Chris Hutchins discovers Authentic India and returns to Sri Lanka

At school I learned of the exploits of Vasco da Gama, the first European to discover India; and dreamed of visiting this fascinating country.

This dream became a reality when I read the innovative itinerary to ‘Authentic India’ with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. I was further excited that it included a stay in Sri Lanka, where I spent time many years ago. I booked immediately.

We boarded the good ship Boudicca in Mumbai to a very warm welcome from the crew.

Our first ship’s excursion sounded intriguing, entitled ‘Delivery with the dabbawalla’. A dabbawalla is a lunchbox delivery man taking freshly cooked individual meals to office workers throughout the city – unique to Mumbai.

We boarded a train at Mahalakshmi station and met our man in the luggage carriage. The journey to Churchgate Station took 15 minutes while he told us he was one of 5,000 who deliver individually cooked meals in lunch boxes before 12.30pm each work day. In total, there are over 200,000 daily deliveries.

Alighting from the train, the challenge is to negotiate your way through a maze of traffic…the only highway code is reserved for the sacred cow!

We accompanied our dabbawalla on his deliveries; I donned a white Gandhi hat and helped to carry his lunch boxes, he then made me an adopted dabbawalla!

Thrills of the day continued, as we gazed at the Gateway of India, an imposing monument completed in 1924, commemorating the visit of King George V. Next to it and in contrast the elegant Taj Mahal Hotel. Our first-day sights of India were mesmerizing.

We sailed into Goa to the sights and sounds of traditional musicians and dancers. Our excursion to Old Goa stopped at the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where St. Francis Xavier’s relics can be seen.

Then we meandered through the quaint Latin Quarter, admiring individually designed Portuguese houses dating back over 200 years. Women adorned in shimmering saris reflected every colour imaginable.

The following day, we boarded an Indian-style motor boat to begin our next adventure – crocodile and bird watching. Entering the Cumbarjua Canal, we got up close and personal to crocodiles of all sizes.

Then a drive into the hills to a spice plantation, learning about the spices used for cooking and medication. At the end, it is tradition to have water and lavender oil poured on the back of your neck, very refreshing. Lunch was a sumptuous buffet served on banana leaf, with local beer - an exhilarating day.

Dusk saw me in the deck Jacuzzi watching an amber sunset, followed by a mouth watering 5-course à la carte menu, and a variety of top evening shows.

Our next trip took us to the backwaters of Alappuzha, where we transferred to an authentic houseboat, with stylish interior of teak, mahogany and polished coconut. We cruised lakes, rivers and narrow canals, passing tiny villagers, observing activities of daily life, while eating fried banana and tapioca crisps. I admired the skills of the fishermen in dugout canoes, using one hand to paddle, the other to operate their nets, a skill going back centuries.

Next day in Kochi, we boarded a canoe at Kumbalangi Village, and saw how fishermen caught prawns and crabs, then watched the art of extracting sap from the coconut tree to make beer.

Last stop, Colombo, Sri Lanka. A scenic drive to the Ingiriya Tea Plantation where we watched ladies picking leaves, dressed in their beautiful saris. A great way to see Colombo is through a city tour, which highlights the sights, reflecting Colonial and Sri Lankan cultures.

Boudicca’s final evening excursion took us to the grand Galle Face Hotel, built in 1864, a masterpiece of Victorian architecture, where I stayed on my visit years ago. We were entertained on the lawn by Kandyan dancers and musicians. The combination of music and dance routines reflected different regions throughout different eras, their national costumes and saris were dazzling. A fitting finale.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines 14-night Authentic India fly-cruise, departing on February 6, 2020. Prices start from £1,749pp, based on an interior twin-bedded room, subject to availability, and includes all food and entertainment on board Boudicca, return flights from the UK, port and airport taxes and transfers., or call Reservations on 0800 0355 242.