Exploring Indian waterways with Antara River Cruises

The post Exploring Indian waterways with Antara River Cruises appeared first on TD (Travel Daily Media) Brand TD.

Raj Singh, Chairman, Antara River Cruises


It was Antara Cruises that introduced travellers to the majestic waterways of India and Bangladesh and having them sail on indigenously designed world-class ships in sustainable luxury while finding adventure and pleasure. In a freewheeling conversation with Brand TD, Raj Singh, Chairman, Antara River Cruises tells us more about the unique experiences of river cruising in India

Brand TD:  Your dream for Antara River Cruises started in 2023. How has the same grown?

Raj Singh (RJ): Our journey began back in 2009 with the first cruise from Kolkata to Varanasi. But it was in January 2023 that Antara River Cruises became well known in the river cruising market with the launch of the world’s longest river cruise aboard the 18-suite Ganga Vilas from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh to Dibrugarh, Assam in India via Dhaka in Bangladesh. This journey of 3200 kms takes over 51 days traversing 2 countries, 5 states and 27 river systems.

What was transformative in these years was the experience of understanding the river, bringing others to it and then building Indian ships that could sail on a constantly evolving, shifting, winding waterbody. It gives me immense pleasure to bring travellers to sail on the Ganges in splendour, offering fresh encounters with an ancient landscape in modern times. It was Antara Cruises that introduced travellers to the majestic waterways of India and Bangladesh and having them sail on indigenously designed world-class ships in sustainable luxury while finding adventure and pleasure.

Today Antara River Cruises is a rapidly growing boutique cruise brand of Heritage River Journeys and the fleet includes the Ganga Vilas, Ganges Voyager and Ganges Voyager II and other vessels such as the newly launched 2- suite catamarans––Bhitarkanika and Mahanadi.  Our fleet will also have new additions later in 2024, the Nauka Vilas, a single suite luxury boat, as well as the upgraded Bengal Ganga with 20 suites.

All the interiors are handcrafted by Indian artisans, locally flagged, with permanent crew and use pollution prevention technologies. Seamlessly blending tradition and modernity, the Antara River Cruise vessels are designed with all the modern amenities including large suites, gourmet dining, expansive lounges, with fully outfitted kitchens, engine room, WiFi connectivity and supported by an attentive, yet unobtrusive crew.

Brand TD:  What was business like for Antara River Cruises in 2023? Which are your peak operating months?

RJ: The best time for river cruising in India is September to April. Since we launched the longest river cruise in the world aboard the Ganga Vilas in January 2023, our business has picked up remarkably. Many of the itineraries and cruises are already sold out at least a year in advance as inbound travellers’ book ahead.

In September 2023, we debuted with a specially designed vegan cruise, India’s first, which was a huge success with the inbound travellers. We also introduced shorter, special interest itineraries of 3 nights, 7 nights and 10 nights for the domestic market. In January 2024, we launched 2-suite catamarans in Odisha and in addition, we are also introducing a 31-day cruise from Nimati in Assam to Kolkata via Dhaka in February and in November, an 11-day cruise from Kolkata to Dhaka via the Sundarbans. There are also specials for 3 night-4 day special sailings for Varanasi’s unique festivals such as Dev Diwali.

There is great interest in these offerings and hopefully we will increase our customer base.

Brand TD:  Kindly tell us a bit about the world’s longest river cruise from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh to Dibrugarh, Assam in India via Dhaka in Bangladesh which you had launched

RJ: Antara River Cruises’ launch of the world’s longest river cruise MV Ganga Vilas in January 2023, demonstrated the vast potential for river cruise tourism not only in India but also placed this cruise on the international circuit, providing inbound tourists a new avenue to experience India. Ganga Vilas was the first cruise service of its kind, to have received the support of the Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways and Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI).

This widely acclaimed cruise not only highlighted the capacity of India’s waterways for tourism but also provided a different experience to travellers to appreciate the region’s natural beauty, cultural heritage and spiritual splendour along the banks of the Ganga all the way from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh to Dibrugarh, Assam in India via Dhaka in Bangladesh. All that the traveller had to do was to unpack just once over a journey of 3200 kms taking 51 days, traversing 2 countries, 5 states and 27 river systems.

Brand TD:  What are the special itineraries that you are offering for your river cruises?

RJ: Antara River Cruises offers unique and engaging itineraries offering more than just a journey. They are an experience, a sensory ride through varying cultures and beautiful riverscapes of the regions you sail through.

Each of these experiences have been personally vetted and designed by the Antara team for fellow enthusiastic travellers. The historic and cultural routes have been finalised with the support, assistance and cooperation of the local governmental and non-governmental agencies, crafts communities, and knowledgeable guides. One must also remember that artisans and craft techniques have lived along these ancient rivers.  Exploring local crafts and arts, artisans and preserved heritage workmanship allows for a good insight into the cultural history and evolution of India through the years. While we are sailing, we also have presentations and talks on board by experts on varied subjects as well as performances representing the local culture.

The Antara Ganga Vilas Cruise with 18 luxury suites from Varanasi to Dibrugarh is perfect for leisure travellers, history buffs, culture enthusiasts, and nature lovers who want to spend an extended time exploring the region in comfort and luxury and also allows for a hop-on and hop-off option for those who cannot commit to the entire journey.

