NEW DELHI: The historic milestone achieved by India with the launch of the world’s longest river cruise is likely to change the tourism landscape of several cities and states that this cruise ship will pass through and also change the inland waterways ecosystem throughout the country, generating more formal and permanent employment for thousands of people.
The tourism industry is ecstatic and confident that with the launch of this ultra-luxury river cruise, the luxury tourism sector of the country will get a major boost with a high footfall of foreign tourists in the country.
Officials from the Ministry of Shipping, speaking to The Sunday Guardian, expressed their happiness on the launch of this ambitious project as they believe that this will change the face of luxury tourism in India.
“The launch of this cruise was being planned for a very long time and had to be pushed back due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But now that it has been launched, we are extremely confident that this would change how river cruises are viewed in India. We are also exploring other river systems for similar cruises in the southern part of the country which will be another milestone development for inland waterways,” a senior official from the ministry told this newspaper.
The luxury cruise ship, MV Ganga Vilas was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday and will traverse 3,200 km, crossing 27 river systems, two countries and several states across India. The cruise is being described as the world’s longest river cruise that will sail for 51 days with a single ship.
Prime Minister Modi, while speaking at the inauguration of the cruise ship, said, “India is entering into a robust phase of tourism as with a growing global profile, curiosity about India is also increasing. In the last eight years, various steps were taken to expand the tourism sector in the country. Today’s event is a reflection of the policies, decisions and direction taken after 2014 in the country. This decade of the 21st century is a decade of infrastructure transformation in India. India is witnessing a level of infrastructure which was unimaginable a few years ago.”
Prime Minister Modi further added that in 2014 only five national waterways were there in the country; now there are 111 national waterways and around two dozen are in operation already. “Similarly, there has been a three-time increase in cargo transportation via river waterways from 30 lakh metric tonnes eight years ago. Be it a cruise ship or a cargo ship, they not only give a boost to transport and tourism, but the entire industry associated with their service also creates new opportunities,” PM Modi said.
The cruise began its journey from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and will end in Assam’s Dibrugarh after it passes through three river systems in Bangladesh for at least two weeks.
Operated by luxury cruise company, Antara Luxury River Cruises, MV Ganga Vilas will pass through two major river systems in India, Ganga and Brahmaputra, and the Padma river in Bangladesh.
Kashif Siddique, Director Sales and Marketing of Antara Luxury River Cruises, told The Sunday Guardian that MV Ganga Vilas is a five-star river cruise, which has been built keeping in mind the modern luxury components for all its clients.
“This is one of a kind luxury cruise available in the whole of South Asia that will give all our guests onboard the experience of an ultra-luxury international standard cruise never seen in India before. We have built the ship inhouse. From conceptualisation to design, to manufacturing, everything has been done in India. We have inhouse engineers and designers on the company payroll who have built this ship. It was built in Kolkata. We have kept in mind every possible thing that a luxury ship has onboard. Currently we have started the voyage with all Swiss tourists,” Kashif told this newspaper.
The ship has three decks with 18 suites that can hold 36 tourists with all luxury amenities. Onboard the ship, tourists can also enjoy a spa, which has facilities such as a salon and a gym. The ship also has accommodation facilities for 40 crew members.
The 62-metre-long yacht, was completely built in India at a cost of Rs 68 crore. The ship has been fitted with pollution control equipment and a sewage treatment plant to ensure that no sewage is dumped in the river.
On its maiden voyage, the MV Ganga Vilas is carrying 32 tourists, all from Switzerland, who have signed up for the entire 51-day journey. “The company has priced the stay in this five-star cruise from Rs 80,000 to Rs 85,000 per night/per person, depending on the category of suites. The total cost of the 51-day journey would cost somewhere between Rs 38 lakh plus taxes.” Kashif told The Sunday Guardian.
He further added that the cruise is completely booked till March 2024 and that bookings are open only from April 2024. “In the next sail we have tourists from multiple nationalities, but no Indians. We did not market the cruise in India,” Kashif said.
Asked about the reasons for having no Indians onboard, Kashif said, “We will be more than happy to have Indian guests on board with us, but since it is an ultra-luxury cruise and the prices are very high, we thought we would begin with foreign tourists.”
According to its itinerary, the ship will pass through historic cities and make a pitstop at 50 tourist sites including World Heritage Sites, National Parks, River Ghats, and major cities like Patna in Bihar, Sahibganj in Jharkhand, Kolkata in West Bengal, Dhaka in Bangladesh and Guwahati in Assam.
The tourists started their journey by witnessing the Ganga aarti on the bank of river Ganga in Varanasi and will make their next stop at Sarnath. It will make pit stops at Bihar’s Vikramshila University, and pass through the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem in the Sundarbans in West Bengal, also a world UNESCO heritage site. Apart from this it will also pass through Mayong and Majuli (largest river island) in Assam.
Kashif told this newspaper that guests on board the cruise would be served non-vegetarian food in Varanasi with no-alcohol in the Varanasi leg, since it is a religious site. “We will be serving our guests with regional cuisines and specialities of the cities and states the cruise will be passing through. However, when the cruise crosses Bihar there would not be alcohol on board. In Bihar there is prohibition on alcohol and therefore keeping in mind the law of the land we will not be giving alcohol to our guests. After we cross Bihar alcohol will be served,” Kashif said.
Antara Luxury Cruises also operates multiple other cruises across the country, mostly in the eastern part of the country. It has luxury ships operating in the Sundarbans region of Bengal and other parts of the state. It is also building another yacht that will set sail in the Bhitarkanika region of Odisha, which hosts a rich flora and fauna and is also a breeding nest for crocodiles.