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7 Pandaw Kolkata (Calcutta) Cruise Reviews

Pandaw is an excellent company and the Ganges has more to offer in the way of palaces, temples and ancient ruins than any other river in Asia. We knew that the ship would actually be run by an Indian management company but the standards ... Read More
Pandaw is an excellent company and the Ganges has more to offer in the way of palaces, temples and ancient ruins than any other river in Asia. We knew that the ship would actually be run by an Indian management company but the standards were as good as other Pandaw cruises: a lovely boat, replica of the 19th century river boats of Asia, excellent Indian food, friendly and highly competent staff. They did the usual Pandaw things, including an evening party on a sandbank with blazing fire, music and dancing (at which the crew were fantastic). The Ganges is pretty dull in itself - the land is flat so you don't see much till a village or temple comes into sight. But the excursions suited us fine, since we love temples and palaces. Highlights were Nalanda, the medieval Buddhist University, Bodhgaya, now a huge centre for Buddhist pilgrimage, and above all Varanasi, where we had dusk and dawn boat trips followed by breakfast on the roof terrace of a riverside palace, now a hotel. Marvellous! The other thing to mention is the reception we were given in small towns and villages. Children and adults were fascinated by us and eager to say hello somehow. And even in the poorest villages colour is everywhere (as well as rubbish). As previous reviewers have said, there were problems. We had to change ship because an engine could not be repaired. And the water level fell too low, so we were stuck on a sandbank for 40 hours and then could make no progress beyond Patna because, with the low water level, pontoon bridges had been slung across the river, too low for us to pass under. This meant that our trip to Patna was a nightmare 3 hours driving though traffic, giving us just 1 hour at the Museum. And it meant we had to abandon the boat there, travelling on by road and plane, staying in (good) hotels, to reach Varanasi on time. I thought Pandaw did extremely well at finding solutions to the problems. Anyone who has travelled much in India knows these things happen, but it is true that our optimism was at times stretched. Another Indian thing was that most of us got Travellers' Diarrhoea. There's nothing new in that in India either. I'd hoped that being on the boat would protect us from that, but it didn't. Read Less
Sail Date December 2019
Third Pandaw cruise after Irrawaddy & Mekong & very disappointing but we were forewarned after many bad reviews. All 19 pax were return custom & we departed in KATHA PANDAW on one engine which precluded us transitting the ... Read More
Third Pandaw cruise after Irrawaddy & Mekong & very disappointing but we were forewarned after many bad reviews. All 19 pax were return custom & we departed in KATHA PANDAW on one engine which precluded us transitting the Farraka lock 11 Dec so we transferred to the KALAW PANDAW 10 Dec to continue. The ship went aground on the afternoon of 14 Dec & remained stranded for 42 1/4 hrs until freed by a tug 16 Dec so nearly two days were lost never to be retrieved. The cruise ended at Putna 18 Dec as the section to Varanasi was not navigable due to lack of water & we completed the trip by road & air. 15 of the 19 pac were sick at various times which suggests standards if food preparation & general cleanliness weren’t “up to scratch”. Shore excursions were very ordinary & the menu was very bland & unimaginative. No alcohol for seven days while transitting Bihar state detracted from the conviviality of the evening meal. Read Less
Sail Date December 2019
As previous very happy Pandaw clients, when the opportunity arose to cruise the Ganges we jumped at it. Did not comparison shop or explore other options such was our faith in Pandaw. First mistake on our part. After paying the balance ... Read More
As previous very happy Pandaw clients, when the opportunity arose to cruise the Ganges we jumped at it. Did not comparison shop or explore other options such was our faith in Pandaw. First mistake on our part. After paying the balance of our not insignificant account, alarm bells started ringing when on 28/10 a message appeared advising that due to problems they were experiencing they would allow a change of date to future sailings without penalty. No offer of refund though. As we had already arranged flights and other travel costs which were all subject to heavy cancellation/change penalties we decided to proceed. Second mistake. Shortly before departure, almost at the 11th hour, a disclaimer appeared on the Pandaw website: "Please Note these river expeditions are operated by Indus Expeditions, not Pandaw, and it is understood that the style and standards may be very different from those offered on Pandaw managed cruises. Indus Expeditions make every effort to offer the highest levels of guest care but it should be noted that given the chaotic but often charming way in which India works these are very