Green eating down the Ganges: all you need to know about this vegan cruise

If ethical dining sounds like bland fare, sample this: An uncompromising vegan cruise down the mighty river turns out to be a memorable, epicurean treat

By Gustasp and Jeroo Irani

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Published: Fri 1 Dec 2023, 4:51 PM

What happens when two carnivores embark on a chartered vegan river cruise? The answer is yum!

After three failed attempts at turning vegetarian, we thought embarking on a luxury vegan river cruise would be suicidal. Surviving on lacklustre salads and rubbery tofu would be akin to enrolling in a gruelling weight loss programme. But the lure of a luxury cruise down the mighty Ganges river and its tributaries to the Sundarbans National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site in India, trumped the protesting growls of our stomachs.

Vegan Travel Germany had chartered the Antara Ganges Voyager, a luxury boutique 28-suite ship, for its vegan clientele. We cherished our meat-hearty, artery-busting, cholesterol-rich diet but had been lucky to snag a couple of suites that were unoccupied. However, there was a caveat – we had to be sensitive to our fellow passengers’ lifestyle choice. This entailed vegan meals on board and no dairy or leather items (shoes, belts, wristwatches and travel bags) to be carried on to the ship nor items made from animal extracts such as wool and silk.

The ship was equipped with a totally vegan kitchen and even the crew was strictly vegan. As we stepped into the elegant restaurant of the ship for our first lunch on board, we wondered if our fellow passengers would look down on us as lowly mortals, outsiders, prey to the frailties of the flesh and uncaring about animals and the health of the planet. Would they see us as mere slaves to our taste buds and palates?

Happily, our fellow cruisers did not turn out to be a bunch of vegan warriors who wore their veganism on their sleeves but curious wayfarers fascinated by India and the concept of cruising down one of her mightiest rivers. And what allayed our fears of starving was that every meal turned out to be a banquet of sorts. The ingenious menus, replete with Indian and international fare, left a fleeting, tantalising presence on our tongues and released complex flavours from around the world. So much for our fears that we would be quasi-starved on bland vegan fare which would prompt us to rush to the nearest river bank, reel in some fish and cook it al fresco.

After every foray into the great outdoors of tangled mangrove forests where tigers lurked unseen, saw-toothed crocodiles floated like inert logs in the river and birds with colourful plumes flitted overhead, we would return to our idling ship and head out to the restaurant. Done in a soothing shade of blue with the signature, polished Burma teak agleam everywhere, the décor of the restaurant showcased the breakfast and lunch choices on the buffet and made them shine appetisingly. Artistically pre-plated courses would be served at dinner even as a flaming sun sank behind the mangroves.

“Veganism takes vegetarianism to its logical conclusion,” said Dirk B. Bocklage, managing director of Vegan Travel Germany whom we spoke to on board the ship. Sustainability is in laser-sharp focus, too, and post the pandemic, veganism is getting mainstreamed and trendy in the West.

Yet, it’s the prohibitions of a vegan lifestyle that makes it daunting to follow. “Indeed, undertaking India’s first chartered vegan river cruise entailed months of research and planning,” said the 32-year-old ship manager Ranjoy Das. Even the toothpaste, tooth brushes and hair brushes on the Ganges Voyager had to be vegan (bamboo with plant-based bristles) while wines and spirits had to be vegan certified as well. (Many wines incorporate gelatine sourced from the bones of animals in the filtration process.) However, spirits like whisky and vodka are generally vegan.

Despite our initial misgivings, the vegan cruise on the Ganges Voyager turned out to be a moveable feast, burnished and appetising. Breakfast featured multiple choices: scrambled tofu for breakfast, crisp potato rosti, grilled zucchini, chana masala with fluffy puris or an uttapam with sambhar, a toothsome spectrum of nuts, muesli, crisp vegan croissants, baguettes and bakery items, cheese and yogurt crafted with a base of cashew and coconut milk, choice of fresh fruits… All of it washed down with steaming hot Indian masala (spicy) tea brewed with creamy oat milk. Yes, they had cracked this, too, and vegan tea tasted like the Real McCoy.

As the days unravelled on the ship like the pages of a book being slowly turned, we were served a panoply of gob-smacking vegan fare. All of it was a collusion of mild fragrant spices with fresh seasonal vegetables, stirred with the creative genius of the chefs working behind the scenes. (Psst! We drew a line at the cauliflower and date smoothie!)

A sampler of the beguiling fare: French onion soup, chilled cranberry soup, Vietnamese Pho soup, crispy chili baby corn, warm sweet potato and green apple salad, burnt garlic noodles, Persian style stew, Malaysian laksa, Mexican style tamales, a Bengali thali served on shiny bell metal platters, American succotash, ratatouille and much more. Carrot cakes, crepe Suzette, sorbets, ice-creams et al were some of the desserts that served as a sweet finale.

At the end of the cruise, we weren’t proselytising like born-again vegans but we might have, if we could have hijacked the chef and his entire team to cook for us back home.

For a complete roll call of Antara cruises, visit: www.antaracruises.com

wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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