The Ultimate In Luxury Rail Travel.
(aka The Worlds Most Expensive Rail Journey)
Maybe we could do with the Indian rail system to run some of our routes. We moan about expensive late running overcrowded trains making rush hour travel to work and back a nightmare.
India has the fourth largest rail system in the world. It carries 13 million passengers everyday on 14,300 trains served by 7,000 rail stations. The UK has the oldest system in the world is ranked 18th in size with around 2,500 stations.
The UK’s health and safety executive would have a nervous breakdown trying to work like India railways and we must not forget fatal accidents are commonplace.
Can then the World’s most expensive rail journey run by India railways be worth it?
It all happens on-board the Maharajas’ Express. The carriages are a throwback to the way Indian Royalty at the height of its power would be used to travelling.
My slice of Indian Royalty took the Panorama journey in the Royal Presidential suite (a complete carriage called Navaratna) from New Delhi. 8 days and 7 nights on-board was plenty of time to test the system thoroughly.
Arriving in New Delhi and experiencing driving Indian stylee was a true shock to the system. After time you do get used to the fact that there are rules of the road but almost all are completely ignored and driving is all about having the skills to avoid a certain collision.
Road rage in all this chaos was rare and the odd bit of respite as traffic actually stopped at red traffic lights was welcome.
If it is your first time to India and in a busy city like New Delhi be sure to have a couple of days to get used to it and make a good hotel a priority. It would be hard to beat The Imperial.
Serving an international clientèle but maintaining its Raj like Indian heritage General manager Vjay Wanchoo likes to think his customers feel they are coming home. A good philosophy that works.
Our first night on-board the Express included a welcome to your new home standard of service. All accommodation has its own valet/butler come jack-of-all-trades and Surrinder was just that. He had the knack of being in the right place at the right time and nothing was too much trouble.
Shimla man Robin Stone is head chef and the food was outstanding. Clanking banging and general railway noise is not everyone’s cup of tea but I promise you will get used to it.
Our Presidential suite of two bathrooms two bedrooms a sitting room and large windows plus complimentary mini bar is all a Maharaja could want. Two complimentary bars alternating dining rooms for breakfast lunch or dinner would keep even the grumpiest Maharaja happy. Some people say even I can be grumpy but at no time did grumpiness set in.
Every day a different location with a fresh experience waiting. Off train tours can give you historic ruin and building overload so be prepared. Scheduled stops for this Indian Panorama trip were Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park and Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Lucknow and back to New Delhi.
Personal highlights included lunch in Jaipur at the working Royal City Palace. A Royal family maintaining their Palace catering for part time Maharajas on holiday like me. Meeting elephants hearing Indian music with some royal pomp and ceremony could have been cheesy but this had real style and the food was great too.
Agra and a visit to The Taj Mahal – a real wonder of the world. The seat Princess Diana sat on for the iconic photograph of a British Royal that had fallen out of love is incredibly popular. The only queue was to take a picture featuring this stone seat built to rest a backside – Bizarre. If you think you have escaped the City pigeon be assured they have no respect for a wonder of the world. Even deep inside this monument those chased away from Trafalgar Square in London appear to have found a new home.
If you do visit on a busy day just remember The Taj and its grounds were shut down for Princess Diana to have private time for a personal visit plus photo shoot. Now that is real power.
The exotic temples of Khajuraho (well just one was enough). The famous sexually explicit engravings are a major feature of these temples discovered hidden in jungle growth by an English soldier looking for good hunting. Found in the 1800’s built around 1050 AD.
Got to visit the village of Khajuraho who fortunately see few tourist visitors. Preparations were underway for the Diwali celebrations and the clay candle-holder workshop was flat out. It is a relatively prosperous village but still gives a flavour of real India and rural life. The population of this area is only around 15,000 but has an airport with International facilities still waiting for its first international flight.
Varanasi on day 6 included a trip on the Ganges, which was a true spiritual experience. The riverside open fire cremations can be upsetting but this is a most holy place for Hindus and an important funeral tradition.
A few minutes further along the riverbank, the noisy and colourful daily ritual of say goodnight to Mother Ganges was a complete contrast. Our boat broke down on the way back, which added to the drama. A call to the coastguard to save us was not needed as the old smelly diesel engine spluttered back into life after flowers tangled up in the propeller had been bashed free with a paddle.
You can be overwhelmed by hawkers in this ancient City but do not take offence and go with the flow. I found asking for the Racing Post had the most insistent ones baffled and in the thinking time allowed escape.
Big disappointment was a visit to the Ranthambore National Park on Day 3. Unfortunately it was school holiday time and thanks to noisy excited bus loads of children most wildlife vanished. This of course included the parks most famous residents around sixty tigers. A solitary animal the closest I got to a sighting was a footprint.
This is one of the truly great rail journeys and can be a bit of a wallet buster. Is it a trip of a lifetime? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
Find out more at www.the-maharajas.com
Mobile telephone number 0091 9717635915. They do answer it. 9
A music sound track for this journey would be fun to put together. From the 70’s something from the BT(Brooklyn Transit) Express would fit but I reckon your favourite jazz flavours would be perfect.