Trains seemed the happiest choice, said Paul Theroux.
You could do anything on a train, you could live your life and go long distances. There was little stress, there was sometimes comfort, and there was something romantic in the notion of boarding a train.
There sure is romance in a train journey, as the moving train beats a rhythmic tattoo on the metal tracks and you sit and stare at the rapidly changing scenes outside, lost in thought. Now if that very train was your mini little palace on wheels, where your personal attendant served you tea in a bed that is adorned in silk and jewels – as you rushed past landscapes dotted with forts, palaces, sand dunes and ancient temples. How rich would that be?
So, here I have put together a list of five Indian Luxury Trains that recreate just that, the romanticism of a bygone era over a week long journey that promises to be a regal experience. Over the course of the journey, these royal trains traverse through the heart of our country stopping at both popular and off-the-radar tourist destinations.
1. Palace on Wheels
India’s oldest and the first luxury train to have made famous journeying on a train, the Palace on Wheels is unparalleled both in terms of its heritage and fame. The train was launched in 1982 through a collaboration between the Indian Railways and the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, in a bid to put to use the luxurious personal carriages of the erstwhile Maharajas, Nizams and Viceroys of pre-independence India.
These finely furbished royal carriages along with the khidmatgars (personal attendants) who cater to your every whim while on board the Palace of Wheels make sure you feel like royalty as you traverse the golden deserts of Rajasthan.
Still counted amongst the most prestigious luxury trains in the world, the Palace on Wheels was redone with all the modern amenities and relaunched in 2009.
Palace on Wheels Route
The train departs from the beautiful Safdarjung Station in New Delhi every Wednesday, September through April.
Delhi – Jaipur – Ranthambore – Chittorgarh – Udaipur – Jaisalmer – Jodhpur – Bharatpur – Agra – Delhi
Palace on Wheels Fare
A journey on the Palace of Wheels can be booked for around Rupees Three Lakhs to Seven & a Half lakhs, depending on the cabin that one chooses.
Book your tickets on The Palace on Wheels official website
2. Maharajas’ Express
Maharaja’s Express, its very name exudes opulence, and rightly so, for this is India’s most luxurious train and also its priciest. The Maharaja’s Express with its rich red carpeted, jewel studded interiors is all grandeur and extravagance.
This train is fitted with spacious cabins that come with their own attached baths. Much like a five star hotel, these cabins come with a television, movie player, a personal electronic safe and round the clock butler service. This is one train ride that is a true indulgence and totally worth the hefty price tag.
Taking you through India’s Golden Triangle, Delhi – Agra – Jaipur and also offbeat stops like Balasinor – where guests are treated to an exclusive lunch hosted by the Royal Family of Balasinor – the Maharaja’s Express occupies pride of place on this list.
In an effort to increase its domestic clientele while keeping intact the train’s aspirational image, Indian Railways has this year introduced shorter itineraries of four days and three nights. Also expanding on its current itineraries the Maharaja’s Express will soon have six itineraries with scheduled journeys even to the South.
Maharajas’ Express Route & Itineraries
The Maharaja’s Express runs from September to April, starting its journey on the weekend, from Delhi.
Heritage of India Journey Route Mumbai – Ajanta – Udaipur – Jodhpur – Bikaner – Jaipur – Ranthambore – Agra – Delhi
Gems of India Journey Route Delhi – Agra – Ranthambore – Jaipur – Delhi
Indian Panaroma Journey Route Delhi – Jaipur – Ranthambore – Fatehpur Sikri – Agra – Gwalior – Khajuraho – Varanasi – Lucknow – Delhi
Treasures of India Journey Route Delhi – Agra – Ranthambore – Jaipur – Delhi
Indian Splendor Journey Route Delhi – Agra – Ranthambore – Jaipur – Bikaner – Jodhpur – Udaipur – Balasinor – Mumbai
Maharajas’ Express Fare
The ticket for the full journey is priced at Rupees Five & a Half Lakhs. The shorter itineraries are priced between Rupees Two to Three lakhs.
Book your tickets on The Maharaja’s Express official website
3. Deccan Odyssey
As the name suggests, Deccan Odyssey runs through the Deccan Plateau of India traversing through Maharashtra, Telangana, the Sahayadris and beyond. Its best itinerary though is the Hidden Treasures of Gujarat, this train ride takes you to little known but stunning destinations like Palitana.
