“The journey not the arrival matters.” – T. S. Eliot
Truly, a vital aspect of holiday fun is the travel itself; and when that journey is on a luxurious train with interesting travel partners, it’s sure to be a voyage of a lifetime. India’s luxury rail cruises take travelers on a journey through time to memorable places both within and outside the regular tourist circuit; the sights you see and the experience of the journey are sure to be unforgettable.
A world apart from the regular train services of India, luxury trains like the Maharajas’ Express, Palace on Wheels, The Golden Chariot and the Deccan Odyssey, offer an experience that can only be described as royal. The combination of comfortable train travel with well-charted tour itineraries ensure that you visit India’s most scenic and exquisite sites as well as experience the best of the country’s cultural highlights.
The hospitality starts even before you board the train; staff welcome guests with garland and tilaks (vermillion powder applied as a mark on the forehead); a live band plays music and a red carpet is laid out for all guests who board this train. The interiors are delightfully Indian, yet conveniently modern to match today’s travel needs. The suite cabins are luxurious with classic furnishing and modern amenities like televisions, DVD players, wi-fi connectivity and plenty of storage space.
Maybe because some of these luxury trains were designed initially for Indian royalty, gracious service and royal facilities are part of the package; so of course, you’ll have your own butler, the dining car with its panoramic windows serves food and drinks fit for traveling monarchs and throughout the train journey as well as the land trips, every effort is taken to make sure you are comfortable. There are also special carriages for recreation, spa services and gyms.
I’ve always felt that one of the best advantages of train travel is the company you get; some of these people remain friends for long. Luxury trains like the Palace on Wheels and Deccan Odyssey that have itineraries spanning more than five days are wonderful places to meet new people from different countries and backgrounds; explore new places with newly found friends and cherish this experience.
If you thought the Taj Mahal is India’s unique masterpiece, a journey on any of these luxury trains will open your eyes to the hidden wonders of India. Yes, the Taj is a part of the tour package offered by Maharajas’ Express, Palace on Wheels, The Indian Maharaja and Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, but there are plenty of other gems in India that are covered in these itineraries; these exquisite sites are sure to take you on a journey back in time.
Palace on Wheels
All the coaches in this ultra-luxury train are named after different cities from the princely state of Rajasthan and the decor theme of the train reflects the unique ethnicity of this state. Discover India through its colorful cities from the luxury of the Palace On Wheels; first explore the “pink” city Jaipur with its magnificent sandstone monuments, then move on to the desert town of Jaisalmer, from there on to green Ranthambore, a wildlife national park, and move on beautiful Udaipur with its blue lakes and cool palaces. Finally move on to Agra to view the pristine, sparkling Taj Mahal before you get back to New Delhi. This is one of the best ways to explore the Golden Triangle of India without the hassles of booking accommodation in different places or moving your baggage from one hotel to another.
The Palace on Wheels operates between September and April every year; the train departs every Wednesday from Delhi and completes its tour in seven days.
The Golden Chariot is painted in an eye-catching purple-gold combination, the color of royalty, and the facilities it offers matches the royal ambience. The luxury cabins are equipped with comfortable mattresses, vanity desks, LCD TVs and comfortable Wi-fi internet; a traditional spa and gym add to the train’s charms. The Golden Chariot has two itineraries – The “Pride of the South” is a scenic journey through enchanting Karnataka; explore the stately town of Mysore where you can visit its palaces, the Brindavan Gardens and Srirangapatna; enjoy a jungle safari at the Bandipur National Park and gaze at the architectural wonders of Shravanabelagola and Hampi. In a complete shift of scenery, the train moves on through Goa, the party capital and after a day of fun, takes you back to Bangalore.
The other route, the “Southern Splendor” takes its guests to heritage sites in South India like the shore temples of Mahabalipuram and the Brihadeswara Temple of Tanjavur; experience the stunning sound and light show at Madurai’s historic Thirumalai Nayak Mahal and enjoys a relaxing houseboat cruise at Alappuzha, all in the same tour.
