Tuesday, 31 January, 2023

World’s Longest River Cruise and Related Issues

Chinmay Prasun Biswas

World’s Longest River Cruise and Related Issues
Chinmay Prasun Biswas

Popular News

A journey by boat was a common essay during our school days. Roughly speaking, river cruise is an elevated form of it. Literally, a cruise is a form of leisure travel that takes guests along inland or international waterways. River cruise is an important part of tourism and for many countries it is a major source of earning.

The best river cruise destinations include places of historical importance, wildlife, natural scenery, romance, holidaying, fishing etc. The best cruise lines in the world operate mainly in Europe and Caribbean areas.  Cost of cruising depends on the nature, time, length and service. According to Forbes magazine (12th May, 2021) Ama Waterways has introduced the world’s longest-ever river cruise in history. Scheduled to set sail on 1st June, 2023 this unique 46-night voyage will carry 144 passengers through 14 European countries.

But surpassing this on last 13th January the world's longest river cruise has been flagged off by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi through a video conference. Starting from RavidasGhat in Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in India, its route is upto Patna (capital of Bihar) via Buxar, Ramnagar and Gazipur; then to Kolkata via Farakka-Murshidabad. Leaving Kolkata it will arrive in Dhaka crossing Bagerhat, Barisal, Tangail. Then it will re-enter India via Guwahati and reach its final destination Dibrugarh via Sibsagar. During the trip this luxury yacht M V Ganga Vilash will cover a distance of 3,200 kilometres waterway on 27 rivers taking 51 days including 15 days in Bangladesh. As per his version, inauguration of the world's longest river cruise is a landmark moment. It will boost tourism sector and create new job opportunities.  

According to India's Union Ministry of Shipping and Waterways, M V Ganga Vilash has all modern facilities. This huge ship is making its maiden voyage with 32 tourists from Switzerland. According the Indian Prime Minister’s office, the boating has been arranged in such a way that the history and culture of the country will come up in front of the whole world. This tour will give tourists an opportunity to experience the art, culture, history and spirituality of India and Bangladesh. More importantly, this vessel has a modern waste water treatment system. Taking water from river it can be purified and used for bathing and other purposes.

The travellers will also visit the Bihar School of Yoga and Vikramshila University to know the rich heritage in spirituality and knowledge of this sub-continent. They will also visit more than 50 heritage sites including biodiversity-rich world heritage the Sunderbans famous for Royal Bengal Tigers, 60-dome mosque in Bagerhat and marks of antiquities of Sonargaon in Bangladesh as well as Kaziranga National Park in Indian state of Assam which is famous for one-horn rhino. For cruisers there is also a gym, spa, open deck and facilities for music and cultural events. Curious people thronged the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi on 13th January to have a glimpse of the ship.

The M V Ganga Vilash with 3 decks is 62 metres in length, 12 metres in width and can comfortably sail with a draft of 1.4 metres. Ganga Vilash director Raj Singh informed that the ship containing 5-star hotel facilities has 18 suites, accommodation for 36 tourists and 40 crews.  Tourists will get various facilities including bathroom with shower, convertible bed, French balcony, LED TV, smoke detector, live vest and sprinkler. There is a spa and sundeck. The restaurant offers Indian and continental cuisine alongwith real teak steamer chairs and coffee tables. Daily per head cost is 25,000/- to 50,000/-rupees i.e. a 51-day trip will cost IRS 12,50,000/. Seats can be booked through online. 

Global river cruise market has grown by 5% during the last few years and is expected to constitute 37% of the cruise market by 2027. Europe is holding around 60% growth share of river cruise in the world (report – ANI, 08-01-2023). According to Mr.SarbanandaSonowal, India’s Union Minister of Ports, Shipping & Waterways, this avenue of sustainable development via inland waterways has received a tremendous boost as efforts to augment cargo traffic as well as passenger tourism. The M V Ganga Vilash cruise is the beginning of a new era and a step towards unlocking the huge potentiality of river tourism.

As informed by shipping ministry the vessel will enter Bangladesh on 3rd February at Koyra Upazila of Khulna district. After completing on-board immigration formalities there State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury will welcome the tourists at Mongla Port. The ship will cross Bangladesh border on 17th February. Secretary of the ministry said that it is not only a tour but also a part of protocol. It will facilitate our tourism and play a vital role in developing business, trade and mutual relationship between the two countries. (The Daily Observer, 16th January).

Launching of the world’s longest cruise has been hailed but environmentalists and conservationists apprehend the impact of increased river traffic and pollution. They say the rise in cruises may cause long lasting damage to the habitat of the Ganges river dolphin which is one of the two freshwater dolphin species in South Asia. The Ganges river dolphins face a number of threats including water pollution, excessive water extraction and poaching. The MV Ganga Vilash will pass through the confluence of the Ganges and Gomti where deep water and slower currents around the intersection provide a safe habitat for the endangered dolphin. “The cruises are dangerous in addition to all the existing risks for the dolphins,” said Ravindra Kumar Sinha whose conservation efforts led the government to declare Ganges dolphins as a protected species in the 1990s (The Guardian, 13th January. 2023).

There are more questions. All the passengers of the inaugural trip are Swiss. How many people of this area are solvent enough to spend around 12,50,000/- rupees (BDT 16,00,000/-, 1  rupee  = 1.2737 BDT as on 18-01-2023)? How many people have so much idle time? Starting point of the vessel is in India. If anybody from Bangladesh intends to avail the ship what will be the procedure? Can tickets be booked from Bangladesh? If so, how? These are very natural questions. However, it is expected that these questions will be resolved soon and the cruise will gain popularity among people.


The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes