"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The India Journals, Ch. 8, The Little Boat

Ch. 8, The Little Boat

Don’t worry about the world ending today; it’s already tomorrow in Australia.—Charles M. Schulz

The 6:30 wake up call Sunday morning is especially taxing this morning as I’m nowhere near caught up on sleep from four and a half days of travel to get to Kolkata.  I get out of my comfy bed reluctantly and head for the shower to wake up.

Once I’m dressed, I see daylight peeking in the drapes and look out the sliding glass doors. 

 Everything is shrouded in fog but I can see that sometime during the night the RV Ganges Voyager slipped its hawser lines at the dock and moved to the middle of the river where it anchored.   Good idea, because we were to tour Kolkata today.

First, though, breakfast.

Eggs cooked to order.   Later on, I'll go into food on board in more detail.   Today, we have lots to do.

Earlier we were divided into three groups, the Shiva (the most powerful Hindu god at the center of the universe, with four arms), the Dolphins (the Ganges “ emerged from Lord Shiva's locks and along with it came... the dolphin ... "), and the Ganesha (the Hindu deity of beginnings and success—among other things—is represented by an elephant head).  That’s what my research came up with, but those who chose the names might have other reasons.   There are, by the way, about 60 river dolphins in the Ganges River.   Anyway, each group is assigned a guide.

At 8A.M., the Shiva group is called to muster on Deck Two, then the Dolphins, and finally my group, the Ganesha with Asif as the guide.  Once on Deck Two, the real treat begins.

Below me, tied up to the RV Ganges Voyager, is what Indians call a “country boat.”  It doesn’t look river-worthy, much less sea-worthy.   Over the next seven days, I come to love this boat and at this writing, it remains a highlight of the entire trip, including the elephant ride And the rickshaws.

Come on, let’s board the country boat…

Decorated with potted plants.

This bamboo contraption was the boarding ramp.   Ever so much simpler and far less expensive than the fancy boarding stairs used by big cruise ships.

Note the bottom of the boarding ladder doesn't sit flat.   There were many variations with this ladder.

Before I get to the best part, I want to show you some photos taken of the country boat on different days.

The bamboo ramp in use.

Showing this one to illustrate the deck boards.

Sometimes, tying up was basic.

Now for the best part:

This simple tool was of the utmost importance to our tour's success.

This is the country boat's engine.   Note the lack of safety barriers.

That bamboo pole?    Wait for it...

Another engine view, with the bamboo pole and a hose.

Tied with a rag so the leaks don't spray the tourists.

Past my feet.....

Out through the hull....

And into the river.   I am hoping this is NOT the bilge pump but that the engine is water-cooled.

So, that special all-important tool is placed on the front of the engine and.....


Is that utterly cool or not!!!    While we're all fanning away the blue exhaust, did you notice what the bamboo pole and cord were for?    They're the throttle control!

And did you notice that the helmsman was controlling the rudder by two pieces of plumbing pipe fastened together?   Love it.

The steady hand of the helmsman holding the cord attached to the bamboo pole, attached to the throttle.

Ah, the country boat!   I hope they never get rid of it.   In this USA, we have become so liability conscious that there is a refreshing freedom in countries where it's absent.

Wherever we went, the country boat followed, fastened to the stern of the RV Ganges Voyager, along with the very practical boarding ladder and ramp.

NOTE:  The video did not appear on my Apple iPad, but did on two other devices.   The outstretched hands were for a squirt of hand sanitizer.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The India Journals, Ch. 7, The Big Boat

Ch. 7, The Big Boat

Hey, people who travel with their bed pillow. You look insane.—Jim Gaffigan

Our motor coach pulls over to the side of a nondescript street in the Kolkata darkness and lets us off.  Thankfully, there are no rickshaws, taxis, or sacred cows impaled on the front bumper.

We are met by several men who lead us around the railroad barriers, across the tracks, past the wild dogs, and onto the river boat that will be our home for the next seven days.  

Two India crows on the wide tracks.   India's railroads have three gauges--narrow, medium, and wide.

This is the RV Ganges Voyager.   Brand new, we are the guinea pigs—this is her maiden voyage.   “Has she had her sea trials?” I ask.   I am assured she has passed her inspections in the river, but we are her very first paying passengers.

The dashing captain.

There are 38 Vantage Tours clients aboard and we are ushered up to the lounge on the top deck, where we are offered complimentary local beer and wines, and “crisped rice” as a canapĂ©. 

The lounge.

The lounge.

Crisped rice ("rice crispies) seasoned with every hot spice known in India and Mexico.

We are welcomed aboard and given a briefing.   Understanding that we are brain-fried after a fourteen-hour Air India flight from the U.S., then a long wait in the Delhi airport before another two hour flight to Kolkata, the briefing is mercifully short.

Room keys are passed out, and we head to our rooms before a light buffet in the dining room.

A photo I stole off the internet, because my photos were taken under fluorescent lights.

East India dining room.

The other side of the dining room.

The boat is exquisite.   Wood floors gleam, everything is bright and shiny.  Someone put a lot of thought into designing this boat and it seems they thought of everything.   At 185 feet in length with a 41 foot beam, the boat can carry 56 passengers in 28 rooms on two decks.   The rooms range from 260 square feet to 400 square feet for the sumptuous Maharajah suite.

My room is called a Colonial suite, but all the rooms for tourists are called “suites” and evoke India’s rich colonial past.

Photo is from an internet posting, enlarged and not very clear.   I post it because it shows the true colors of the room.

My room in natural daylight.

The furniture is not purple.   It looks that way because of the fluorescent lighting.

There's a mini-fridge in that cabinet.   Again, fluorescent lighting messes up the color.

My French balcony.   I opened the windows and watched India go by.

Carpet runner in one passageway.

Look at those floors!

Aboard is a Vantage “inspector.”   I don’t know Joanne’s official title, but she is here to see if this portion of the tour measures up to Vantage quality.   She is Chinese.

Also aboard is Dinesh, born and raised in Kolkata, now living in Chicago and operating a travel agency.  He is a special guest, because Haimark, Ltd., the company operating the boat, hopes he will book tours with them.

I want one of those sprayers in my bathroom!  See the tiny white ball on the drain?   See below.

In the sink drain, as well as in the tub, are three balls of deodorant, the kind they used to use in bus station restrooms.   The smelly ones.

We are introduced to a dizzying number of people, all of whom are in charge of something.   All but one are Indian, and the lone Caucasian was from Haimark, here to see this very important voyage goes off smoothly.  It seemed to me that there were many chiefs but, pardon the pun, there appeared to be few Indians.  I guess they were all working somewhere else on the boat.  I have a difficult time determining who is with Vantage, with the boat crew, or with Haimark.

All I know is that this guinea pig is very, very excited and very, very tired.  Breakfast will be from 7 to 8 A.M. in the East India Dining room with a tour of Kolkata immediately following.

So off I go to room 310 on the upper deck and my very comfortable bed.

Not so fast there, Gullible.   The party boat is ramping up the music and dancing next to us.