Day 1: Train from Kolkata to Farakka to board cruise (D)
Midday 6 hr train journey from Kolkata to Farakka, and short road transfer to the ship. Customers joining independently at Farakka can board from midday onwards. For those taking both Bengal Despatch 1 and 2 cruises, a full day excursion by road takes you to Gaur. This quiet, deserted place was once one of India’s great cities, first under the Hindus in the 12th century, then as the muslim capital of Eastern India from the 14th to the 16th century. There are plentiful remain of mosques, palaces and gateways. Later travel on through the town of Malda, or English Bazar, to Pandua where you will visit the great 14th century Adina Mosque before returning to Farakka where your ship will have passed through the lock at the barrage.
Day 2: Visit Rajmahal Hills (BLD)
This morning we leave Farakka and sail out into the River Ganges proper, almost sea-like here just above the great Farakka Barrage. We sail upstream much of the morning, before anchoring at Rajmahal, beneath the Rajmahal Hills. Rajmahal is one of those places, so common in India, which feature in no guidebook and yet offer both interest and atmosphere; once known as Akbarnagar, the town was founded by the Mughal Emperor Akbar as his eastern capital. Shah Jehan, builder of the Taj Mahal, spent much of his youth here. There are remains of palaces, forts and mosques submerged in vegetation which we shall explore. We sail on as far as Manihari Ghat.
Day 3: Visit Antichak & Vikramshilla (BLD)
This morning continue cruising upriver, passing the confluence with the Kosi, coming down from Nepal. We arrive at idyllic Bateshwar, with fine 6th century rock carvings, and from here we drive a short distance to the impressive ruins of the 8th century Buddhist monastery of Vikramshila, then onwards to Kehilgaon or Colganj, where our ship awaits us. We sail on, passing close to the island shrine with both Buddhist and Hindu cave temples, once a centre of the murderous Thug sect.
Day 4: Visit Bhagalpur (BLD)
Sailing on this morning along a stretch of the river where Gangetic Dolphin may be seen, we reach Bhagalpur, a centre of silk production. We shall visit the elegant 18th century mansion built by Augustus Cleveland as well as a silk-weaving village before continuing on to Jahangira Island at Sultanganj, a place of pilgrimage with early Hindu carvings in the rock. On shore, another picturesque rock is topped with a mosque, while there will be a chance to stroll around the local market.
Day 5: Sail on to Monghyr (BLD)
We sail on to Monghyr. Monghyr possesses a large Mughal fort, as well as an East India Company cemetery, now with villagers living amongst the grandiose tombs. We shall also visit the Pirpahar Hill, crowned by a fine old mansion, as well as the Sita Kund hot springs, before continuing our cruise upstream.
Day 6: Sail and arrive Barh (BLD)
This morning we pass under the great bridge at Mokameh, where the naturalist Jim Corbett spent his working life in charge of the ferry which operated here earlier. Nearby we stop to visit a bankside village and stretch our legs. We arrive by evening at Barh.
Day 7: Excursion to Rajgir /Nalanda or Bodhgaya (BLD)
Today there is an excursion to the excavated great Buddhist monastery and stupa at Nalanda and the adjoining museum, then on to the picturesque Pawapuri jain temple in the middle of a lake. Until March 2012 there is available the alternative of a lengthy drive to Boddh Gaya itself, the site of Buddha’s enlightenment and of the bodhi tree under which he sat. Surrounding the great Mahabodhi temple are the temples and monasteries of many Buddhist cultures, Japan, Bhutan, Tibet, Thailand, and others.
We return in the evening to Barh to reboard our ship.
Day 8: Sail and reach Patna (BLD)
Today is a day spent cruising upstream. At some stage we shall pause at a bankside village and stretch our legs. We arrive in the evening at the state capital of Patna and berth close to the old East India Company opium warehouses.
Day 9: AM visit Patna Later, disembark cruise (B)
This morning we take a tour of Patna, visiting the extraordinary 18th century Gola Ghar granary, the great Sikh temple and the rich collections of the State Museum. Disembark late morning and transferred to airport or station (transfer included). Alternatively own arrangements for road or rail travel to Varanasi, Bodh Gaya or Nepal. Alternatively remain on board for the Sonepur Cattle Fair special cruise (Bengal Despatch 3)