It is a far cry from a visit to my local Tamworth market in Staffordshire - you certainly don't expect the 'meat' to be wandering around on four legs! But then this is India and, as I discovered on my first ever visit to this enchanting country, the cow, as a sacred beast in the Hindu religion, is afforded free rein to go where it wishes. My initial encounter with a free-strolling cow was during a walk through a market area in Porbandar, the city where the 'Father of India', Mahatma Gandhi was born. Porbandar was the first port in India that my wife and I arrived at during our 'Authentic India' cruise courtesy of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines - a voyage that covered an impressive 2,244 nautical miles in just 14 days.
You never know what you might run into in India
However, Porbandar was not the first place that our ship, the Boudicca, docked at. In fact, the 'Authentic India' cruise began with a flight from the UK to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, before sailing the short distance to neighbouring Dubai. The contrast between the modern, oil-rich UAE, which boasts the world's tallest structure – the Burj Khalifa at 828 metres - and Porbandar could not have been greater. But our first taste of India was still a fascinating and enjoyable experience with the obvious poverty of the fishing village close to our docking point offset by the majesty of the temples, the bustling colourful streets - complete with cows - and, of course, Gandhi's birthplace museum. Porbandar also gave us our first experience of riding in an auto rickshaw Tuk Tuk, which have also been described as 'India's Ferrari'.
The view from the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai
A cruise to India is probably not uppermost in most people's minds, but it is a great way of experiencing this vast country of 1.35 billion people - almost 18 per cent of the world's total population. For a start, any concerns about the possibility of going down with 'Delhi belly' are completely done away with as you enjoy all your meals, which are included in the cost of the cruise, on board the Boudicca. For me, cruising is largely about the destinations, but the two day voyage from Dubai to Porbandar gave my wife and I the chance to get fully acquainted with the Boudicca, which packs a lot into its smaller size when compared with some of the huge vessels around. Facilities range from restaurants, bars, lounges and shops to swimming pools, a fitness centre, spa, a library and card room. And there is top-class entertainment to enjoy in the evenings.
Going for a punt on the backwaters of Kerala
After leaving Gandhi's birthplace it was a short voyage south to the teeming Mumbai, previously called Bombay, which houses more than 21 million people and where the legacies of former British rule are clearly evident, including buildings modelled on St Pancras railway station and Big Ben. After two days in Mumbai, it is off to Murmugao, in Goa, which waited an extra 14 years before gaining independence, this time from the Portuguese, in 1961. Our final stops were in scenic Kerala, starting with Kochi, where we enjoyed a scenic backwaters canoe ride that included views of its famous Chinese fishing nets, before arriving at the pretty fishing harbour of Vizhinjam, just 50 miles from India's southern tip. But there was an added bonus in store, for, after a final day at sea, we docked in Colombo in Sri Lanka for an overnight stop before flying home.
Colourful fishing boats at Vizhinjam
A similar cruise with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines will be a 14-night 'Authentic India' fly-cruise (D2003) onboard Boudicca, sailing between Colombo and Dubai, which departs on 6th February 2020.
Prices currently start from £1,749 per person, based on an interior twin-bedded room, subject to availability, and includes all food and entertainment on board, return flights from the UK, port and airport taxes and transfers.
Further information on the cruise can be found by visiting: www.fredolsencruises.com/cruise/authentic-india-d2003
For further information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, visit the website at www.fredolsencruises.com
or call Reservations on 0800 0355 242.