The sluggish Brahmaputra River meanders through north-east India's tea plantations and mango orchards, past Buddhist monasteries and crumbling palaces. The riverbanks are sari-bright and presided over by many-armed gods. The Himalayas loom, and shore excursions are made by elephant. A cruise on the Brahmaputra, where Pandaw Cruises and Assam Bengal Navigation Company operate, extends conventional ideas about where river cruising can take travellers. Pandaw's river excursions also include Myanmar, Borneo, South America and Vietnam.
Those who love river cruising but seek alternatives to Rhine and Danube itineraries populated by Gothic cathedrals, strudel and string orchestras are the target of a raft of cruise lines catering for repeat clients. We've counted 50 rivers across the world navigated by cruise ships. The more unusual destinations include West Africa's Senegal River and Gambia River, the Red River of northern Vietnam and the Kwai Noi in Thailand.
In the US, ships ply the Ohio and Illinois rivers and the Intercoastal Waterway, the latter a series of canals and rivers along the coasts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. The Columbia and Snake rivers through Oregon and Washington states are seeing more traffic, including new itineraries this year by Un-Cruise Adventures and American Cruise Lines (see our feature on Lindblad Expeditions' river cruise).
The mighty Mississippi has been curiously overlooked as a cruise destination, but American Cruise Lines now offers nine itineraries, including a 22-day Complete Mississippi cruise on its new ship American Eagle between New Orleans and St Paul, allowing an uninterrupted voyage along much of the river's navigable length. French America Line has entered the Australian market, selling cruises along the Mississippi and the Ohio, while Viking Cruises aims to operate on the Mississippi from 2018. Interesting alternatives are emerging in Europe, too, among them the Elbe River through Germany, navigated by Viking, and France's chateaux-studded Loire, currently graced by a single river ship, CroisiEurope's Loire Princesse. CroisiEurope also sails the Tisza River through Hungary.