India on the Rivers

Assam Bengal Navigation

Assam Bengal Navigation

, West Bengal
, India

A pioneer of river cruises in India since 2003, Assam Bengal Navigation offers discerning travellers an immersive experience of culture, wildlife, history and life along two of the Subcontinent’s greatest rivers. ABN was the first to put Indian long-distance river cruises on the World River-Cruising map amongst the likes of the Nile, the Amazon, the Yangtze and European river cruises.

The boutique cruise ships feature comfortable cabins with ensuites and modern amenities. The unique objet d’art and handlooms on the ships are sourced directly from artisans; and locally made furniture and textiles represent the rich heritage of Assam and Bengal with pride. While there are ample facilities and amenities on board including a spa on all ships and a gym aboard the newest ship, there is something pleasingly vintage about the cruise ships. It could be the good old-fashioned hospitality, slow strides in the countryside or the thrill of going on a voyage of discovery. One thing is for sure. This is no plain sailing.

Travellers can choose between three- to seven-night cruises on the Ganges and Lower Ganges (Hooghly).

The Brahmaputra river travels for 2900 km across Tibet, India and Bangladesh, enriching the lands and bringing life to the regions it flows through. The ABN experience on the Brahmaputra is offered in four to ten nights of adventure, nature, wildlife and eye-opening cultural trysts with the locals and indigenous riverine tribes of the Brahmaputra valley.

Our Rating: Premium
Property Type: On Water


Enjoy a truly unique travel experience gently gliding down the mighty Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers on restored river boats that take you to sanctuaries teeming with wildlife, colonial remnants along riverbanks, and into the heart and hearth of rural India.


All ships come with a comfortable saloon and bar, dining room, a spa and a vast canopied sundeck. All cabins and public rooms on the ships are air-conditioned. The cabins are spacious and can be individually climate controlled, come with ensuite shower and water closet with amenities, and generous cupboard space and under-bed storage. The large sliding glass windows are what makes these ships stand out as they offer panoramic views of the river.


Food on board is prepared fresh by expert chefs who are skilled in both regional and Indian cuisine as well as Continental fare. A favourite pastime of many travellers is to relax on the sundeck with a glass of G&T as they return the waves of curious schoolchildren from the shore. Guests can avail of complimentary garden-fresh loose-leaf Assam tea and coffee with homemade cookies throughout their stay. A wide choice of wines, spirits and beer is available as well.


Cruising on the Ganges

Travellers can choose between three- to seven-night cruises on the Ganges and Lower Ganges (Hooghly). This cruise starts from Kolkata, passing through the terracotta temple town of Kalna; the historically rich Plassey and Murshidabad; the Mughal ruins of Gaur, among others. In the summer months, Assam Bengal Navigation operates cruises all the way into the ghats of the oldest inhabited city in the world, Varanasi; here, waking up in your comfortable cabin with panoramic windows to the sound of prayers from the ghats is truly a special experience.

The Brahmaputra’s Spell

These Brahmaputra cruises have been rated among the world’s top 10 most adventurous cruises by the CNN for it is a mighty river previously deemed too wild to navigate, too moody in its channel changes until ABN embarked on their first maiden voyage. The downstream cruise starts at Dibrugarh, winding its way past the largest river island of the world, Majuli; the tea town of Jorhat; the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park and other stops.

Perfect For
exploring lesser-known destinations and rural India. Also great for private getaways, special occasions, intimate weddings, family get-togethers and reunions and small corporate groups.

Operational status

Ganges river cruises: Closed in May-July; Open in August and September for Varanasi cruise. Brahmaputra river cruises: Closed May-September.

Why we love this place

Explore India in a unique way as you sail down India’s greatest rivers and get a glimpse in to life along the riverbanks.

About your host

Assam Bengal Navigation (or ABN) is an Indo-British joint venture, set up by Ashish and Jahnabi Phookan and Andrew Brock. The first to open the doors to luxury Indian River expeditions, they operate a fleet of four specially-designed small ships, as well as houseboats and safari lodges.

Andrew Brock first discovered his passion for India when after Eton and Oxford University he drove out to the North West Frontier on a travel scholarship. He joined one of the main UK tour operators to India and ran his own company, Andrew Brock Travel, from 1981 to 2009. He has Asian river navigation in his blood: his grandfather was a director of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company while another forebear ran Dennys on the Clyde, which built many of the paddle steamers for the Brahmaputra and the Ganges.

