributaries. (Google Maps does not know where exactly to put the Brahmaputra label.)

Our relatively large ship was a not a common sight for Indians living along the river. They would pause to watch us glide slowly by, or take photos of us as did the two guys above, or sometimes boys would run to keep up with our ship's careful pace.

Whether on a tributary or river channel, river villages were at risk of erosion during the dry season and being flooded and washed away in the rainy season. (Poles above are an attempt to slow erosion.)

Of the several villages we visited, this extra-tidy one was our favorite because the people were exceptionally friendly and welcoming.
Bottom photo: Londoner Gen was always good at engaging local people.

Shy at first, the school kids became eager to practice a little English and welcome the visitors. At the top is the morning school assembly.

Great mutuality to see some villagers whip out their phones and take photos of us.

And we were often asked for selfies.
Very very cool for many reasons.

Before visiting a market, we were each given 20 rupees (30 cents) to buy our assigned vegetables for the ship's kitchen. Good to have a mission! Here I am with my bag of superb spinach.

In Nameri National Park, we survived the gentle rapids of the Jia Bhoreli river while birds kept our naturalists busy identifying every species.

The one-horned rhino (aka Indian rhinoceros; with the clever species name rhinoceros unicornis) is a conservation success story and thrives in Assam's big Kaziranga National Park. One rhino, shown above, was about ten yards away, paused and stared at our jeep for a while, then decided to continue across the road.

Nevertheless, rhino horns are still a target for poachers. Numerous Kaziranga park rangers patrol the park. From a distance we thought theses two rangers were walking in short grass until we got closer and saw they were riding elephants in (appropriately named) elephant grass.

I'm a terrible bird photographer (except for penguins). But, this nearby, patiently posed white-rumped shama allowed the best bird photo I've ever taken and probably ever will take!

More dramatic than the pretty shama on a stump was this scene of a grey-headed fish eagle eating a fish too large to carry away. Eat, pause, look around, continue with brunch.

The endangered wild water buffalo (bubalus arnee aka Asian buffalo) have amazing horns. Like this cow and calf, most of the remaining ones are in Kaziranga and other parks in Assam.

Kids at the Biswanath village in front of a family's Hindu shrine.

At the Auniati Satra monastery on large Majuli island in the middle of the Brahmaputra.

Impressive dancing and drumming by monks at the Uttar Kamalabari Satra monastery on Majuli island.

Various temples: Family of pilgrims at the goat-filled Kamakhya Temple (from 1500s) in Guwahati (top); hilltop Hatimura Temple built in 1667 at Silghat (bottom left); don't know the name of this third more modest temple but it had friendly people as usual.
Due to the shallow river's challenges, we had more daytime downtime on the ship than I expected in order to get to the next destination safely. And early morning excursions were much colder than I expected. But overall this was a great, easy-going way to see the parks and temples of Assam along with rarely visited villages.

P.S.FYI,
Highlights of my 2018 trip to Delhi, Goa, and Chennai are posted here.