It’s India, but not as you might know it
Its waters support more people than the whole of Australia yet it is a safe bet few Aussies have heard of India’s Hooghly River. Branching off the mighty Ganges near the Bangladesh border, the Hooghly flows 260km to the sea through a bewildering, intoxicating part of East India which, for the most part, is still off the mainstream tourism radar.
Life continues here as it has for generations on farmland rich with banana and mango groves and rice paddies. Tiny fishing boats ply the waters, sometimes escorted by rare Ganges dolphins, and villagers routinely bathe and wash clothes in the river as water buffalo, goats and cows wander the shores.
A seven-night voyage from Kolkata up to the Ganges fork, organised by India Unbound, is a comfortable way to be immersed in this sensory smorgasbord.
After a night at the opulent Oberoi Grand Hotel in Kolkata then a morning walking tour of city sights, we board our floating home, Assam Bengal Navigation’s Rajmahal.
Launched in 2014, Rajmahal (Royal Palace) blends Indian style and colonial elegance with modern necessities such as free Wi-Fi. The 51m vessel has 22 cabins over two decks, a large dining room, a bar/ lounge for evening briefings and spa. A full-length shaded sundeck is the ideal spot to sit and watch riverbank life with a cooling breeze and drink.
Excited children and curious adults wave and call out greetings as we pass.
On shore and with permission, we take photos – old men with character