different from what you will find in South-East Asia!" Having never heard of "Indus Expeditions" and knowing nothing about them we would never have booked this cruise. I feel Pandaw deliberately kept the fact that they had subcontracted these cruises from their clients. Everyone knows that subcontractors usually never perform to the same standard as the principal. As a small example, no safety briefing was held on embarkation which may be a violation of maritime law. But with no options left we proceeded. The first few days passed without incident and we enjoyed the river scenery. The ship ran aground at one point and it took a tug 2 days to reach us requiring another modification and reduction to the itinerary. Food was generally OK if not special and the shore excursions fairly ordinary. The staff, although obviously new to the job were however exceptional. Unfailingly helpful and cheerful, nothing was too much trouble. Unfortunately, some time around early/mid voyage a gastro intestinal/ upper respiratory bug struck affecting about 80% of passengers, some worse than others. One person told me he had been unable to eat for 5 days. Both my wife and myself were badly affected causing us to miss many meals and excursions (due to the need at all times to be in close proximity to a toilet) including the much awaited dawn cruise in Varanasi. The two extra days post cruise we had arranged were mostly spent in the hotel room. We are mature but fit people and world travellers but sadly were unable to 'take these things in our stride' as suggested by Pandaw. We have never experienced travel illness like this before. We have been home for 3 days and still not recovered, Xmas was a non event for us this year. Read Less
Sail Date December 2019
We travelled to Kolkata on 10 October , looking forward to Pandaw’s inaugural 14 day cruise up the Ganges to Varanasi. Late in the afternoon of 11 October ( the day before departure ) we were told that the cruise was not going to ... Read More
We travelled to Kolkata on 10 October , looking forward to Pandaw’s inaugural 14 day cruise up the Ganges to Varanasi. Late in the afternoon of 11 October ( the day before departure ) we were told that the cruise was not going to take place . We later found out that the stated reason , namely a closed lock at Farraka , had been known to Pandaw since 4 October ( at the latest ) . Pandaw deliberately concealed this information from their passengers , no doubt to ensure that they travelled to India unaware that the cruise they had paid for was about to be cancelled. On assembling for embarkation on 12 October we were told that our options were (1) a refund for the cost of the cruise , but not of the costs of travelling to India (2) a circular cruise of the Lower Ganges and a refund of the cost of the second week (3) a circular cruise of the Lower Ganges followed by a land based second week , touring Bihar by coach . Though very disappointed with what we were offered we took option (2) , confident that Pandaw would provide us with proper compensation for having failed to provide us with what we had paid for . The week long circular cruise was really very poor indeed . The itinerary expanded to 7 days an itinerary that was scheduled to take 4 , leaving us onboard for stretches of up to 22 hours. The crew , though friendly , were untrained . The food was poor and insufficient . The boat was dirty and started its journey without basic safety equipment such as life jackets and fire extinguishers. The Founder of Pandaw rightly described Pandaw’s treatment of us as “ appalling “ . An employee of Pandaw promised that we would receive “ substantial “ compensation. Disgracefully, when we started to press for compensation, Pandaw changed their tune completely. Their new position is that we are not entitled to any compensation at all : instead we have been offered 25% off our next Pandaw trip , which is of no value to those of us who would never contemplate travelling with them again . Pandaw’s position is that they would have been entitled to provide us with a stationary cruise with the vessel tied up at the bank . We have also been personally rebuked by the Founder for not showing him enough goodwill . He has also threatened us with libel proceedings . Our position is that Pandaw deceitfully concealed from us the fact that our cruise was in jeopardy , failed to provide us with what we had booked and paid for , provided us with a wholly inadequate alternative on a boat that was unfit and unsafe to travel . We have been left £1000s out of pocket and deprived of a trip we had been so looking forward to. We regard the conduct of Pandaw , as having been much worse than the “ appalling “ that they admit to , but also dishonourable and dishonest . Having been so substantially defrauded by Pandaw we will never use them again and will advise all who ask us to steer well clear of them . Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
We have travelled extensively on ocean and river over the last 20 years and have, with the exception of our October Pandaw India trip, always enjoyed our adventures. On two occasions plans went astray but we were adequately compensated. ... Read More
