After transiting Bangkok, we arrive in Kolkata as evening descends. The urban sprawl glows bright in the steamy heat of the night as we make our way to the Taj Bengal.
Kolkata, playfully known as the City of Joy, pulses with vibrancy. We enjoy our first taste of Bengali cuisine during lunch before delving beneath Kolkata’s surface. Hand-pulled rickshaws trundle through streets bustling with rogue cows and daring motorists, forced to manoeuvre around them. We visit the Victoria Memorial, and St Paul’s Cathedral, then pay homage to Mother Teresa at the former temple of Nirmal Hriday and Sishu Bhawan Centre. A Welcome Dinner this evening takes place at our hotel.
As Kolkata stirs to another day, we rumble through the city along the oldest operating tram network in Asia. We’re occupied by the varied exhibitions at the Indian Museum, then transit Howrah Bridge. Brace yourself for the bedlam of Mallick Ghat Flower Market. Petals and garlands of bright blooms adorn a heady pathway through some 2,000 stalls. Our final stop is Kalighat Kali Temple, a grand edifice dedicated to the goddess Kali.
Heading for the north eastern state of Assam, we fly into Jorhat and transfer to Naemati Ghat where we are welcomed aboard the MV Mahabaahu. Over high tea, onboard experts recount the intricacies of Assam’s revered tea ceremony. As the sun slides beneath the Brahmaputra River, the first of many dinners is served.
Sibsagar, translated as ‘the ocean of Lord Shiva’, is strewn with ruins of the ancient Ahoms. Eager to explore, at Talatal Ghar our guide takes us back to a time when wrestling bouts and buffalo fights regaled royals and their guests. We then gaze to the top of Shiva Dol. A lunch of traditional Assamese fare awaits us at a tea estate. This evening we celebrate with a toast towards the New Year. Resolutions are made over an ostentatious dinner and we turn towards the exciting new horizons.
Having arrived at Majuli Island before daybreak, we invite you to start 2019 with a Your World experience.
Once on the island, we are whisked to a 15th-century satra, a monastery that preserves a form of Hinduism known as Vaishnavism. Here, colour and music collide in a cultural performance featuring local singers and dancers. In Kamalabari Satra, we meet the local priests before sailing for a Mishing village where women are renowned for their expertise in handloom weaving.
The sky begins to darken and stars shimmer above us. We dock on a deserted island and while away the evening on the beach in front of a bonfire.
We edge into the eastern realms of Kaziranga National Park. Lush, green and on the World Heritage-list, it’s home to two-thirds of the world’s Indian rhinoceros. A boat safari on small vessels gets us close to local wildlife.
Later, an onboard chef reveals secrets of Assamese cuisine and local spice blends during a demonstration.
Ambling through the village of Biswanath Ghat, we visit a Shiva temple and spend time exploring on our own terms. A short drive leads us to our next port of call, a tea estate where we can stretch our legs and observe workers pruning the bushes. We learn how Assam tea is produced and relish a freshly brewed cup. En route back to the ship, we call in at The Assam Co-operative Jute Mill.
It’s back to Kaziranga today where an early morning Jeep safari increases our chances of encountering its star species. But it’s not all about the rhino. The park is also home to as many as 180 different species of mammal including elephants, deer, bison and Bengal tigers. We relax during breakfast at a resort in Kaziranga then drive to Bagori on the Western Range of the national park. Here, our safari continues. Our open-top Jeep heads for watering holes, known locally as beels, hoping to catch sight of elephants and their young. Perhaps, despite their shyness, even a tiger.
Breaking up a full day of sailing, we drop anchor at an island occupied predominantly by Bengali Muslims. Meet the locals and learn about their traditional farming practices. Also stop at Umananda Island, known as ‘Peacock Island’. It is the smallest inhabited island in the world and home to one of the most endangered species of primates, the golden langur. These notoriously hostile creatures are only found in certain areas of western Assam and the neighbouring Black Mountains of Bhutan. We step ashore and make our way to the Kamakhya Temple.
Tonight’s Alvida Bhoj, a Farewell Dinner, promises to be a festive affair, with a traditional toast raised to our crew and their gracious Assamese hospitality.
Back on land in Guwahati, we say goodbye to India and head for Bhutan on a morning flight that whisks us into the Himalayas. Landing in Paro, we drive to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, sprawled across the western slopes of the Wang Chuu River valley. We pause at Buddha Point on the way to our hotel, the Taj Tashi.