Ashish Phookan’s background is in tea, having worked in London and Assam as a Tea Taster. He still retains an interest in a family tea garden. In 1989, he set up Jungle Travels India in Guwahati with his wife, Jahnabi, handling both incoming and outbound services.

Responsible/Sustainable Tourism

A total of 5% of every room booked with Assam Bengal Navigation is contributed to the ABN Foundation to fund various causes.

No Single Use Plastic: Water is provided in reusable bottles with water filling stations. There is minimal use of single use plastic. The employees work with villagers on steps to reduce plastic. Bathroom amenities are provided in wooden dispensers.

Safe Garbage Disposal: All the boats are equipped with sewage tanks that do not disperse waste in the rivers. Garbage generated on board is brought back to the shore and disposed accordingly.

Nature and Biological Diversity Conservation: Apart from regular tree planting drives, through the ABN Foundation, ABN has been involved with flood relief efforts in Kaziranga National Park. Assistance is provided to the forest authorities by offering services of ABN’s naturalists and guides in wildlife relief efforts during the floods. Additionally, when the park isn’t flooded, ABN collaborates with NGOs like WWF India to run young naturalist training programs in Kaziranga National Park for anyone interested to upskill in this profession.

Local Community Engagement: All staff and crew members on ABN ships, lodges and houseboats are handpicked directly from local communities in the vicinity of the establishments. ABN supports local suppliers by hiring jeeps, guides, sourcing produce from local farmers markets and are patrons for local dance troupes by hiring them for performances for guests. Almost all the ships’ decor and the ships themselves have been handmade by local people. The gift shops store only work created by local artisans of the regions ABN operates in.

Light Footprint Tourism: All the cruises are small in size, hence no more than 24 to 40 guests are on offshore land excursions to temples, monuments, villages and other places of interest. This avoids the impact that mass tourism can have on fragile ecosystems such as national parks and ancient temples.

Sensitive Destination Discovery: Traversing two mighty Indian rivers, the Brahmaputra and Ganges, Assam Bengal Navigation, the routes taken allow for quiet discovery of the region. Places visited are devoid of large number of travellers, thus not adding to stress on local resources.

Heritage Preservation: ABN Charaidew I is a heritage passenger vessel from the 70s that was lovingly restored in and M.V. Rudra Singha – ABN’s private houseboat on the Brahmaputra river, was locally built in the city in the traditional Pansoinau (Assamese boat) style. All properties feature exemplary craftsmanship and handlooms made by local artisans. ABN ships on the Brahmaputra river feature generous bamboo – the ‘green gold of Assam’ panelling in its interiors, sourced sustainably from local farmers in the state. Decor on board features handlooms made by rural women weavers that ABN Foundation supports and the fabrics feature indigenous Assamese motifs all intricately woven to showcase the cultural and natural diversity of the state.

ABN ships on the Ganges river feature arts and crafts, objet d’art, antiques and textiles sourced directly from rural artisans in Bengal, vintage stores and small businesses in Kolkata as well as the villages that the cruises visit.

Human Touch: Staff are provided with hospitality and English language skills before they take up their positions within the company, and hired as full-time employees for the entire year. More than half the staff and crew have been with ABN for more than a decade, with many of them having been with them since inception. They support local schools by working closely with the teachers of government-run schools with their Mid-day Meal Schemes. ABN has been involved initiatives like renovating the roof and floors of the school building, constructing lavatories, donating a library, or directly participating in the classroom through organisation of field trips. Additionally, in 2019, the Baranagar English Tuition Centre was constructed to fuel the dreams of a passionate educator, Kalyan Mandal- a true changemaker in his village.

Our Recommendation

Take a bicycle tour through lesser known routes and get a glimpse into unchartered areas in rural Assam and West Bengal.

Can’t find a suitable itinerary that features a destination, experience or accommodation you fancy? All our group tours and holiday ideas can be personalised, or we can create a tailor made itinerary for you.

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Our Accommodation Ratings

Opulent: Exceptional, unashamedly the best of sheer luxury. (£££££)

Luxury: Outstanding levels of 5* comfort, hospitality and facilities. (££££)

Premium: Excellent levels of comfort and hospitality and a wide range of facilities. (£££)

Mid-Range: Good levels of comfort and hospitality, with a reasonable range of facilities. (££)

Simple: Clean and simple, no frills. Often in areas of natural beauty or near wildlife reserves. (£)