Tourists will now be able to revisit the country's colonial past from Kolkata to Varanasi through the 1,280 km cruise on the River Ganga with the West Bengal Tourism launching the service from Monday.
"This is the first cruise on the Ganges after almost 200 years. Very few journeys can be as interesting as a journey into the colonial past," Managing Director of West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDCL) T V N Rao told PTI .
The demand for the cruise is very high and tickets are already booked till 2011, he said. "This will promote many of the less visited areas of West Bengal among both domestic and foreign tourists.
We will also be venturing into the Sundarbans at a later stage," he said. The WBTDCL has signed an MoU with Pandaw Cruises India Ltd. The cruise between Kolkata and Varanasi would be the first venture of the company in India, Rao said.
The parent company of Pandaw River Cruises operates six river cruises in countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malayasia. RV Bengal Pandaw, designed on the lines of a colonial steamer, would take 15 days to sail from Kolkata to Varanasi, Raj Singh, Director of Pandaw Cruises India, said.
While the tariff for domestic passengers is yet to be decided, foreign tourists will have to pay between Rs 1.2 lakh to Rs 1.8 lakh, Singh said.
The first cruise would have 50 passengers on board, mostly foreigner and NRI tourists, he said. A Clyde-built steamer called the Pandaw was restored and six more replicas built, he said.
"We now have six beautifully crafted Pandaw steamers upholstered in hand-finished brass and teakwood by traditional craftsmen," Singh said.
"The secret of our success is that luxury and comfort are discreetly present recreating a colonial and friendly atmosphere," he said.
The Pandaw steamers have ultra shallow draught which could sail to areas where other vessels were unable to. The WBTDCL also plans to promote the Ganga River Cruise Tourism Circuit by developing 11 ghats with tourist facilities at Belur, Barrackpore, Serampore, Chandannagar, Chinsurah-Imambara Hooghly, Nabadwip, Mayapur, Plassey, Baharampur, Murshidabad and Lalbagh.
"It envisages construction of new jetties, river front beautification, reconstruction of bathing ghats, land development on river banks, drinking water fountains, tourist reception centres, toilet and cloak rooms, food stall, ticket counters and parking space," Rao said.