India is a country of extremes: Wealth beyond calculation can be found as easily as a beggar with his bowl, and skyscrapers flaunt their new and shining opulence in a battle for attention, their opponents any one of the myriad temples whose edifices and deities are as old as the soil itself. Visitors to India will see this and more, and the best way to do it is by train.
Not all trains are created equal, however, and the same holds true for the viewing experience they offer their passengers. Trains run the gamut of price and quality, and the pinnacle of available options is the luxury train, particularly the Palace on Wheels and the Maharaja Express. Read on to find out what to expect if you should happen to find yourself on one of these magnificent railway experiences.
The Palace on Wheels is one of India's premier luxury passenger trains. It was launched in 1982, and has remained popular to this day, even to the point of winning accolades as fourth in the world's top five best luxury trains.
By contrast, the Maharaja Express is a relative newcomer to the luxury train community, having only been launched in 2010. Even so, it too has been named one of the world's greatest luxury trains. It also holds the distinction of being the most expensive train in the whole of India.
As you might expect, these two opulent trains are designed to immerse their occupants in comfort and charm, and they both do their jobs well. The Palace on Wheels has fourteen coaches, each named for a Rajput state of days gone by. The design, too, harkens back to a bygone era, in that the interior and appointments are meant to evoke feelings of royalty. As far as accommodations are concerned, each coach has four cabins, all with twin beds, running hot & cold water, wall-to-wall carpeting, attached bathrooms / WCs, climate control, and a host of other amenities, including satellite TV and personal attendants. The train also includes two restaurants, a bar, and a library.
The Maharaja Express, on the other hand, provides its passengers with much the same ambience and appointments, but their cabins are divided into ranks: Deluxe, Junior Suites, Standard Suites, and the Presidential Suite, which takes up an entire carriage and is the first commercially available rail carriage of its type in the world. Interestingly, the Maharaja Express was once the exclusive province of foreign customers, and even though Indians may now ride as well, prices are still quoted in US dollars, which stands in sharp contrast to nearly everywhere else, where you'll be given prices in India's currency, the rupee.
Each cabin of the Maharaja Express offers much the same options as the Palace on Wheels, but it boasts a few extras as well, including direct-dial phone service, electronic safes, and Internet access. In terms of dining and recreation, the Maharaja Express offers an all-day lounge, two dining cars, and a dedicated bar carriage for those who wish to imbibe during their journey.
Luxury and comfort are wonderful, and both the Maharaja Express and the Palace on Wheels have it in spades, but the true point of a train journey such as this is the excursions. Simply stated, no one wants to stay in their cabin or on the train all the time, no matter how well-appointed it might be. Luckily, that won't be an issue if you find yourself aboard one of these fine passenger trains. In fact, there's so much to do you may have to take more than one trip to see it all! The routes for each train can be found below.
The Palace on Wheels begins its eight day, seven night journey in New Delhi, and then makes several stops throughout Rajasthan, including such cities as Udaipur, Agra, and Jodhpur, as well as several others. While there, tourists and passengers can explore ancient historical landmarks, sample great food, and frequent the many temples to be found in the area. Additionally, fans of Rudyard Kipling will note that Udaipur is mentioned prominently in both instalments of THE JUNGLE BOOK as the pre-jungle home of Bagheera the panther.
On the other hand, the Maharaja Express comprises several routes, and which one you enjoy will depend upon your own selection. They are as follows:
Heritage of India: This route is an eight-day, seven-night voyage to many of Rajasthan’s most exciting cities, including Mumbai, Bikaner, Jaipur, Udaipur, and Delhi, with a few others sprinkled in for good measure.
Treasures of India: This journey will take four days and three nights, and will begin and end in Delhi. Other cities visited will include Agra, Ranthambore, and Jaipur.
Gems of India: This route is identical to the Treasures of India route discussed above, both in duration and in terms of places you'll visit.
Indian Panorama: Lasting a full week (seven days, eight nights), this spectacular journey will begin and end in Delhi, taking you to a few previously mentioned cities - Agra, for instance - as well as a few new and exotic ones, such as Fatehpur Sikri, an imperial city with heavy Muslim and Mughal influences. Attractions include multiple mosques, palaces, and the tomb of a Sufi saint.
The Indian Splendour: The final route you may choose from, the Indian Splendour is another week-long journey into India's fascinating Rajasthani province. It is best thought of as a combination of two other routes, the Gems of India and The Heritage of India, as all cities in those routes are visited, as well as Balasinor and Mumbai, where your journey will terminate.
It is worth noting that attractions within all of the cities mentioned here are so numerous as to defy a listing. Indeed, the best, and some might say only way to see these places in their fullness is to jump in with both feet and soak up as much as you can before your train departs again. From humble food stalls to architecture and history so profound it will humble you, these cities have it all, and yet they hardly scratch the surface of India's seemingly depthless, divine nature.
India, without belabouring the point, is a truly special and remarkable place. It would take many lifetimes to see it all, but if you must try and cram it all into just one, the best way to do it is by train, and the best trains to take are without a doubt the most aptly-named Palace on Wheels and Maharaja Express.