Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to flag off the longest-ever luxury cruise from Varanasi to Dibrugarh via Bangladesh on January 13, which is intended to boost the tourism potential and relations between the two neighbouring countries.

Cabinet Secretary, Rajiv Gauba, chaired an inter-ministerial meeting, attended by representatives from the nodal Shipping and Home ministries, on Saturday to finalise the 3,200 kilometre-long “Ganga Vilas” cruise that kicks-off from Sant Ravidas ghat on the banks of Ganga in Varanasi, which is the Prime Minister’s constituency.

Highly placed government sources stated that Border Security Force (BSF), which already guards the India-Bangladesh border, has been assigned the task of providing security cover to the cruise which will set sail for 51 days from Varanasi to enter Bangladesh from West Bengal before docking at Dibrugarh in Assam.

Topics like immigration and customs checkpoints, security and other logistic issues of the inland waterways cruise were discussed at the Cabinet Secretary’s meeting. It is learnt that for the sake of foreign nationals, immigration and customs facility will be made available at the Varanasi airport. Domestic passengers will have to testify their travel credentials at the Hemnagar checkpoint in Sunderbans area of West Bengal before the cruise enters Bangladesh waters. The first immigration checking in Bangladesh would happen at Antiharabanki, pointed out government sources.

Officials said this is a maiden attempt since never has an inland cruise ever covered a 3,200-km long distance. Ganga Vilas will sail from Varanasi to Ghazipur, both in Uttar Pradesh, and enter Bihar through Buxar ahead of arriving at Patna. From there it will sail into West Bengal via Farakka, where a multimodal hub is also coming up, and move further to Murshidabad to reach Kolkata. The cruise will set off for Dhaka and come back to India through Guwahati, sail through Sibsagar before berthing at Dibrugarh, said government sources.   

The flag-off is part of a pilot project and the government along with private operators would subsequently decide the calendar of the cruise trip based on the feasibility study. Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has signed an MOU with Antara Luxury River Cruises and JM Baxi River Cruises to run the services.