Ganga Vilas: Increasing riverine tourism

The travel-tourism-hospitality sector received a symbolic boost on Friday, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the MV Ganga Vilas from Varanasi. The luxury 51-day cruise, operated by the Inland Waterways Authority in collaboration with private players, will travel through several states and two countries, stopping at approximately 50 tourist and heritage sites along the Ganga and Brahmaputra River systems.

Everything you need to know about the MV Ganga Vilas

  • The MV Ganga Vilas is the world’s first indigenously built and longest river cruise.
  • This ship tourism project is coordinated by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways.
  • The cruise has three decks, 18 suites, a capacity of 36 tourists, modern amenities, and avoids river pollution.
  • It has its own sewage treatment plant, as well as a water treatment plant that draws water from the river for daily consumption.
  • The cruise ship has a gymnasium, a spa, a restaurant, a sunbath deck, and other amenities to keep tourists entertained and comfortable.

Journey of MV Ganga Vilas

  • From Varanasi to Dibrugarh: Departing from Varanasi, the cruise ship MV Ganga Vilas will travel 3,200 kilometres in 51 days, passing through 27 river systems and several states before arriving in Dibrugarh.
  • It will cover the following World Heritage sites: The itinerary includes visits to 50 tourist destinations, including World Heritage sites, national parks, river ghats, and major cities such as Patna, Bihar, Sahibganj, Jharkhand, Kolkata, West Bengal, Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Guwahati, Assam.
  • Pilgrimages combined with ecotourism: It will stop at the famous Ganga Arti in Varanasi, the Buddhist site of Sarnath, and even Majuli, Assam’s largest river island.

What are the concerns raised?

  • Priority must be given to addressing rive silting and pollution: The two most serious threats to India’s rivers, silting and pollution, must be addressed.
  • Job creation must go hand in hand with environmental restoration: Riverine tourism could bring jobs to states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, and Assam, according to both the Prime Minister and Shipping and Ports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. However, job creation must go hand in hand with environmental restoration.

Way Forward

  • Involve local communities: To achieve the government’s goal of increasing cruise passenger traffic from 4 lakh to nearly ten times that figure. However, for this growth to be sustainable, it must involve local communities.
  • Smaller vessels may be used: While larger, luxury liners have the potential to expand, riverine tourism could also expand and cater to travellers from various economic strata. Smaller vessels may also pose less of an environmental challenge.
  • Lesson from Kerala: While the Centre’s push in the sector with the PM as the face is welcome, states and the private sector must also be included. East Indian states, for example, can learn a lot from how Kerala monetizes and maintains its backwaters.
  • Expansion with best practises from around the world: However, the Ganga cruise should only be the beginning of exploring the untapped tourism potential of India’s numerous and diverse river systems. Simultaneously, the expansion must take into account best practises from across India and the world, while also ensuring that local communities and the environment are not overlooked.

@the end

The hospitality industry is labor-intensive and can provide some of the formal jobs that India’s transitioning economy desperately requires. And, given the growing global market for environmentally conscious travel, India can protect its rivers while also creating jobs if it is meticulous and enterprising in its planning.

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