The Golden Chariot operates between October and March. Both the Pride of the South and the Southern Splendor has a 7 nights/ 8 days schedule and depart on specific Mondays.
The Deccan Odyssey mingles modern with traditional - take in the flurry of Mumbai along with the silence of the Ajanta and Ellora caves; visit pulsating Goa, ethnic Kolhapur and the charming town of Nashik in this tour. Aurangabada and Daulatabad are fascinating places with plenty of history and fine monuments. Food on-board the train is delicious; the Taj Group of Hotels is in charge of hospitality on the train.
The Deccan Odyssey has come out with 10 itineraries and operates between September and May every year. Of these, 7 journeys cover different places in a 7 nights/ 8 days schedule while 3 others are for a shorter duration of 3 to 5 days.
The Indian Maharaja is a royal journey from the financial capital of India, Mumbai to the political capital, Delhi; visit the beautiful Ajanta & Ellora caves, the splendid palaces of Udaipur, the Amber Fort of Jaipur, famous tiger reserves of Ranthambore and the grand Taj Mahal that never fails to charm its visitors. The train is ultra-luxurious with an Ayurvedic Massage center, a beauty parlor, steam bath, a library, bar and excellent fine dining facilities. The tour duration is for 7 nights/ 8 days.
The Maharajas’ Express has a similar route and covers five different circuits of India, five routes full of history and eye-catching architecture. While the “Treasures of India” and “Gems of India” are short routes from Delhi exploring the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, other routes of the Maharajas Express like the Heritage of India, Indian Panorama and The Indian Splendor are longer rail cruises covering popular wonders like Ajanta, Ellora, Varanasi and Jodhpur as well as hidden gems like Gwalior, Fatehpur Sikhri, Khajuraho and Lucknow.
The Maharajas Express chugs through its scenic routes between October and April every year and has itineraries ranging between 4 days and 8 days. The train departs on specific Saturdays and Sundays.
If you’re looking for a tour off the beaten track, opt for the Indian Panorama and discover small joys in the country like a rikshaw ride or gape at the world’s oldest university in Nalanda and visit historically significant places like Bodhgaya where Buddhism originated.
The Fairy Queen is the oldest working steam locomotive in the world; this train has been chugging through history since 1885. Today, this steam engine pulls a luxury coach between New Delhi and Alwar and offers an exciting day at Sariska, a lovely forest reserve area with plenty of wildlife. Since this is not a long journey, accommodation is arranged at a deluxe hotel and not provided on the train. Still, a journey on the Fairy Queen is very interesting simply because of its historic value.
The Fairy Queen operates between December and April and departs on second Sundays to return the next day.
The Royal Rajasthan on Wheels is another luxury train that concentrates on the tourist delights of Rajasthan. This train starts from Delhi and explores Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur, Chittorgarh and Agra in a 7 day journey of extravagance. This train is specially known for its opulence.
The Royal Rajasthan on Wheels departs on Sundays and operates between October and March every year.
Of course, luxury comes with a price; booking a tour on any of these trains could cost you thousands of dollars. For instance the tariff for a night in a deluxe cabin on the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels costs $699 per person; so the cost factor cannot be ignored when you book your holiday on these luxury trains.
However, we also have to consider the fact that these are complete packages; you wouldn’t have to go through the hassles of searching or paying for accommodation, food or transport in different locations. You don’t have to worry about moving your baggage from one hotel to another or traveling on unpredictable roads in rented cars. The luxury trains travel at night when you sleep in comfort and you reach your destinations fresh after a good night’s sleep.
Facilities offered on board the luxurious hotels on wheels are also excellent; with your own butlers, excellent dining and massage services; these trains do offer good value for money. Another priceless advantage of booking a luxury train journey is the company you get; people from all corners of the world get together on these trains and explore the country as one. This is also an incredible cultural experience that allows you to see the country the way the Indian royalty did till a few decades back. So if you want to live the life of a Maharajah, at least for a few days, book your journey on any one of these exclusive trains and bask in the luxury.