India By Rail

 

The Maharajas’ Express speeds by the Taj Mahal.

 

The 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited made train travel cool again, right down to the 11 pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage specifically designed for the movie, which follows three brothers as they make their way through the vivid landscape of India.

Clearly, the train is an anachronism in modern travel. We think this outdated mode of conveyance is ripe for a comeback. No more so than in a country as vast and colorful as India. Touting itself as “India’s first cross-country luxury train,” the Maharajas’ Express will make its inaugural journey from Mumbai to Delhi in March, and promises to offer “never before traveled routes and unforgettable off-train excursions and experiences.”

The Maharajas’ Express has a capacity for 84 guests with accommodations ranging from 20 Deluxe Cabins to 18 Junior Suites. Top Digs: Try the Presidential Suite, which spreads over an entire carriage. Picture a luxury hotel gliding over rails: each cabin has panoramic windows (think taking in the countryside and India’s countless sights), air-cushioned suspension (because what luxury ride is bumpy?), LCD TVs, DVD players with in-house movies and en-suite bathrooms. Deluxe Cabins are approximately 10 feet by 8 feet with a bathroom measuring about 8 feet by 5 feet. Note: There is a choice of twin or double beds. Junior Suites are around 14 feet by 8 feet, while Suites measure about 22 feet by 8 feet.

Top Table: Imagine fine dining as the landscape whizzes by; like something from Murder on the Orient Express—without the homicide. The Maharajas’ Express will include two fine-dining restaurants, each serving 42 guests at a time. Note: Rates aboard the train include all meals, soft drinks, house wines, beer and liquor and all sightseeing and entrance fees. A wide range of excursions is also included, such as elephant polo, temple tours and Champagne breakfasts.

What’s a train without nightlife? The Observation Lounge has its own bar, game table and club armchairs, while the Bar Carriage offers an exclusive collection of wines and spirits.

The train will operate four itineraries (two really, but it will also run them in reverse). The eight-day, seven-night “Princely India” itinerary will leave Mumbai for Delhi seven times in 2010—March 6, April 3 and 17, October 9 and 23, November 20, and December 4. It makes its way through the heart of royal India: Vadodara, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park and the Taj Mahal in Agra. Note: Vivek Singh, the celebrated executive chef of Cinnamon Club, London, will join the March 6 departure. This itinerary is also run in reverse (Delhi to Mumbai) and called “Royal India.”

“Classical India” (Delhi to Kolkata) is a seven-day, six-night trip that touches the hidden treasures of India. The Route: Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Khajuraho, Bandhavgarh, Varanasi, Gaya and Kolkata. We are told day four is a treat as it features Bandhavgarh National Park, known for its high density of tigers. Animals such as deer, langurs, sloth bears and exotic birds are also found here. Classical India can also be done in reverse and will be called “Celestial India”. Luxury travel advisors can contact Sharon Adam (sharon.adam@rirtl.com; 212-292-5712), director of sales and marketing, The Americas, Royale Indian Rail Tours, with questions.

We hear that if you want to cover the southern half of India, The Golden Chariot has you covered. It operates a seven-night, eight-day Bangalore to Bangalore Tour, which passes through Kabini/Bandipur, Mysore, Hassan, Hospet, Badami and the famed beaches of Goa. Note: Beginning March, The Golden Chariot will also operate a new “Splendor of the South” itinerary to cover Bangalore, Chennai, Mamallapuram, Pondicherry, Tiruchirapalli and Thanjavur, Madurai, Thiruvananthapuram and Poovar and Kochi. There will be one departure in March, two in October, three in November and two in December.

Cabin coaches are air conditioned and named after ruling dynasties of Karnataka. Every cabin comes with Wi-Fi, LCD TV, DVD player, vanity/writing desk and a private bathroom. The Golden Chariot has two restaurants: Nala, named after a king and legendary chef from the times of the Mahabharata, and Ruchi, meaning “fine taste” in Sanskrit. After dinner, ease up to the train’s lounge bar, Madira, whose interiors are modeled after the Mysore Palace. The Golden Chariot even has a spa: the Ayurveda Centre, Spa & Gym, with two massage rooms and fully equipped workout area.    

ADVISOR INSIGHT

Moni Sheinberg of Tzell Travel is a big proponent of experiencing India by train. “No visit to India is complete without a passenger train experience,” he says. “However, for the novice confront[ed] with the multi-gauge network, choosing and reserving a train may seem a daunting task.

“Of special interest to the luxury traveler, are the Shatabdi Express trains, which are day trains linking major cities. The Bhopal Shatabdi travels the entire 125 miles from Delhi to Agra in less than two hours. Travelers staying in Delhi can visit both the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort in one day. The Bhopal Shatabdi operates every day but Friday, when the Taj Mahal is closed.

“One should not overlook the so-called ‘Toy Trains’. These are historical cars, still in full service operation, mainly on routes to hill stations. Also consider the local passenger trains. These trains offer a truly authentic Indian experience that is sure to be memorable. The Deogarh, a circa 1930s train, is one of my favorites.”

 

Aboard the Golden Chariot there are 26 twin-bed and 17 double-bed cabins.