A city tour reveals a distinct lack of traffic as we take in the sights of Thimphu. Highlights include the National Library and the Institute for Zorig Chusum. After lunch at our hotel we spend time at the King’s Memorial Chorten. Before the day’s end, we call upon Tashichhodzong, a monastery and fortress that houses the Bhutanese government, as well as the offices of the king.
Eyes locked on the landscapes, we ascend Dochula Pass into the lush Punakha Valley. Foamy white waterfalls froth from the crevices and 108 memorial chortens (shrines) perch precariously from mountainsides that nudge the clouds. We visit Punakha Dzong, the palace of great happiness and bliss and take a gentle walking excursion through rice fields to the Fertility Temple.
As mist lifts from mountains, we drive to Paro, winding through the skyscraping peaks. This is a community that exists in harmony with its surroundings. After checking in to our home for the next three nights, the Zhiwa Ling Hotel, we enjoy a friendly archery match. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and competitions are held regularly in most villages.
Taktsang Monastery is arguably Bhutan’s most photographed icon. Mushrooming from a cliffside, the spectacular structure, also known as the Tiger’s Nest, is well worth the early morning hike. As we walk, the haze around us lifts and strands of colourful prayer flags flutter in the cool breeze. In the afternoon we head for 7th-century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the kingdom’s oldest and most sacred shrines.
Among turning prayer wheels and a rainbow ripple of flags, we stop and inhale the serenity of Rinpung Dzong. Constructed in 1646, the complex houses the monastic body of Paro. Our next stop is the former watch tower of Ta Dzong, now home to the national museum.
Paro’s valleys are embellished with clusters of colourful farm houses, traditionally built without a single nail. On an afternoon visit to a nearby village, our understanding of rural Bhutanese life is further enhanced.
Farewelling a world beautifully lost in its own traditions and culture, we depart Paro on an early afternoon flight to Bangkok.
We touch down in Australia early this afternoon. Having broken down barriers to some of the most remote regions of the world, we are vastly enriched by our time abroad.
Sometimes travelling can be a chore, distracting you from the fascinating places you are in. That’s why everything mundane has been moved behind the scenes. You will never have to carry a map, luggage, small change for tips or bargain for a taxi fare.
There are no hidden costs. Everything is included – flights and other travel arrangements, luxurious accommodation, travel insurance, all dining and drinks, and even sightseeing trips. Even the Your World experiences within your itinerary and internet access when available.
Welcome to your homes away from home. Each one has a certain something that sets it apart from every other residence at its location. Whether for its history, cultural significance or natural setting, we’ve selected only the very best.
When staying in the City of Joy, there is not a more fitting hotel than the Taj Bengal. After touching down, why not enjoy a wellness treatment at the fitness centre or spa or just wander the beautiful grounds and become acquainted with our new home. With the stunning Kolkata skyline in the distance and lush flora abundant on the hotel’s expansive premises, it’s impossible to think of a reason not to be joyful.
Cruising along the Brahmaputra River, we have happened upon an astonishing method of animal observation. From your cabin’s window or the ship’s panoramic Sun Deck, we are able to peek at India’s wildlife in their natural home. Maybe we’ll see a tiger stretching its paws or a mother elephant guiding its young. Grab your binoculars and a drink topped with exotic fruit – we’re settling in right here for the day.
Nestled in the heart of the Thimphu Valley lies the incredible Taj Tashi. Immerse yourself in the Kingdom of Bhutan as you experience an enchanting blend of Dzong architecture, modern design and hand-drawn Buddhist murals. Most strikingly, you may notice a series of clouds masking the walls as they are a common subject of Bhutanese art. From your comfortable suite, fall into the arresting landscapes adorned with monasteries.
Fares are based on a Superior Cabin (without Private Balcony) aboard the MV Mahabaahu. Per Person, Twin Share. Fares are in Australian dollars and include Thai Airways flights from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Prices from other cities available on request.
Land Only Guests join the tour in Kolkata for overnight accommodation on Day 1 and depart Bangkok airport on Day 17
Solo availability at the above prices are limited.
Cruise Upgrades add per person, twin share
Superior Cabin (with Private Balcony) $700
Superior Suite $2,000
Solo Supplements add per person
Superior Cabin (without Private Balcony) $5,700
Superior Cabin (with Private Balcony) $6,950
Superior Suite $10,000
Tour Notes: This journey is reserved for a group of just 24 guests.