Travelling on board the MV Ganga Vilas Cruise in the river Ganga is not just a voyage, rather an experience of a rare bliss

At twilight every day, as the river flows by in absolute serenity, looking scarlet red in the reflection of the dipping sun, as cymbals clang to create a crescendo, as the fragrance of camphor fills the air and soulful chants of Maa Ganga fill the air during the Ganga Aarti, a dip in the river Ganga becomes the most breath-taking experience in one's life. It is definitive divinity, power-packed, in one blissful, transformative moment.

Moksha in the modern day. After all, the Ganga is not a river. She is a goddess. If that one fleeting moment in the Ganga can be so utterly divine, imagine what it would be to be able to see the river goddess in all her glory- for 51 days at close quarters!

To be able to soak in her changing colours, watch the humanity that dwells in her lap, to be able to feel the gush of her waves across the day and get intimate as diminutive humans with her divine self!

Surreal experience - Surreal experience imageGiving this audacious dream a concrete shape is a phenomenon called the MV Ganga Vilas Cruise, the world’s longest river yacht which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi on January 13.

If you love number crunching, here are some fascinating facts about the MV Ganga Vilas (MV stands for Motor Vehicle) cruise, the historic journey across the divine river. The first 'Made in India' cruise liner is a 62-metre-long super yacht costing ₹68 crore. The cruise traverses 3,200 km across 27 river systems in five states in India and Bangladesh, covering altogether 50 tourist destinations.

Effectively, the itinerary of the MV Ganga Vilas has been curated to showcase the rich heritage of India with stopovers in the spots of historical, cultural, and religious importance. Its destination includes, world heritage sites of Sunderbans in Bay of Bengal delta, famous for Royal Bengal Tigers, as well as Kaziranga National Park, famous for one horn rhino, Mayong, known for its tantric craft, and Majuli, the largest river island and hub of Vaishnavite culture in Assam. The sweeping views of the river can be experienced from three decks on the vessel, which are 12 meters wide and 62 meters long.

This cruise is not just a travel experience, but a transformative one, in multiple ways. The river is not just a natural phenomenon, but according to Hindu mythology, a miraculous descent from heaven. Lord Vishnu describes the Ganga as: “Darshanatsparshanatpanattatha Gangeti, Keertanat Punatyapunyanpurushana Shatashotha sahasrashah.”

Thousands of men get rid of their sins by just having a glimpse of the Ganges, by the touch of Ganges water, by having it, or by just pronouncing ‘Ganga-Ganga.’

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the cruise, he remarked: “India cannot be described in words. She can only be experienced in the heart. Ganga is but a microcosm of India. In short, experience the Ganga to experience India. A cruise by the Ganges is not just a cruise, it is an emotion.”

Amenities - AmenitiesThe cruise has premium amenities such as a sun deck, spa, salon, and gymnasium. Starting ₹25,000 a day (going up to Rs 50,000 a day), the total cost for the journey totals around ₹12 lakh for each passenger. Thirty-two blessed tourists from Switzerland - who are on board right now - are the lucky ones to experience the maiden voyage.

They were welcomed at the Varanasi port with garlands, vermilion, thandai and tunes of shehnai. The cruise's Director Raj Singh said the premium luxury five-star floating hotel has 18 suites with a capacity of 36 tourists. Apart from this, it has accommodation for 40 crew members.

Keeping in line with the conscious environmental credo, the cruise is fitted with a sewage treatment plant to ensure that no sewage flows into the Ganga, as well as a filtration plant that purifies the Ganga water for bathing and other purposes. It also is equipped with a pollution-free system and noise control technology, the cruise director Raj Singh said.

The journey will enable foreign tourists to embark upon an experiential voyage and indulge in the art, culture, history, and spirituality of India and Bangladesh, Union Minister for Port, Shipping and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal said during the inauguration.

The cruise liner serves non-vegetarian food - Indian and continental - as well as alcohol while on the sail. However, on some stretches such as Varanasi or Patna, the local sentiments about non-vegetarian food or alcohol will be followed and may not be served temporarily in that sector.

The cruise liner is not just to give a shot in the arm of the already robust tourism sector but will also to generate employment opportunities in the hinterland. Bookings can be made on the Antara Cruises website (, the company that operates the Ganga Vilas cruise, tickets for the world's longest cruise from Varanasi to Dibrugarh.

For an off-ship experience, the cruise liner also has developed a 'Tent City', with over 200 tents that will offer tourists a panoramic view of the famed ghats of the holy city on the other side of the river along with live classical music, 'aarti' in the evening, and yoga sessions. Its speed is up to 12-km per hour upstream and 20-km downstream.

As you read this, the passengers are already on the 32nd day of their journey and are currently in Dhaka. They visited the ruins of Panam city near Sonargaon, the capital city of Bengal in the 15th century. They visited the folk museum and the 16th-century Goaldi mosque in Sonargaon followed by visits to the historic buildings of Dhaka. If you are already dreaming about this dream voyage, be informed that the cruise has been booked till March 2024, after which it is open for bookings.

Economic potential - Economic potentialIndia aims to increase cruise passenger traffic from 0.4 million at present to 4 million. Economic potential of cruise tourism is expected to rise from $110 million to $5.5 billion in the coming years, said the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways.

But then how does the Ganga cruise fare when compared to global river cruises such as those on River Nile or River Danube or the Amazon? While most of these global cruises travel longer (more than 5,000 km) than the Ganga Vilas (3,200 km), some of them such as the Danube cruise touching as many as nine European nations, the Ganga Vilas boasts of the 'X' factor called the Indian mysticism that the entire world has been enchanted by.

The cruise and the destinations - Kolkata, Patna, Guwahati have been closely knit to showcase the mysticism that the country is known for - thanks to stopovers at temples, pilgrim spots and other holy tributaries of the Ganga.