Cruising down the magnificent Ganges criss-crossing the majestic Himalayas, interspersed with verdant terrains and vignettes of the holy city of Moksha on the way, could well be an experience to remember. What if this cruise figures right up there among the very best in the world and a must one to go for along with the likes of the Volga or the Danube? Check this out. Reputed international publication Conde Nast Traveller has put the Ganga cruise on its checklist as one of the top six river cruises to take in 2017.
The global luxury and lifestyle magazine has placed the luxury cruise vessel Ganges Voyager II, which sails on the Ganga from Kolkata to Varanasi, in the league of cruises on the Mekong and the Yangtze in China, the Amazon in South America, the Volga in Russia and the Irrawaddy in Myanmar.
Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, who dreams making India a global hotspot for cruise tourism — be it river or sea — says massive work is under way on the Ganges, be it for cruise tourism or cargo transport, and a ‘nirmal and aviral Ganga’ will take India to the path of development.
“We are working on a massive scale to make India a global hotspot in tourism. We have received offers from Dubai’s Sultan to develop cruise tourism here,” Gadkari told PTI.
Conde Nast’s endorsement of the Ganga as a cruise destination is a shot in the arm for river tourism in the country.
“Massive work worth Rs 5,000 crore is under way to develop various projects on the Ganga with the World Bank assistance, including development of multi-modal hubs,” Gadkari said.
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The Inland Waterways Authority of India, a body under the Ministry of Shipping, is facilitating cruise operations on National Waterways-1 (river Ganga) from Kolkata to Varanasi in collaboration with private cruise operators.
The facilities, provided by the IWAI, include navigation aids, including night navigation facility, embarking and disembarking at designated locations, facilitating expeditious crossing of the Farakka Navigation Lock, pilotage, and assistance in distress.
The National Waterway NW-1 from Varanasi to Haldia is being developed by the IWAI, under the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP).
In addition to becoming one of the principal cargo movement routes in India, this stretch on NW-1 has good potential for river cruise tourism.
The minister said that as many as 168 cruises had came to major ports last year and a terminal in Mumbai is being constructed at a cost of Rs 800 crore.
Also, a policy is in the works to make India a global destination for cruise shipping and work is in progress to identify such circuits.
Five circuits each are being identified for international and domestic cruise services and a report is likely by this month.
“Endowed with a sprawling 7,500 km of coastline, we have taken steps in a big way to promote cruise tour, which includes relaxation of policies and developing infrastructure,” he said.
So far, Indians had been travelling to South-East Asia, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean to experience the cruise, but for the first time, Europe’s key player Costa Cruises launched Costa neoClassica in India recently, which has confirmed seven voyages.
A task force to promote cruise tourism in the country has been constituted under the chairmanship of the tourism secretary, with the shipping secretary as co-chairman.
The idea is to put India on the global cruise map, both for oceans and rivers, Gadkari said, adding that it comes with a huge job potential. India saw 1.76 lakh cruise passengers in 2016-17, a merely 0.5 per cent of the global pie.
Domestic cruise passengers are estimated to grow to 1.5 million by 2031-32.
Of the 12 major ports, only five — Mumbai, Goa, Cochin, New Mangalore and Chennai — have facilities to berth international cruise ships.
One of the circuits identified so far is “coastal circuit” for development of coastal tourism infrastructure, an official said.
The government is developing a modern 2 lakh square feet terminal in Mumbai to make it a landmark destination, which will have infrastructure to accommodate cruise ships with size for 4,000 passengers.
The project includes hospitality, retail, shopping, restaurants and will allow general visitors during non-cruise seasons.
Apart from its huge coastline, India has the geographical advantage as it is strategically located between the Mediterranean and China, he said.
Recently, the Mumbai Port Trust, which has a dedicated berth for cruise tourism, hosted its largest passenger ship Genting Dream with 1,900 passengers.
Listing out the policy initiatives to promote cruise shipping, the minister said ships are now allowed to stay for three days, up from the earlier 24 hours, and rules have been simplified to attract more vessels.
The government has allowed foreign flag vessels carrying passengers to call at Indian ports without securing a licence from the director general of shipping till February 5, 2024.
Also, major ports will offer a minimum of 30 per cent rebate across the board on all vessel-related charges for cruise shipping and not levy any priority fee.
On land excursions, an average tourist spends USD 70-100 per day and with a cruise ship of 3,000 capacity.
Also, average employment on a cruise ship, as per studies, is one job for 3-4 passengers, which translates into a boost for recruitment as well.