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Glaciers melting into the ocean, grizzly bears fishing for pink salmon, hump-backed whales playing in the icy channels, bald eagles surveying the coastline - an Alaskan cruise offers one a chance to observe nature at its rawest best. Having 'been there, done that' with American vacations, Australian soujourns and African safaris, Indians are now exploring new destinations and unique experiences. So, it comes as no surprise that a growing number are taking the 25-hour-long flight to Vancouver to board a ship that tours the oceans engulfing Alaska, which lies on the extreme north-west of the Unites States.

Royal Caribbean is expecting at least 3, 500 Indians to join its Alaska tours when the cruising season takes off this May. Gautam Chadha, India representative, says the cruising company has been offering Alaskan cruises for 20 years but there has been a substantial rise in interest in the past few years. "We have seen an annual growth of around 12 per cent in bookings from India over the last few seasons, " he says. More than 15 companies offer cruise holidays on their ships in Alaska.

Interestingly, the destination seems to be especially popular with Amdavadis. Flamingo Travels, a leading travel agency in Gujarat, has booked Alaskan cruises for 150 persons from the state, a majority from Ahmedabad, for the coming months. "Many have been opting for an Alaska cruise combined with a holiday in the Canadian Rockies over the last two years, " says Ratna Shah from the company.

The Alaska-bound are not just the young and hip Gujju bens and bhais who are known to be avid travelers. A majority of the Gujarat residents who take the Alaska cruise holidays are senior citizens, says Shah. While some choose a trip to Alaska because they have children living in the US or Canada who they are planning to visit, others simply like the idea of a luxurious and relaxed vacation.

Jaya Shah, a 65-year-old Ahmedabad based doctor, took a Alaskan cruise with her husband. "I want to see the entire world and Alaska was high up on my list. I had already been to the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, " she says. Shah raves about the sights. "It was amazing to see the Hubbard glacier. It was such a brilliant blue colour, " says Shah.

Sanjay Passi, CEO of the Posco group, too, considers his Alaskan cruise experience "out of the world" especially because of the glaciers. "When we went in May, the glaciers had melted to quite an extent. We could see many from the ship, " he says.
Glaciers are the most prominent feature of the Alaskan coastline and cruising is considered the best way to get up close and personal with these icy behemoths. While one can even go to Ladakh and walk on a glacier, Alaska is among the few destinations where travelers get to see many towers of glacial ice crashing into the ocean. The Hubbard Glacier with its 1, 350 square mile wall of blue ice is a thrilling sight, say tourists.

The popularity of the Alaskan cruise among both resident and non-resident Indians has also prompted companies to start desi-style cruise tours of the region. Maharaja Cruise, for instance, promises seven nights of 'food, fun and faloodas' as well as dandiya parties, Bollywood entertainment and stars performing on board during its upcoming Alaska cruise in July. "More than 2, 000 Indians have booked this year so far, " says Rahul Mehta, cruising consultant for Maharaja. Another desi Alaska cruise, Masala Cruise, usually has a Laughter Challenge comedian on board to entertain guests.

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