The nice thing about getting on board a cruise for the first time, is that everything smacks of novelty. Doors open on to unseen decks, a foghorn blast augurs good times and the expanse of ocean unwraps itself like a quiet mystery. The real magic though, transpires in the navigation room—and I don’t just mean the mundane act of steering the ship—I mean the bewitching movement of vessels on screens, the crackle of radio interceptions and the drama of knobs and dials at work.
On this particular day I am in the navigation room of the M.V. Angriya, a vessel charting the route from Mumbai to Goa, the Arabian Sea spreading out in front of us like in a 17th-century Flemish painting. Captain Nitin Dhond, a bearded, avuncular man is at the ship’s helm and is telling me how he got seduced by the sea as a child. It was in fact traversing this very route on transport vessels like the Konkan Shakti and Konkan Seva that plied through the seventies and eighties before the advent of the Konkan Railways. “Many of us have the memories and the nostalgia of those trips,” he says. “A group of us thought, one day we must start this again.”
That is how we are aboard the Angriya, cutting through the shimmering surfaces of the sea at 17 knots per hour on a hot October day, about 10 kilometres off the coastline. On its first official journey, its 104 rooms filled to capacity, its corridors populated by revellers, its kitchens briskly sending out food, Dhond hopes this will be the start of many journeys for what is one of the few domestic cruise ships owned by an Indian company. “We had been thinking about this for a long time,” he says. “Cruising has not been an Indian way but it has been picking up recently.”
Half the charm is self-evident—14 to 16 hours bobbing about at sea, marinating in the special pleasure of doing nothing at all apart from inhaling and imbibing. With its infinity pool, six bars, two restaurants and dance floor, the Angriya has Gatsbyesque ambitions. Dhond pitches it thus: begin the party even before you reach Goa or continue partying even after you leave. On weekends, when the ship is docked in Mumbai, they plan to host parties by the shore.
The evening push-off from Princess Dock hits all the right notes—sunset with Purple Gate receding on the eastern waterfront, the familiar shapes of Victoria Terminus, the B.M.C. building, the new wing of the Taj carving up the skyline, a ceremonial escort of tugboats preceding us. Pratish Khedekar, a navy man and marine history researcher, explains the custom as a colonial ritual, followed every time a ship undertakes a first, last or any important voyage. What on earth is a historian interloper doing among the civilian crew, one might ask? Khedekar won’t be on every journey, but the management plans to have a history student on each voyage, should a customer be assailed by an urgent question about say, Maratha naval history, or the exploits of colonial seafarers.
The ship itself has been named for Kanhoji Angre, an 18th-century admiral of the Maratha navy, whose painting adorns a wall at the reception. Further down, the decks’ corridors are populated with black-and-white photos and historical nuggets, its cabins named for geographic spots or islands, and the reading room has a bunch of nautical literature. Some of the bathrooms still have Japanese characters, a connective tissue to the ship’s past as the Ogasawara Maru, a ferry between Tokyo and Ogasawara. The ship has aspirations for character alongside those of being a party boat, so credit to it for attempting to capture the ineffable romance of the sea.
Some of that also rests in the serendipitous marine sightings possible from the vessel. Ask Nirmal Kulkarni, the executive director of ecology, who has been on this route multiple times, and has spotted much marine and avian life. A slight man with an earring clipped to the top of his ear, his official mandate involves overseeing the ship’s intersection with its environment.
The next morning, at 7 a.m., he gathers people on the front deck for some birdwatching. I had not suspected that a pleasure cruise could take on the colours of a safari. Neither had I planned to wake up early on what was supposed to be a decadent, self-indulgent journey. But the possibility of seeing dolphins, or even whales, as Kulkarni had done on previous journeys, is simply too tempting to pass up. “You can’t guarantee you will see something every time,” Kulkarni cautions, careful of raising people’s hopes.
Slivers of silver periodically shine through the water and birds flap in the distance. That morning there are no mammals spotted, but we see frigate birds, wagtails, what is possibly a pipe fish, flying fish and gulls. Every journey will have a marine researcher on board—both to lead the activity and to collect data of sightings for research purposes.
If all of this sounds too much like being on Darwin’s H.M.S. Beagle, fear not, beer is at hand across the ship—a perfect foil to the battering sun. And intermittent napping is always an option—after the sightings and breakfast, I promptly retire to my cabin on C-deck for some mid-morning shut-eye. Sleep is easy and smooth in the cosy, well-appointed double room with my meals safely in my stomach, even though I have carried the obligatory Avomine in my luggage.
From port to port those 17 hours pass between dining, drinking, dozing and bouncing from deck to deck finding spots to read. Still, the Angriya would barely qualify in the ranks of the truly luxurious. Certainly its rooms are pleasing and clean, its food decent, its staff pleasant. But even its press release was circumspect on its one-percentness, reading more like a cross between a corporate vision document and an ad for a yoga retreat: “It empowers people to connect, participate and celebrate the newness in life. It is truly a voyage of wows.”
Nonetheless I am impressed, not only because I’ve never been on such a large ship before for such a large swathe of time, I also have no idea cruises of this kind could be this, well, high-minded, mixing history and biology with sun-bathing and selfie-taking.
They also have to be practical. The ship won’t sail during the monsoon, Dhond tells me, even though it is safe to do so, to avoid possible discomfort from more turbulent waters. Even so, the first thing Kulkarni tells us when we arrive is that it is a perfectly calm and safe route. That is comforting to know.
Before boarding I had expressed concern to the editor of this magazine about being on the ship’s inaugural journey. Was it even safe? Was I just some sort of guinea pig? Could unforeseen dangers strike? “I don’t think,” she had replied, “there are icebergs en route.” I can confirm this is true. Froth-free seas and frothy beers; amen to that.
The Angriya (www.angriyacruises.com) will sail between Mumbai and Goa’s Mormugao port three times a week, making six journeys in all. Different types of accommodation are available on board from dorm rooms to pods to double rooms, with prices starting at `4,300 per person for a one-way ticket. Some accommodations have attached bathrooms, for others there are common facilities. Dinner, breakfast and tea are included in the ticket cost. Amenities on board include a swimming pool, spa, several bars and restaurants serving Konkani and Maharashtrian fare, a reading room. Passengers may carry up to 25 kg as checked-in baggage and 10 kg as cabin baggage. There is no Wi-Fi available on board, no room service and no laundry service. First aid is available, and the staff has been trained in case of a medical emergency.