Varanasi Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday flagged off the MV Ganga Vilas, which embarked on a 51-day river cruise that is among the world’s longest; inaugurated a tent city for tourists; and laid foundation stone for a series of inland waterways projects worth ₹1,000 crore.
The projects will not only bolster cruise tourism in India, but will also bring development and employment opportunities to cities established on the banks of the Ganga, Modi said, addressing the gathering in Varanasi via video conferencing.
“The world’s longest cruise from Kashi to Dibrugarh will be a further boost to tourism sector in North India, bringing it on the tourist map. In addition, it will bring in employment opportunities not only to the people engaged in cruise sector, but also to those who hail from the cities established along the banks of the Ganga,” the PM said.
Soon after being flagged off by Modi, the vessel left for Dibrugarh (Assam) from the Ravidas Ghat in Varanasi. Officials engaged in the operation said it will pass through five states and 27 river systems of India and Bangladesh. The route of the cruise, which starts from Varanasi, takes it to Patna on the eighth day of the journey, passing through Buxar, Ramnagar, and Ghazipur.
From Patna, it leaves for Kolkata and will reach there on the 20th day. It then heads for the Bangladesh capital Dhaka, and passes through Guwahati and Sibsagar on its way to its final destination Dibrugarh.
The vessel, which has three decks, is 62 metres wide and 12 metres wide. It has 18 suites on board for a total of 36 guests. In its maiden voyage, 32 tourists from Switzerland have signed up for the entire journey. The cruise is run by luxury travel firm Antara River Cruises.
Modi said the cruise will kick-start a new era of tourism in India.
“Not just foreign tourists, but also Indians who travelled to different nations for such an experience can head towards North India now,” the PM said. Waterways have been an active mode of transport since ancient times, Modi said. Despite that, no efforts were made to revive this transport method which is eco-friendly and a cost-effective mode of transport, he said.
“This was the only reason why cities established on the banks of the Ganga lagged behind in employment and development. We have moved to restore our heritage by redeveloping the waterways. In 2014, there used to be five national waterways in India and today there are more than 111 waterways in more than 24 states in India. Of these, more than two dozen waterways are operational. Also until eight years back, less than 30 lakh metric tonnes of goods used to be transported through these inland waterways and today, the cargo transportation has increased three times and the number of inland waterways users has increased,” Modi said.
Tent City has been conceptualised on the banks of the River Ganga to tap the potential of tourism in the region. The project, by the Varanasi Development Authority, has been developed across the city ghats to provide accommodation and cater to the increased tourist influx in the city. It will be operational from October to June every year and will be dismantled for three months due to rise in river water levels in the rainy season.
The PM also inaugurated several projects connected to inland waterways in Bihar, West Bengal and Assam.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adiyanath called the flagging-off ceremony of the Ganga Vilas cruise the beginning of a new era of tourism in Varanasi. “It’s a historic day not only for Kashi (Varanasi) but also for states like Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal,” Adityanath said.