Monday, 24 March 2014

RV Rajmahal. Hoogli River, West Bengal.

#expeditioncruising

Train passes the famous flower market in Calcutta

Day 1, 22 March 2014

Even before we arrived to board the brand new RV Rajmahal tied up at a remote wharf along India's holy Hoogli River, we'd been immersed in the sub-continent’s famous chaotic transport system.

Yesterday's hotel transfer to Howrah railway station was but a mild introduction to the hurley-burley that makes any visit to India truly 'incredible'. Every highway, road and alleyway is a motley mix of handcarts, livestock, bicycles, lorries, taxis and pedestrians feverishly running the gauntlet between the lot.

This is my fourth visit to India, but my first experience on the railway system that is the talk of train buffs the world over. Calcutta station on any given day is like a scene from an Armageddon movie. Passengers frantically lugging suitcases between all manner of humanity as they search for their respective platforms. Beggars, buskers, vagabonds and vagrants all mill about the central atrium to the accompaniment of Tannoy announcements, whistles, train horns and anxious chatter among travellers. And there's that signature Calcutta aroma.

Four hours later we unload ourselves at Farakka station, suitcases unceremoniously disgorged onto the dark platform. Hemanta, our Assam Bengal Navigation chaperone cheerfully greets us and ushers us to our waiting fleet of taxis to take us the short drive to the vessel.

RV Rajmahal awaits passengers at Farakka
The greeting I remember from Assam a few years back is delightfully reprised by the crew; cool fruit juice, a cold towel, a welcome tikka of lurid kumkum is daubed on my sweaty brow and finished off with a big Assamese smile.

It's well after sundown now and a proper inspection of our vessel will have to wait. But this scratch-built river cruiser shines like a new pin. After the quaint chug-a-lug of the Charediew on the Brahmaputra, Rajmahal lacks something of the nostalgia and romance of the old darling in the northeast.

Rajmahal's spotless wooden flooring is paired with plain white wall panels decorated with antique prints and modern fixtures and furnishings. The big French windows open out to … well, nothing. Instead of a balcony, the cabin itself doubles as an open-air viewing platform. This might take a bit of getting used to.

There's a bit of time for a refreshing splash before the welcome briefing and dinner. Tomorrow beckons.

Stay tuned for more daily coverage of ABN's Rajamahal on the Hoogli.

For more information of Assam Bengal Navigation, see www.activetravel.com.au