Stay away from the prow, sit facing out and keep an eye on any oddness in the water. The advice for the lower decks is in the face and important unless the sole intention of your cruise holiday in the Sunderbans is to become tiger lunch. The Royal Bengals of this mangrove morass, bisected by rivers and estuaries, are the world’s sole swimming stripes and they are known to knock over fisherman from his boat with force equivalent of a 200-kg torpedo. Unsuspecting vacationers are no exception.
Or else, sip your stout and sunset slowly on the upper deck without having to worry about hungry Richard Parkers jumping out of the shadows as your cruise-liner meanders through a 3,000-km course from Calcutta to Dhaka. This cruise, run by Exotic Heritage Group, is a first of its kind between the two neighbours straddling the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta. It will call in at heritage sites Barisal, Chandpur (famous for its hilsa), and Narayanganj.
The inaugural run is sometime this year, but the special cruise Ganga Villa will take private cruisers from 2020. “The Rs 30-crore ship is theme-based, inspired by Indian textiles, with 18 suites for a maximum 36 cruisers. River cruises are gaining traction among the high- and middle-income groups and in recent years we have had a spike in bookings,” says company managing director Raj Singh. It’s the company’s fourth river cruise.
Up north in Assam, on the mighty and broad-torso Brahmaputra, count yourself lucky if the friendly xihu or Gangetic dolphin bobs in and out alongside the hull in a mirthful dance much like the Bihu dancers pirouetting on the land the river scythes through. The cruises on this splendid river features stops for wildlife watch, village walks, visits to tea gardens and craft workshops, exploring country towns in cycle rickshaws, barbecue on deserted river islands, and of course Bihu gigs. No doubt, this is rated among the top ten adventure cruises in the world. “This is our 15th year. We have two ships in Calcutta (ABN Rajmahal and ABN Sukapha) on the Ganga and two on the Brahmaputra (Charaidew I and Charaidew II),” says Ashish Phookan, managing director of Assam Bengal Navigation.
The success of these ventures has busted the myth that cruise holidays are only for the rich, an exclusive preserve of the affluent. Such voyages are the latest pop among the moneyed middle class because of its all-inclusive nature—a value-for-money thali, with an array of products such as food, entertainment, and various ports of call all paid for in a single ticket. “A cruise offers several stops…visit the place, hop back and sail to another city. Also, the journeys are more exciting with a wide range of entertainment options…spas, pools, casinos, and clubs. There is something for all age groups…children, youth, millennial and baby boomer…all at one place. Nowadays, film promotions, movie shoots, and MICE (meeting incentives conferences and exhibition) events are frequently organised in cruises,” says Amit Jain, founder of Rising Star Tours and Travel.
Chariadew moors by a sand island of the Brahmaputra.
Several types of cruises—sea and river—are on offer for Indian vacationers with varying levels of disposable income. For those wishing to relax and take a break from cubicled monotony, the option is freestyle cruise. Unrestricted and free-flowing, here the tourist doesn’t have to follow a pre-decided schedule. There is enough flexibility on board and it totally depends on the passenger whether to go out or simply relax. “This style of travelling is attracting millennials, young couples and corporate travelers. Similarly, those who love luxurious indulgence, there are specific cruises ensuring world-class service and for the adventure lovers, there are longer expeditions. Cruises have diversified,” says Karan Anand of Cox and Kings.
The standout trait of a cruise is that it fulfills the needs of almost every traveler: from fun-loving families to honeymooning couples. Plus, it is cost effective. A multi-destination tour would mean the tourist will have to pack, fly, alight, explore and repeat the process many times over. On a cruise-liner, the destinations come to you. This helps cover more places. “On an average, a cruise vacation can save you approximately 30 per cent versus a land-based programme due to the all-inclusive nature of cruising,” says Varun Chadha, COO of TIRUN travel marketing.
The vessel’s sun deck.
The new experience of moving beyond the land, in direct contact with nature is what entices Indians to go for cruise vacations. What can be more exciting than reading a favourite book under a clear blue sky on the deck of cruise ship? Or a date/honeymoon from Mumbai to Goa under a starry sky? Well, Angriya, the country’s first domestic luxury cruise ship between Mumbai and Goa, showed the way and spun a new wave of vacationing in the country. Ask Captain Anand Kumar, CEO, of Angriya Sea Eagle Private Limited. He nods his acknowledgment to Delhi-based, self-proclaimed travel freak Dr Veena Agarwal’s remarks that cruising frees her soul.
Agarwal says the service and facilities on a cruise ship are impeccable—on-call attendants, doctors and nurses, and meals straight from the top drawer, spa, shopping, yoga, game shows, dance floors…The possibilities are endless. The Royal Bengal and the xihu included.
- The Ganga Cruise Rs 5.24 lakh - Rs 8.73 lakh per person for 12 to 13 days
- Assam Cruise Rs 13,455 - Rs 29,325 per person per day
- Sunderbans Cruise Rs 4,500 to Rs 7,000 per person for 2 days
- Lakshwadeep Cruise Rs 6,000 - Rs 21,000 per person
- The Mumbai- Goa Cruise Rs 6,300 - Rs 11,000 per person per day
- The Andaman Cruise Rs 810 - Rs 1,850 per person per day