by Chris Hutchinson

WE boarded the good ship Boudicca, one of Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines’ smaller size ships in Mumbai, to a warm welcome.

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

We joined the Dabbawala, boarding a train at Mahalakshmi station, meeting our man in the luggage carriage. During the 15-minute journey to Churchgate Station he he told us he was one of 5,000 who deliver cooked meals in lunch boxes before 12.30pm. In total there are over 200,000 daily deliveries. We accompanied our Dabbawala on his deliveries, I donned a white ‘Gandhi hat’ and helped to carry his lunch boxes, he then made me an adopted Dabbawala!. He told us that he only delivered one wrong box to a lady, who is now his wife...

As we gazed at the Gateway of India, an imposing monument, our first day sights of India were mesmerizing. We sailed into Goa to the sounds of traditional musicians and dancers. Our excursion to old Goa took us through tropical countryside, stopping at the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage site where St Francis Xavier’s relics can be seen. In the small town of Panjim there was an array of silk clothing at bargain prices, and everywhere we saw women adorned in shimmering saris.

Next morning we boarded a motor boat to begin our adventure- crocodile and bird watching. Entering the Cumbarjua Canal, we hugged the banks, within a few feet to crocodiles of all sizes, and the sound of exotic birdsong. Next a spice plantation, we weaved through trees and colourful bushes, giving off sweet smelling aromas, learning about spices used for cooking and medication.

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 evening highlights. At dinner we chose from a mouth watering five-course a la carte menu, then on to top evening shows. More sights and sounds of India greeted Boudicca in Kochi (Cochin), the drum band accompanied by dancers wearing colourful saris.

On our trip to the Backwaters of Alappuzha we transferred to a houseboat, cruising lakes, rivers and canals passing tiny villagers, observing daily life while eating fried banana and tapioca crisps. I admired skills of fishermen in dugout canoes, one hand to paddle, the other operating his net, a skill going back centuries.

In Kochi we boarded a canoe at Kumbalangi Village, operated by two boatmen, skilfully gliding under Chinese fishing nets to an island. We watched the art of extracting sap from the coconut tree to make beer, then removing the shell, grinding the coconut, adding water to make milk for cooking. The fibre is then made into rope using a spinning wheel.

We climbed into a tuck tuck, a bumpy but exhilarating ride back to Boudicca. Last stop Colombo-Sri Lanka, where we visited the Ingiriya Tea Plantation, in a tranquil setting watching ladies picking leaves. We followed each process from drying the leaves, sifting and grading, fascinating to see how a cup of tea is made.

A great way to see Colombo is a city tour, highlighting 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 a visit years ago. We were entertained on the lawn by Kandyan dancers and musicians, reflecting different regions and eras - a fitting finale.

* A Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines 14-night ‘Authentic India’ fly-cruise (D2003), departs UK on February 6, 2020. Joining Boudicca in Colombo, Sri Lanka, ports of call include: Maldives’ Northern Atoll; Kochi, Mormugau and Mumbai, Porbandar, ending in Dubai. Prices start from £1,749.

Chris Hutchinson