We have travelled extensively on ocean and river over the last 20 years and have, with the exception of our October Pandaw India trip, always enjoyed our adventures. On two occasions plans went astray but we were adequately compensated. This is the first time I have voiced my dissatisfaction in a public forum and I have endeavoured to report the issues as accurately as possible. We arrived in Kolkata in anticipation of the inaugural 14 day cruise to Varanasi. Unfortunately the late finish to the monsoon season and associated flooding closed the lock at Farraka and prevented our boat Katha Pandaw from reaching Varanasi. We were only notified of this closure at 3.30 pm the day before although Pandaw had knowledge of potential problems with our itinerary some days prior. One hour before we were due to board our boat, we were given the option to cancel but we had accommodation, tours and flights booked for the end of our cruise and we felt we were unable to organise an alternate itinerary without any notice or help let alone compensation for consequential losses. In reality there was no real choice. We were told the amended itinerary, which we did not receive for four days, of one week on the boat Kolkata return and one week by air and bus would be “amazing”. Sadly this holiday was far from amazing and far from the luxury as advertised by Pandaw. We made the best of our first week on Katha Pandaw as the scenery along The Ganges was beautiful. However the boat was not safe nor fit for passengers. In terms of safety, electrical sockets were loose, grouting in showers filthy, tiles were falling off bathroom walls and the showers would suddenly lose all cold water with the result that many passengers were scalded, including myself on three occasions. Our cabin was not as comfortable as on previous Pandaw trips. The mattress on the bed was the hardest we have ever slept on and the majority of passengers were complaining. The air conditioner which needed to be on at all times due to the heat and humidity was the noisiest we have ever experienced. Some were held together by packing tape to try and stop the rattling. The compressor went on and off all night and it was very difficult to sleep. There was no usable soap and only a tiny glass bottle with body wash from which it was impossible to get the contents out. We were told that they tried to buy cakes of soap for the cabins but it was a public holiday! Is this the best Pandaw could do!? Even the representative of the Indian management company who visited the boat following multiple complaints admitted that Katha Pandaw was not ready for passengers. And yet there we were! The only conclusion we could come to was that Pandaw had failed miserably in ensuring the boat was fit for purpose. Staff was new to Pandaw and inexperienced, untrained, without name tags but always charming and polite. The food was well below the standard advertised and offered on other boats. The chef had no idea of the amount of food needed to feed 20 passengers and if you arrived a little late for a meal there would be insufficient food. Following complaints, half way through the journey the quantities increased and so did the variety of the dishes offered. However the presentation and quality never approached the food we enjoyed on other Pandaw boats. The dining area was located indoors but the two air conditioners were totally inadequate to cool the room. The lunch buffet was set up outside so food including rice sat in the heat for far too long before the meal. Whilst on board, we received an email from Paul Strachan, the founder of Pandaw, apologising for (and I quote) the “appalling situation” on board which was “far from the standards you would expect from Pandaw”. We continued on with our second week of the itinerary. We flew to Patna in Bihar and commenced a road trip which proved to be a very difficult and stressful week where everything seemed to go wrong. Two of the hotels were disgusting with torn and dirty sheets which looked like they had not been changed after the previous guests, mouldy bathrooms and air conditioners we did not turn on due to the filth inside them. One day we were in the bus for about eight hours so needed to find a toilet and all our guide could find was a disgustingly dirty pit toilet. In all we lost nearly two full days out of seven with air travel together with numerous hours sitting in a bus. The endless difficulties encountered during this week would be perfect material for a film sequel entitled “The Very Worst Marigold Hotel”!! When enjoying the tours organised by Pandaw whilst on the boat, there was always a tour guide and two other staff members one of whom carried the first aid kit. However on our land tour we only had one guide, albeit an excellent one, with no crew member walking at the rear and no first aid kit. Passenger safety was compromised especially taking into account that many were in their 70’s. We flew to Varanasi with three nights at a beautiful resort about 45 minutes from the city. Our luggage came by road and was expected to arrive late afternoon but we did not receive it until midnight. On our last day we arose at 4 am to travel to The Ganges to enjoy a romantic sunrise cruise. There were to be two small boats and two musicians on each but all we got was one large boat, two musicians and a broken engine which meant we were towed along by an underpowered small boat belching black diesel fumes over us. It took us so long to reach our destination that we needed to return straight to our bus and missed the one hour walking tour of the old town area of Varanasi. Yet another disappointment! In conclusion, regrettably the best day of this Pandaw journey was the day we flew home! Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed 3 prior river cruises with Pandaw, Mekong, Irra waddy and Red river/Halong bay, plus optional Pandaw land tours. On 12th October all that credibility crumbled to dust and blew away. Whilst in ... Read More
My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed 3 prior river cruises with Pandaw, Mekong, Irra waddy and Red river/Halong bay, plus optional Pandaw land tours. On 12th October all that credibility crumbled to dust and blew away. Whilst in transit from Delhi to Kolkata afternoon of the 11th we received an email from Brett Lemish, Indian area manager of Pandaw, advising due to flooding our 14 day river cruise is not possible, causing changes to itinerary. On 12th October, commencement of our cruise, my wife and I plus 18 other passengers gathered in the Kolkata Oberoi hotel lobby, rooms vacated, bags packed, anxiously awaiting Brett Lemish who informed us at 10am the 14 day river cruise is not possible due to extreme flooding, and the river Farraka lock gates closed. Consequently Pandaw now offered cancellation and refund, or 7 day cruise only and part refund, or a revised itinerary 7 day cruise/ 7 day land tour with Katha Pandaw departing and returning Kolkata, followed by flight to Patna and land tour and short flight on to Varanasi. Brett informed all passengers he would provide us with the amended itinerary the following day, adding it will be very enjoyable. Being "stunned" by this news, and being in Kolkata, bags packed, vacated room, additional holiday itinerary after India, and based on past high standard experienced, with Pandaw my wife and I reluctantly decided to stay for the 14 days. ( we felt we had little choice and such a short time to decide). A BIG mistake. RIVER CRUISE 7 days ( Kolkata and return Kolkata ). Unfortunately the promised revised itinerary only arrived after 3 days cruising, and as the 14 days progressed we realised it lacked detail. We now know it was "scrambled" together. We passengers were testing and refining a "scrambled" itinerary. Pandaw duty of care - Pandaw staff and local Indian contractor knew the river lock was closed 8 days prior to commencement of our cruise, yet Pandaw failed to inform passengers. We were denied the opportunity to review our holiday arrangements. The Indian contractor General Manager (Captain) met all passengers on board the Katha Pandaw about 5 days into our cruise, and informed us it was known the Farraka lock was closed on 2nd/3rd October. He said the boat, having arrived from another country, had been detained in customs bonded area for 6 months, and end of August it was released to his company, leaving only 6 weeks to prepare everything and this was not possible. He stated he had insufficient time before our cruise. His company had never prepared a boat for Pandaw previously, no idea of standards required, apparently no check list provided from Pandaw. Safety - Serious omissions. We set sail lacking life jackets and fire extinguishers, these arrived in a small boat 2 days later. Passengers were given no evacuation procedure instructions/training. Maintenance - Katha Pandaw has many maintenance issues, water pipe leaking from our cabin ceiling as we unpacked our suitcase, then apparently fixed, but during that night water leaked again onto my wife's bed, soaking the mattress. We moved cabin first thing in the morning. Passengers complained of faulty light switches, wall tiles in showers falling off, random and dangerous gushes of very hot (scalding) water . Crew - very polite, but lacked english language and training, very frustrating when trying to order type of tea/coffee/variety of wine. All basic requirements for a river cruise. After 2 days another crew member came aboard and he appeared to have a better understanding. In addition new cooking equipment was brought on board, to be used for breakfast next day, but abandoned as no staff could operate the new equipment, and breakfast then served from below deck. LAND TOUR 7 days. First day predominately travelling to airport, booking in, flight, travelling to Patna. Hotel was "very average" and not to standard we expected. Second hotel Rajgir Residency was disgusting, dirty room, we could not wait to depart. Third hotel Bodhgaya Residency "hotel" was worse, shameful, our window was filthy not outside, but inside with years of dust and grime, bathroom filthy and poor maintenance (bath moved), electrical socket for kettle was "live" not possible to switch off kettle, only unplug. Bed