Though launched by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation in conjunction with the Indian Railway Ministry and the Taj Group of Hotels, the Deccan Odyssey is now run by a private company and is the only luxury train on this list that is not run by IRCTC. Which does translate in a way, into how the train is appointed. For instance, only the half the coaches hold guest cabins. The rest of the coaches are set aside for the usual dining, lounge and spa cars, but what’s really different about this train is that it actually has a conference car that comes with private rooms and secretarial services.
Despite this very modern day feature, the attempt to recreate the past extravagance of India royalty is pretty intact. For each of these coaches of the Deccan Odyssey take inspiration for their design from the different dynasties that once ruled Maharashtra.
Deccan Odyssey Route & Itineraries
The Deccan Odyssey leaves every Saturday from Mumbai, December through May.
Maharashtra Splendour Route Mumbai – Nashik – Ellora – Ajanta – Kolhapur – Goa – Sindhudurg – Mumbai
Jewels of Deccan Route Mumbai – Bijapur – Aihole – Pattadakal – Hampi – Hyderabad – Ellora – Ajanta – Mumbai
Maharashtra Wild Trail Route Mumbai – Ellora – Aurangabad – Pench – Tadoba – Ajanta – Nashik – Mumbai
Hidden Treasures of Gujarat Route Mumbai – Vadodara – Palitana – Sasan Gir – Somnath- Little Rann of Kutch – Modhera – Patan – Nashik – Mumbai
Indian Sojourn Route Mumbai – Vadodara – Udaipur – Jodhpur – Agra – Sawai Madhopur – Jaipur – Delhi
Deccan Odyssey Fare
A ticket for a journey on the Deccan Odyssey costs around Rupees Four & a Half Lakhs. There is also a presidential suite onboard this train that comes at a price tag of Rupees Nine Lakhs Twenty Five Thousand.
4. The Golden Chariot
Till recently the Golden Chariot was South India’s only luxury train but with the other trains starting to journey down South this is no longer true. It still does have the most interesting itinerary though, for those wishing to explore the rich architectural heritage of South India.
Read Amandine’s review of The Deccan Odyssey here.
Even the dining cars on this train – a joint venture between the State Government of Karnataka and the Ministry of Railways – are inspired by the architecture of Hampi and Halebidu, the renowned ancient ruins of the state. And, in true South style The Golden Chariot offers Ayurvedic massages in its onboard Spa, even making a quick stop in Kerala. The only luxury train to do so.
The Golden Chariot Route
The Golden Chariot begins its journey from Bangalore, usually on a Monday. It runs from October to March.
Bangalore – Mysore – Kabini – Shravanabelagola – Belur – Halebidu – Hampi – Badami – Pattadakal – Goa – Bangalore
The Golden Chariot Fare
A journey on the Golden Chariot costs around Rupees Two & a Half Lakhs.
Book your tickets on The Golden Chariot’s official website.
NOTE: The Golden Chariot is currently under renovation but is expected to re start its journeys from October this year.
5. Mahaparinirvan Express
Though not a royal train, the Mahaparinirvan Express is modern luxury. But, what brings this semi luxurious train on to my list, is not just because it is one of its kind but also because it is one my most memorable train journeys ever.
Every winter, Buddhists from across the world take this train to follow in the footsteps of the Buddha. The Mahaparinirvan Express journeys from Delhi through Bodh Gaya, Sravasti, Nalanda, Kushinagar even going as far as Gorakhpur to get to Lumbini in Nepal. The first class coupes, personal security, knowledgable guides complete with a mini library onboard make this special train quite the luxurious train journey, as you stop at every place that was of significance to the Buddha.
Mahaparinirvan Express Route
The Mahaparinirvan Express or the Buddhist Train as it is also known, leaves from the Delhi Safdarjung Station every Saturday, September through March.
Delhi – Gaya – Rajgir – Nalanda – Varanasi – Gorakhpur – Lumbini – Kushinagar – Sravasti – Agra – Delhi
Mahaparinirvan Express Fare
An AC coupe on the Buddhist Train costs around Rupees One Lakh.
Book your tickets on The Mahaparinirvan Express’ official website