Imagine getting a royal welcome in the capital New Delhi with red carpet laid down just for you. Boarding such a luxury train is an experience in itself. It’s the only way to visit so much in a short time. You feel safe but you see a lot. It’s hassle-free and much more relaxing than trying to fly from place to place. Imagine experiencing Rajasthan, the majestic expance once where the royal rajputs lived in grand style, arriving at India’s holy land Varanasi where it promises boat rides on the Ganges, a drive through the Bandhavgarh tiger reserve, and an examination of erotic sculptures at Khajuraho before an evening at that ultimate monument of love, the Taj Mahal.
These trains have a spa car complete with steam room and gym, two sumptuous dining carriages, library, bar, sleeping carriages with ensuite cabins, a seating area with televisions, and plenty of staff to attend to your every need. Despite the creature comforts, plenty of time is spent out and about, immersed in the colourful chaos of India. There are interesting talks on the places you visit, yet gazing out of the window at the ever-changing scenery remains everyones favourite pastime. Imagine seeing snapshots – women walking with huge bundles of grass on their heads; buffaloes wallowing in muddy pools; swathes of orange and white cotton laid out in fields to dry and the sun setting over the sacred River.
Similar experiences are offered in the South as well. The Golden Chariot weaves across Karnataka, once home to the Vijaynagar Kings who ruled in south India. The journey includes stops at Kabini wildlife sanctuary before arriving at the incredible world heritage sites of Hampi and Badami, strewn for miles with boulders, rock-cut sandstone caves and palace and temple ruins. Sit by your cabin window the evening before arriving in Goa and watch the sun stream through the forests before setting on the hills.
Menus on the train reflect the region you are travelling through – spicy lamb raarha gosht and vegetable gawafali with mooli in Rajasthan; bhuna gosht, a Lucknowi speciality, in Uttar Pradesh. It’s all delicious. Indian wine is surprisingly palatable too, and there’s always a European choice.
The hill trains in India are also a travellers delight and extremely charming. Darjeeling’s tiny steam train was initially built as a tramway to exploit the difference in the price of potatoes between Darjeeling and Siliguri, and the hill railway is now considered a World Heritage Site. Imagine travelling at a speed of 12kmph, trundling through dense forests, curving around tea plantations and bringing you as close as possible to the tea-pickers with baskets strapped on their heads.
Above all, if it’s a clear day, you should see the snow-capped tip of Kanchenjunga. Another such pretty little train journey exists in Shimla famous for its 102 tunnels, 87 bridges and 900 curves. Imagine as you approach Shimla, the orchards bloom with tiny red flowers and thin rivulets of water running down ledges suggest that, post-monsoon, waterfalls must be rife. The train stops regularly en route so passengers can hop off to loiter and enjoy tea and hot pakoras.
These new luxury rail journeys will indeed allow visitors to cross the sub-continent in comfort.