Raj Singh, founder and supervisor of RV Bengal Ganga spoke with Experience Bengal on RV Bengal Ganga’s River Trail through Culture and History
54 meters long, 12 meters wide and an air draft of 12 meters-Yes! those are the structural features of RV Bengal Ganga which braved a storm in its first voyage and is also the largest cruise ship to operate on the Ganges in last 100 years. iLEAD Production team gave all they had to document this beauty on the Ganges and there’s no holding back the praises about the brilliance that the ship’s facilities provide. The ship’s cruise route from Kolkata to Varanasi takes you back in time. It takes you back in culture and history, elegantly.
Made with pure Burma teak, in Burma, in 2004 and imported to India in 2009, this classic ship with its flat bottom shallow draft (a structural improvement developed by British for rivers of India and Burma), is capable of navigating water channels which are a minimum of 1.5 meters deep.
“Rivers don’t go straight. They move along channels through ‘Z’ turns, ‘U’ Turns etc. We do not change routes, our stops change, depending on water levels,” said Raj Singh, founder and supervisor of RV Bengal Ganga.
Spanning a two week trip, the ship departs from Kolkata, stopping at a range of places of cultural and historical importance. The destinations which fall in its route are Chandannagar, Bandel (for its churches and imambaras), Methiari, Kalna (for its temples), Mayapur and Navadwip. More stops follow as the cruise embarks on a deeper trail of history. It moves towards Murshidabad, famous for palaces and mosques, Azimganj (known for Jain temples and terracotta Hindu temples). Further north, the ship stops at Farakka and the guests visit historical towns of Pandua and Gaur. Rajmahal (Bengal’s first Mughal capital), Bateshwar Sthan in Bihar with its nearby and ancient University of Vikramshila, Bhagalpur and Sultanganj dotted with temples from the Gupta period are important stops in the cruise too. These places are enriched in a glorious cultural and historical past and deserve exploration. Munger, University of Nalanda, Bodhgaya are the stops before Patna. In Patna, which is a major halt in the entire cruise’s route before the sail towards Varanasi, visitors explore the museums and monuments. En route to Varanasi, the ship stops at
Munger and also Buxar, famous for its fort. Then there’s Ghazipur, posing as an attractive place for a visit.
Besides these visits, people also get to see wildlife and aquatic life in all its subliminal forms. Over 200 species of birds, Gangetic Dolphins, Bluebuck Antelopes and even Blackbuck Antelopes along the river banks are beautiful sights for passengers to behold.
For travelling in these famous places, the mode of transport for the visitors is horse carts or cycle rickshaws. They can choose to walk too. There’s no use of motor transport, everything’s eco-friendly when it comes to Bengal Ganga’s travelling methods in the historical sites.
Sailing for six to eight hours daily, the ship which embarks on cruises between the months of September and April charges a fare of Rs, 6,000-12,000 per head, per day depending on the season. This includes food, drinks, yoga sessions, spa, lectures on the sites, accommodation, excursions and much more.
RV Bengal Ganga is also famous for its food and beverage. The passionate chefs dish out their preparations with finesse and in one of the cruise days they also demonstrate to the guests, methods of cooking the scrumptious recipes, use of ingredients, spices and mixtures.
The self-sufficient, eco-friendly Bengal Ganga also has its own water purification plant. What more can you ask for? “My goal is to improve the quality of services and upgrade the standards of this ship from now on. Bengal Ganga is going through a renovation phase. We now even have curtains made for the dining hall which has stories of the river Ganga, made through Kantha embroidery from West Bengal, to give it a local flavour,” said Mr. Singh. When asked about future plans, Raj Singh told that they are planning to re-do some of the furniture and machineries in the ship and they are also in the process of building traditional houseboats which can sail anywhere on the Ganges. They will be called ‘Nauka Vilas’.
With his main interest in natural history, Raj Singh’s been in the hospitality trade for over 40 years and has written three books on the birds and wildlife of India. He has travelled all over the world and has an avid interest in trains too. He also promotes luxury trains like Maharaja Express, Golden Chariot, Palace On Wheels and other tourism related activities that include booking of overseas tourists for these luxury trips. He has been active in supervising resorts which has eco-friendly facilities like solar heating, re-use of water, own produce of vegetables and much more. These resorts are near national parks like Keoladeo National Park and Kanha National Park.
Coming back to cruising and Bengal Ganga, which iLEAD Production team is filmed, Raj Singh also spoke about the fact that cruising becomes a challenge as nature is unpredictable. “This year, after 20 years, the water levels were the lowest, so we could sail only up to a certain destination. We had to change the program. There are technical and operational challenges that one has to understand and overcome. In October and November if there are late rains, the rising water levels become a challenge,” said Mr Singh.
Many have fond memories of the Catamaran services to Haldia which was suspended due to non-feasibility. But the good news that has created a buzz in the city is – the new Catamaran services after a decade long gap will be catering to spiritual tourism with its voyages from Kolkata to Mayapur (Iskcon’s global headquarters) as well as Gangasagar (a popular pilgrimage spot). The service is initiated by Vivada, a city based river cruise operator and spiritual community Iskcon.
It will take about three and half hours to reach Gangasagar and three hours to reach Mayapur. With top speed of 58mph and tentative fare of Rs. 3,000 – Rs. 3,500 per head the catamaran service can make about 30 stopovers along different ghats.
Now the government has planned to set up holiday cottages along the routes to provide accommodation for the tourists too. The state government is developing 50 jetties where catamarans will stop over.
The Grand Trail of RV Bengal Ganga