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Now, cruise to a spiritual high

Now, cruise to a spiritual high

Author: Himanshi Dhawan
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 5 2009

Who says the path to nirvana has to be paved with abstinence and detachment? Certainly not the organizers of Indian spiritual cruises, which offer pravachan (religious discourse), vegetarian food and meditation in the midst of opulence and the occasional vice.

Spiritual leaders like Mridul Maharaj and Baba Ramdev, followed by a throng of devotees, are opting to cruise to overseas destinations like southeast Asia and Europe. They typically board large cruise liners, which have other passengers as well, for a spiritual high on the high seas. So, in these liners, a Lido theatre that may be entertaining a noisy crowd with its topless shows at night, is transformed into a samadhan meeting with chants reverberating in the wee hours of the morning. Hyderabad-based software company promoter Govind Kabra, who has been organizing tours of spiritual leaders for the past three years through the non-profit Dharmik Yatra Trust, said the popularity of such group tours was increasing. ''Till a few years ago, there were about 1,000-1,500 people taking such cruises each year. Now, the number has gone up to 15,000 or more,'' he said. About 80% of the participants are people living in India while the rest are NRIs.

Kabra said such groups had special requirements, including supper at midnight when kathas were on, ''masala tea that Indians seem to prefer'' and a vast range of vegetarian food that has no onion, ginger or garlic. ''We offer a choice of about 70-80 dishes that are turned out at every meal. Kathas are restricted to 3-4 hours a day so that people spend the rest of the time sightseeing or exploring the ship,'' Kabra further said. The trips, usually organized in the ''non-marriage season'' from July-August and in January after Sankranti, are very popular. Experts feel that these cruises, priced at about $150-200 a night, fill a gap that the industry had earlier ignored. Royal Caribbean's Gautam Chadha said, ''The trend is gathering momentum. Spiritual cruises were popular amongst NRIs but now Indians are also following suit.''

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