The recently launched Antara Catamarans explore the Bhitarkanika mangrove wetland in Odisha, also known as the Mini Amazon of India, covering an area of 672 sq km in the estuarine region of the Brahmani – Baitarani River systems and their tributaries. The MV Mahanadi and MV Bhitarkanika offer 3 night/4 day itinerariesAmazon of the East sails every Friday and Cruising in Bhitarkanika every Monday. Embarking at Gupti, just over a 3 hour drive from Bhubaneswar airport, you cruise through Dangamal exploring Bhitarkanika and then returning to Gupti.

In addition there are new itineraries on the MV Ganga Vilas:   Nimati Ghat – Dhaka – Kolkata Epic Cruise- 30 NIGHTS, 31 DAYS –28 Feb to 29 Mar 2024. Travellers will board the cruise at Nimati Ghat, a 4hr drive from Dibrugarh and sail all the way through Majuli – Kaziranga – Guwahati – Dhaka – Sundarbans disembarking at Kolkata for their flight back home. This is an exciting cruise as one can experience wildlife in Kaziranga National Park as well as culture and heritage along the rivers.

In March 2024 we are also introducing a specially curated 3-NIGHT, 4 DAYS itinerary Kinare Dariya– Baithaks on the Ganges  from 01-04 March  2024  featuring concerts & conversations with artists in residence on the MV Ganges Voyager I. India’s best known music maestros such as Ustaad Shujaat Khan, Aruna Sairam, Pandit Mukul Shivputra, Usha Uthup and Dr. Radhika Chopra will come together to create musical magic.

Also on the MV Ganga Vilas, is the  Kolkata to Dhaka Downstream cruise for 11 NIGHTS, 12 DAYS  from 20 Nov to 01 Dec 2024. Travellers on this cruise, board at Kolkata and disembark at Dhaka for their flight back home. On this cruise  you can experience the magic of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, as well as spot Gangetic river dolphins in Karamjol.

The RV Bengal Ganga debuts in 2024 with the Varanasi Special Cruise for 3 NIGHTS, 4 DAYS. In November [14 to 17] the unique Dev Diwali Varanasi festival can also be experienced on a 3 NIGHTS, 4 DAYS cruise on board the same vessel.

Other itineraries offered by Antara River Cruises include bespoke shorter 7 night/8 day round trip cruises that focus on the Artisans of Bengal, textiles, etc., for  special interest groups  on the 28 suite Ganges Voyager as well as an 11 day special vegan cruise.. In fact now all our departures are vegan friendly.

Antara River Cruises also tailor makes itineraries for MICE travel. HighLevel Board meetings, Leadership programmes on Antara provide that exclusive and discreet environment.

Brand TD:  What kind of flora and fauna and birdlife can the visitors hope to see?

RJ: Guests can experience a variety of flora and fauna  on Antara River Cruises in the Sundarbans in West Bengal and Bangladesh, Kaziranga in Assam and Bhitarkanika in Odisha, all World Heritage Sites.

Sightings at Sundarbans, the world’s largest delta mangrove forest located in the Bay of Bengal, include Irrawaddy Dolphins and other marine life, the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger,  crocodiles, wild boars, axis deer and a wide range of migratory and local birds.

Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve in Assam is renowned as the primary habitat of the one-horned rhinoceros and home to large breeding populations of elephants, wild water buffalo, swamp deer, and the royal Bengal tiger, which collectively are known as the ‘Big Five’ of Kaziranga, has recently received the addition of two new mammalian species, further enriching its diverse fauna. These newcomers are the elusive binturong (Arctictis binturong), the largest civet in India colloquially known as the bearcat, and the small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus), both designated under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.

Bhitarkanika in Odisha is also known as the mini Amazon of the East. The rich and unique mangrove ecosystem with creeks, mudflats, and estuaries of the wildlife park, presided over by the majestic Sundari tree, has unparalleled dense mangroves, vibrant landscapes, and rich biodiversity.  Sightings of the majestic saltwater crocodiles or the many varieties of kingfishers caught in the act of snapping up their breakfast fish or and even a  foraging water monitor lizard having a lazy morning are common.

Brand TD:  What are your marketing and business strategies in India, what promotional activities are you undertaking?

 RJ: As explained above, we offer a variety of short and specific interest itineraries to the domestic market, especially HNIs who are looking for unique and different experiences and can now find these in India itself instead of travelling overseas.

Our promotional activities include sharing interesting content on social media, newsletters, familiarisation tours for agents as well as influencers and focus groups from both the Indian and overseas markets.

Brand TD:  Who are the partners for your cruise line in India and what is your commission percentile for agents?

 RJ: In India, we operate our own ships, however we also work with international charter companies.

We follow international standards in terms of commission to agents etc as it depends on the business they provide us.

Raj Singh

Brand TD:  What is in the pipeline for Antara River Cruises for 2024? What trends do you foresee for the river cruise industry in India in2024?

RJ: River cruise tourism in India is an untapped, unexplored market with immense possibilities and good return on investments. River cruising is one of the best and sustainable ways to experience slow travel as it is unique to be surrounded by nature as one glides over the waters and exploring life in riverside towns and cities.

Antara River Cruises is also exploring opportunities in Goa on the Mandovi and Zuari Rivers and the Cumbarjua Canal as well as river cruising in Kerala, the Chambal river in Rajasthan and the Saryu river in Uttar Pradesh.



The post Exploring Indian waterways with Antara River Cruises appeared first on Brand TD.


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