sheet well worn with a tear about 25cm long. We felt grubby and unclean all the time, and could not stop washing our hands and were very happy to leave this dreadful place. A far cry from the Pandaw standard we knew, and expected. Two friends found their pillows were badly stained, and have a photo as memory. If this is best Pandaw can do, then don't do it. We then flew to Varanasi, and taken to " The Tree of Life", a luxury small resort, and had a most enjoyable stay. Only problem being the resort was nearly 2 hours travelling time to the Ganges, by bus/motorised rickshaw/walk to the evening ceremonies. Very interesting ceremonies, and followed by a delightful dinner overlooking the Ganges. All good, but we were all so tired, and by the time we walked/rickshaw/bus we returned to our resort at 11pm, and our suitcase arrived about 11.30pm, by which time we were shattered. Two days later we returned to the Ganges early morning, to experience a gentle river cruise and daily bathing and day to day rituals. Upon arrival we all boarded one large wooden craft, but no working engine. A smaller craft then arrived with an overworked engine disgorging fumes as we were towed, with all 17 passengers, guides, and crew aboard. Due to cruising against the strong current our boat was stationary or going backwards, very slowly forward. The whole cruise taking 3 times as long as planned. This meant we missed the opportunity to walk through Varanasi historical area. On the final day at Tree of Life, purely by chance, a passenger and I, sat down with Brett Lemish, Indian area manager of Pandaw. Brett stated they are dealing with the many concerns we have all raised, and apologised profusely and that Pandaw have engaged consulting electrical and plumbing engineers, maintenance staff and crew training of the Katha Pandaw, after we disembarked in Kolkata This of course is of no use whatsoever for any of our inaugural cruise passengers, now at the end of our 14 day survival. After receiving a very apologetic email from Paul Strachan quote " apologise for the appalling situation you are currently enduring on the Katha Pandaw. I am really sorry about this. " I can truly understand your anger". Judging by Paul Strachan saying how difficult it has been setting up in India, he seems to confuse what Pandaw offer with what we actually received. My wife and I entered into email correspondence with Paul Strachan, Brett Lemish and James Talbot. We requested 50% refund of monies paid, and that we are not interested in 25% from a future cruise ( must be joking ). After very many emails, Pandaw paid usd1000 total and offered 25% discount from a future cruise. We have not accepted their offer. We believe Pandaw senior management have much to answer for. Katha Pandaw was not ready to commence the cruise ( admitted by the Indian Company GM contractor), Ganges was flooded and Farraka river lock closed. So, why not cancel the inaugural cruise ? Never again will we use nor recommend Pandaw. On a positive note, our travel guide for 14 days, Suvendu, was most helpful and knowledgable, and recommend he is provided an assistant, having 20 passengers and 1 guide is too much. Whilst in Varanasi, at night along the Ganges we "lost" a lady passenger, fortunately she was located again. Torches would have been useful. Australian disgruntled passengers Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
This was a new cruise for this boat which was apparently brought from another country and it showed. The crew had little knowledge or interest in their jobs. Their command of English was little to poor. The decks were dirty yet never ... Read More
This was a new cruise for this boat which was apparently brought from another country and it showed. The crew had little knowledge or interest in their jobs. Their command of English was little to poor. The decks were dirty yet never cleaned. The bar and coffee area was always a shambles. The barman, when at the bar, could not understand the wine labels. Self-service was the often required . Dining was far from luxurious. Serves were small and only Indian food was on offer, no Western meals at all. Evening meals were served outside, often seated on lounge chairs which were far too low for dining from. Insects were attracted by light and were a nuisance. The head waiter said that they could be dangerous for us yet we could have eaten inside away from them in much more comfort. He covered our drinks with his bare hands as he delivered them. The promised bikes for shore excursions were never sighted. The two shore excursion guides were knowledgable but unintelligible to us Westerners. The ship's exhausts vented on the side of the ship. Oftentimes the excursion launch was moored against the exhaust outlet which deflected the gases unpleasantly up the the lounge area. This cruise was way over-priced. Another passenger quoted his rating for this as 4 /10. We have written to Pandaw with our complaints and requested a partial refund but to date have not received any acknowledgement or reply. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
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