One luxury river cruise is making history on an all-new Indian voyage.
On Friday, Antara Cruises launched its MV Ganga Vilas ship, a vessel set to travel 1,988 miles of waterways in India and Bangladesh. The journey spans 51 days, making it the world’s longest river cruise, according to organizers. While on the course, passengers will travel along the Ganges, India’s holiest river, as well as other waterways through five states in western India. The ship will also venture into the neighboring South Asian country of Bangladesh, visiting its national parks, UNESCO World Heritage sites and big cities.
The MV Ganga Vilas is designed to carry 36 passengers in 18 luxe suites, as well as 48 crew. Because the long-haul cruise was solely marketed in Europe, its initial round of passengers are from Switzerland, France and other countries. The ship’s interiors are inspired by 20th-century works by German painter Josef Albers, known for his vibrant color square paintings. The cruise was originally planned to set sail in 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic.
According to CNN, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi sees the cruise as one of the centerpieces of his government’s infrastructure initiatives. He even made a speech in December that recognized the cruise as a trend that could bring more visitors to India, home of the Himalayas, the Golden Temple and the Holi Festival. “This will be an unprecedented cruise of its kind in the whole world,” Modi said in a statement. “It will also be a reflection of the growing cruise tourism (industry) in India.”
River cruises have been popular in Europe and North America for some time, with multiple companies regularly trailing the Danube, Rhine and Seine. But the concept is still fairly new in India seeing as the country’s rivers—most notably the Ganges—continue to struggle with severe pollution. But there are plans underway to increase opportunities for river tourism in India. One of its incentives includes building 10 passenger ship terminals along National Waterway-2, an 891-kilometer section of the Brahmaputra River. The country also has eight river cruise ships that are capable of traveling between Varanasi and Kolkata.
Kashif Siddiqui, Antara’s director of sales and marketing, told CNN in an interview that the plan is to run the nearly 2,000-mile cruise on the Ganges twice a year between October and March when the weather is nice and the river water is high. Tickets to board the MV Ganga Vilas costs between 4.2 million to 4.5 million rupees, or $51,114 to $54,765 per guest. Siddiqui claims tickets for two scheduled 2024 voyages have already sold out.
Antara also offers several upscale cruise itineraries aboard the MV Ganga Vilas that are shorter in duration. One route from Kolkata to Murshidabad in West Bengal runs for eight days and costs 292,875 rupees, or $3,500, while a trip from Kolkata to Varanasi lasts 12 days and costs 437,250 rupees ($5,300). For more details, visit the Antara website.