The gentle knock on my door is Ram—our personal butler.
“Good morning,” he gently offers, entering the suite with a tray. He pours from a polished silver pitcher and the nutty, chocolate aroma of fresh coffee hits my nose. Suddenly I’m awake, sitting up in bed as Ram pulls back the curtains to reveal the soft pink light that is India at dawn.
Even here, in the comfort of my bed, propped against pillows and sipping my coffee, I am feeling the whole of India, right outside. A few minutes later, leaning against my own private balcony, I feel the warm breeze on my face and watch the elegant river outside. Fishermen throw silver nets across the waves. Women in saris wash the family laundry and children wave up back at me, thrilled by the subtle grandeur of our ship.
The Ganges Voyager II was designed and built for this river—the perfect home for exploring the wide and awesome Ganges. Like a two-tiered wedding cake with lacy colonnades, the alabaster ship feels elegant and historic as she glides smoothly across the living surface. Even more brilliant is the tropical design that allows for open breezeways and free-flowing air in all the outdoor spaces while keeping the indoor spaces cool, air-conditioned, yet full of light.
There are only 28 cabins on this ship—a separate and intimate world that feels so personal and private, whole hours pass when I feel that it is just me and India, having our own conversation. I am amazed by the silence and calm that I experience out on the river, either from the expansive top deck, or from the wood-paneled chamber that is my suite. The bed, the canopy couch, the desk—all of it is reminiscent of India’s vivid past.
Ram brings me a selection of handmade soaps and I choose three: sandalwood, pink rose, and lime-green aloe vera. Each afternoon, Ram brings drinks and some new and creative Indian snack. He is formal and polite, but friendly and gracious, proud of his culture and eager to answer all the questions I have. When I ask, he explains how the people in the river are paying homage to their ancestors—and to their gods—by cupping the water in their hands and then letting it fall back into the river.
Nature surrounds me on board the Ganges Voyager II, always reminding me of the circle of life and the barest elements. I remember when I first boarded, a shower of bright orange marigold petals floated down over me—a traditional Hindu greeting of welcome. Then there is the cycle of the days and nights—nights when you can see the stars over the river, a rare treat in India. There is the water that brings life and purity to the millions of people who live here. From our ship, at any moment, I witness how humans and animals interact with the water, be it a mother bathing her child in the shallows, or a shepherd, bathing his water buffalo near the steps of some temple. And there is the eternal flow of the river, whispering the pattern of birth, life, death, and rebirth.
No doubt, this is the most luxurious way to travel the river. In the whole of India, the Ganges Voyager II is the cleanest and most comfortable hotel I have stayed in—and it’s a ship! Between daily land excursions and regular yoga classes, I still found time to book an appointment at the spa, basking in the tranquility of a full-body massage and loving the aroma of Indian essential oils.
Uniworld does more than pay lip service to the well-being of their guest—In India, they infuse wellness into every detail. In the dining room, an entire buffet is set with healthy, organic, and all-natural options. The passionate chef is eager for me to try all that India has to offer, even the spiciest of curries if I ask (and I did). But he also wants me to learn, which is why he pops out during lunch to tell me about the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, and why the green smoothie makes a great cleanse. Perhaps it did, or perhaps it was all the yoga or the chai masala, but I do feel healthier—more vibrant and alive.
Alive enough to find myself dancing on the back deck, deep in the night, as the band from the local village beats out an infectious rhythm. Guests and crew let loose beneath a string of colored lights while back on shore, in celebration of an upcoming Hindu festival, exuberant fireworks explode, sending red, pink, yellow and green sparks across the sky.
That I can be in this spot, during the night, watching the spectacle unfold is what makes this all such a rare and incredible adventure. Few ships are granted this level of access, and even fewer do just this—tying up in some rural corner and inviting all the guests to stop being guests and rather, just be Indian.
And what does that mean? To be Indian? It means waking up in the pink sun, taking the time to enjoy the flavors and gifts of the earth, and showering with sandalwood. It means breathing slowly and mindfully, letting my yoga practice work for me and my body, rather than conforming to the trend of yoga; it means embracing the unforgettable scenery, inhaling the clouds incense that float up from sacred temples, and not ever getting too upset by the wonderful surprises that happen when you let them. This is Uniworld, and this is my home on the water—a place to be open and utterly unafraid in India, full of wonder and delighted by the kinds of beauty that can only be found here.