“The Indian rivers are interesting worlds unto themselves,” proudly declared Raj Singh, the Chairman of Antara Luxury River Cruises, as we settled for a chat in the breezy lounge of the cruise ship. An authority on river cruises in India, he had already laid out a map of Indian rivers and tracing the various cruise routes available in the eastern part of the country. Adding to Singh’s paean on Indian rivers, was Hemant Mediratta, cofounder and COO, who reminded that river cruises were ideal for slow travel, where you enjoyed your surroundings instead of rushing from one destination to another. And between them, the pioneers of Indian river cruising industry, have already chalked out some very interesting river routes, originating from Kolkata and going as far as Varanasi or Dhaka in Bangladesh.
The pandemic may have forced them to delay their plans but there is no reason to complain. These pioneers of the river cruising industry in India have rolled out new plans which include a variety of options, from fixed sailings of short durations to customised cruises to offering their luxury ship as a floating venue for events, including weddings, pre or post wedding events, anniversaries, family reunions, even corporate conferences.
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Spread across three levels, this spacious high-ceilinged floating hotel consists of 28 state-of-the-art cabins (accommodating 56 guests in all) of different categories, each with river views when you are cruising. Apart from the usual luxurious amenities such as from a bed dressed with soft linen to flat screen televisions, from rain showers in bathrooms to top-end bath products, from iPhone docking station to universal electrical plugs, to name a few, there are cosy sitting areas and French balconies with floor-to-ceiling glass doors. The main deck (apart from the Signature suites) houses the large dining hall. The top deck houses the lounge and bar, and has a sun deck too. The second tier lying in between contains the other suites, including the most spacious suite on board – the Maharaja Suite, the very colonial Viceroy Suite, the Heritage Suite and the Colonial Suites.
Like the rest of the ship, all the rooms contain works of art, including hand stencils on the walls, copies of famous old Calcutta paintings, murals in traditional style, etc.
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With an eclectic mix of guests, especially from abroad, the kitchen is fully equipped to handle global cuisine as well as specialty Indian dishes. The focus is on fresh ingredients (because sailing along the lower reaches of the Ganga you are never far from village markets). Bakery items are made in house. Safety is a prime concern throughout the ship and the entire kitchen set up is a flameless one.
Interestingly, you do not have to tear yourself away from the scenic view while attending the spa, which offers both Indian and western treatments. And should you want to shed those calories you may have put on thanks to the culinary pampering, there is a modern gym. You can also opt for yoga and meditation sessions. During a cruise, you are likely to spend some time off-board to visit historical, architectural or spiritual attractions, a village market or a weavers’ colony or a crafts village. A feeder boat ensures smooth transfer between the main ship and the landing points along the shores while travelling. In the evening, usually there are variety entertainment programmes on board, such as folk dances, which will offer you a glimpse into local culture.
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Antara Cruises offers pre-scheduled sailings to custom ones. Some of their recent fixed sailings include a two-night Christmas cruise, a three-night cruise to welcome 2021, a Mayapur round trip during Republic Day, and Valentine and Holi Specials.
What’s more, when the ship is docked in Kolkata, you can opt for a luxury staycation to enjoy an experiential multi-generation holiday. The company promises to offer only river view cabins for staycation guests. With only a limited number of people allowed on board and the strictest of hygiene and safety measures, it is an ideal getaway in this pandemic situation. And you enjoy the classic view of the river on one side and the city skyline on other hand. And if you are lucky, you may also see the rare Gangetic Dolphin frolicking among the waves.