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A luxurious ship will make historical past when it embarks from the Indian religious metropolis of Varanasi on Friday on a voyage that the nation’s chief says will assist usher in a brand new age of tourism on the subcontinent.
The MV Ganga Vilas is ready to journey 3,200 kilometers (1,988 miles) of waterway in India and Bangladesh, making it the world’s longest river cruise, in accordance with organizers.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has touted the cruise as one of many centerpieces of his authorities’s main program of infrastructure initiatives, will make a digital look to ship the ship off in type.
From there, the ship will journey alongside the Ganges, India’s holiest river, and different waterways via 5 states in western India, then into neighboring Bangladesh, visiting nationwide parks, UNESCO World Heritage websites and large cities alongside the way in which.
In a speech made by Modi on December 30, the prime minister referenced the cruise as a part of a burgeoning development that might carry extra guests to his nation.
“This might be an unprecedented cruise of its sort in the entire world,” Modi stated. “It should even be a mirrored image of the rising cruise tourism (trade) in India.”
The MV Ganga Vilas will carry 36 passengers in 18 suites, in accordance with Antara, the corporate that owns and operates the cruise ship, plus about 48 crew members.
Although it’s known as the Ganges in English, the river’s identify is Ganga in India, therefore the ship’s moniker.
Initially, the cruise was deliberate for 2020 however was delayed by the pandemic. It was marketed in Europe and the preliminary spherical of passengers are from Switzerland, France and different international locations, in accordance with organizers.
Kashif Siddiqui, director of gross sales and advertising and marketing at Antara, tells CNN that the plan is to run the cruise itinerary twice a yr between October and March, when the climate is healthier and the river water stage is excessive.
He says tickets for 2 scheduled 2024 sailings have already bought out.
Tickets value between 4.2 million to 4.5 million rupees apiece, which works out to $51,114-$54,765 per visitor.
The MV Ganga Vilas’ 51 days on the water embody stops in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, the Sundarbans mangrove forest (which is shared by the 2 international locations) and India’s Kaziranga Nationwide Park, which is residence to one-horned rhinoceroses.
The ship’s interiors had been impressed by the work of Twentieth-century German painter Josef Albers.
River cruising has lengthy been a stalwart in Europe, with a number of corporations repeatedly plying the Danube, Rhine and Seine’s waters, in addition to in North America.
However it’s a pretty new providing in India, which is on monitor to move China for the title of world’s most populous nation this yr.
River cruising offers a option to entry extra rural locations that don’t have a significant airport or freeway entry and might carry much-needed tourism income to these communities as effectively.
However there are points holding the trade again. India’s rivers – most notably the Ganges – proceed to wrestle with extreme air pollution. This impacts the every day lives of thousands and thousands of Indians, notably low-income earners who stay in closely populated city facilities corresponding to Varanasi.
In 2014, the federal government launched the continuing Nationwide Mission for Clear Ganga initiative – additionally known as the Namami Gange undertaking – to deal with the foremost contributors to the air pollution within the nation’s longest river.
Cleansing up one of many world’s most polluted waterways
Based on the Financial Occasions, India has eight river cruise ships able to touring between Varanasi and Kolkata.
Plans are underway to extend the alternatives for river cruise tourism in India, with 10 passenger ship terminals being constructed alongside Nationwide Waterway-2, an 891-kilometer part of the Brahmaputra River.
MV Ganga Vilas operator Antara affords a number of upscale cruise itineraries which might be a lot shorter in period.
One route from Kolkata to Murshidabad in West Bengal runs for eight days and prices 292,875 rupees ($3,500), whereas a voyage from Kolkata to Varanasi lasts 12 days and prices 437,250 rupees ($5,300).
Siddiqui tells CNN the corporate’s future plans transcend rivers. Their subsequent undertaking is a lake cruising expertise in Kashmir, the troubled area divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by each international locations.
Although 51 days is a file for river cruising, that achievement pales subsequent to a number of the barge-sized itineraries out there on ocean cruises.
The world’s longest cruise, a 245-day journey that departed from London in 2019, visited six continents.
High: Exterior of the MV Ganga Vilas cruise ship. Photograph courtesy Antara Cruises.