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Luxury Trains around India: It's about the Journey, not the destination

9 mins. read

Published in the Sunday Indian Express Magazine - Eye on 11 February, 2024

Beyond the lavish amenities, luxury train travel offers an intimate glimpse into the soul of Incredible India, inviting passengers to slow down and savour the journey as much as the destination.

Frequently, we encounter the quote, "It's the journey, not the destination, that truly matters." We try to apply it to various aspects of our lives, from work to fitness to sports. But how often do we apply this saying literally? How often do we think about the journey while planning our holidays? More often than not, our bucketlists are filled with destinations, with little thought given to the experience of getting there. Yet, a journey can transform an ordinary trip into an extraordinary adventure. Today, I want to shift focus onto one such remarkable journey: the luxury train experience in India. These trains are not just about getting from point A to point B; they immerse us into the journey, making the mode of transport the highlight of the holiday.

The Indian railway network, one of the most extensive in the world, serves as the lifeline to our nation, connecting our vast and varied landscapes. Unlike airports, which are limited to dense urban centres, trains take us through the heart of smaller towns,  remote villages, and even uninhabited landscapes, offering access to destinations far beyond the reach of air travel. This unparalleled connectivity not only makes it easier for travellers to explore hidden gems and cultural landmarks, but also plays a crucial role in the preservation and appreciation of Incredible India's diverse topography.

In recent years, train travel in India has transcended its traditional role as merely a means of transportation, evolving into an experience in its own right. The introduction of modern marvels like the Vande Bharat Express marks a significant leap in enhancing the train journey, offering speed, comfort, and efficiency previously unseen on Indian tracks. However, beyond these advancements lies a realm of travel that elevates the journey to an art form—the luxurious train experience. Pioneered by the iconic Palace on Wheels (more on this later), luxury train travel may have been a concept long embraced in the West, but India has carved its own niche in this sector with its rich mix of culture and history. This mode of travel caters to those who seek more than just a destination; it's for the discerning travellers looking to immerse themselves in an ambiance of elegance, comfort, and historical grandeur.

Onboard a luxury train, every detail is meticulously designed, from impeccable suites that rival the finest hotels to gourmet dining cars serving culinary masterpieces. The routes are carefully curated to showcase the breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural heritage of the regions, making each journey a unique experience. Beyond the lavish amenities and impeccable service, luxury train travel offers an intimate glimpse into the soul of a place, inviting passengers to slow down and savour the journey as much as the destination. As we delve into the luxury trains of India, we uncover a tradition that has not only endured but flourished, offering a glimpse into the splendour of the past through the lens of modern luxury.

Let’s begin with the Palace on Wheels. This luxury train, one of the first to introduce the concept of regal rail travel in India, offers a journey through the heart of Rajasthan, encapsulating the essence of its rich heritage and majestic landscapes. The history of the Palace on Wheels is rooted in the regal traditions of India's bygone era. This luxury train was launched in 1982, but its concept draws inspiration from the royal backgrounds of the coaches, which were originally used by the rulers of the princely states of Rajputana and Gujarat, the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the Viceroy of British India.

The coaches were designed to have all the luxury amenities one could imagine, from state-of-the-art sleeping chambers to dining areas that could host grand feasts. With the aim of preserving this unique heritage and offering a glimpse into the royal way of life, the Indian Railways and Rajasthan Tourism decided to refurbish these coaches, blending  traditional aesthetics with modern comforts to create an unparalleled travel experience. Its meticulously planned route includes stops at iconic destinations such as Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, and the world-renowned Ranthambore National Park, among others, allowing passengers to delve into the historical and natural wonders of India. The train itself is a marvel, with interiors that reflect the lavish decor of royal palaces, complete with intricate carvings, exquisite silk fabrics, and opulent furnishings.

Next up, the Maharajas’ Express. Since its inception, this majestic train has been consistently recognized globally, winning accolades for its impeccable service, which mirrors the hospitality once reserved for the Indian royalty. The Maharajas' Express offers a selection of itineraries that weave through the heart of India, covering essential cultural and historical sites, from the Mughal marvels of Agra to the royal palaces of Rajasthan, and the sacred Ghats of Varanasi to the sculptures of Khajuraho. The train itself is a sanctuary of luxury, boasting sumptuous suites that rival five-star accommodations, complete with panoramic windows for an uninterrupted view of the passing scenery. Dining on the Maharajas' Express is a culinary voyage, with two fine dining restaurants serving a blend of traditional Indian and international cuisines, ensuring every journey is as lavish as it is comfortable.

For a journey through the heart of India’s Deccan Plateau, there’s the famous Deccan Odyssey, an experience that my co-founder, Sunila has very recently experienced. She attended a corporate workshop  onboard and they even had a networking evening with drinks followed by a royal dinner on rails. The Deccan Odyssey offers multiple itineraries to choose from, with each taking you through the diverse landscapes of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. The itineraries are thoughtfully designed to include UNESCO World Heritage Sites, majestic forts, and palaces, serene beaches along the Konkan coast, and the untamed wildlife of the Western Ghats. Aboard the Deccan Odyssey, the journey itself mirrors the opulence of the destinations it explores. The train's interiors reflect the regal aesthetics of Maratha and Deccan architecture, with each coach named after a dynasty that ruled the region, adding a touch of historical significance to the luxurious ambience.

Then, further south, we have the Golden Chariot. South India's answer for luxury train travel. This exquisite train takes you on a voyage through the magnificent architectural marvels of Karnataka, the beaches of Goa and the backwaters of Kerala. The itineraries showcase the best of South India's cultural heritage, including the ancient ruins of Hampi, the majestic palaces of Mysore, and the wildlife sanctuaries that are teeming with biodiversity. As you would expect, onboard the Golden Chariot, every detail is infused with the spirit of South India's warm hospitality and rich traditions.

Guided tours are an integral part of these rail experiences, allowing travellers to explore the soul of India's diverse regions with knowledgeable local guides. These off-train excursions are thoughtfully integrated into the journey, ensuring that each destination enriches the traveller's understanding and appreciation of India's cultural and natural heritage.

The interiors of most of these luxury trains draw inspiration from that region's historical legacy, featuring handcrafted details and luxurious accommodations. Gourmet dining experiences will offer you a taste of the local cuisine, while the spa facilities (like that on the Deccan Odyssey) provide a serene retreat after a day of exploration. With personal butler service, an exclusive bar, and a high staff-to-guest ratio, these trains offer a travel experience that is unmatched in luxury, making it not just a train journey, but a celebration of the rich cultural heritage of India. Over the years, these train journeys have become a hit with those visiting India and it’s often that you have to book very much in advance.

As luxury train travel continues to evolve and modern trains takeover, these boutique experiences will turn more and more niche by the year. So why not book an experience like this to mark a benchmark celebration like a milestone birthday or anniversary? What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on Until the next time, keep Celebrating Life!

February 10, 2024


Neil Patil
Neil Patil

Founder & Director, Veena World

More Blogs by Neil Patil

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