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!