Great Escape: India's Maharajas' Express

Luxury rail travel speeds along aboard the Maharajas’ Express By: Judy Koutsky
The Maharajas’ Express runs from September through April. // (C) 2010 Maharajas’ Express
The Maharajas’ Express runs from September through April. // (C) 2010 Maharajas’ Express

The Details

Cox & Kings
Commission: 12 percent for Virtuoso and Signature agents; 10 percent for all other agents.
Traveling through India can sometimes be a complicated endeavor. While the country is fascinating and offers a plethora of tourist experiences, getting from place to place usually involves long drives or flying back and forth through Delhi.

The recently launched Maharajas’ Express train is designed for the traveler who is looking for an upscale experience in India with an in-depth view of the countryside, while also frequenting the country’s top cities and attractions. The Maharajas’ Express runs from September through April and is operated by Royale Indian Rail Tours Ltd., which is a joint venture between Cox & Kings India Ltd. and the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism
Corporation Ltd.

The train, which is 23 carriages long, can accommodate up to 84 passengers. There are 20 deluxe cabins, 18 Junior Suites, four double suites and one Presidential Suite. The Presidential Suite, which takes up a whole carriage car, includes two bedrooms, a full bathroom with bath and a spacious living room. 

Unlike having to transfer from hotel to hotel, the train allows clients to travel in comfort and style, while only unpacking once. It is essentially a cruise on land, but a very upscale one.

Oversize windows that offer panoramic views are the cornerstone of each cabin’s design, allowing guests to observe everyday life in the villages and cities through which the train passes. While the tourist stops — including a visit to the Taj Mahal at sunset — are some of the main reasons why visitors come to India in the first place, guests soon find out that the real treasure is the time spent onboard the train, moving across the country.

Highlights include passing scenes of women in brightly colored saris that resemble bursts of brilliant reds, pinks, oranges and yellows as they work in the golden wheat fields or walk together in clusters in the small villages while kids play games nearby.

Camels, elephants, bikes and donkeys are all modes of transportation that can be seen as the train glides along the tracks. Stops at various railroad stations also allow travelers to get a glimpse of how Indians utilize the local train running on the opposite track. Men in traditional turbans and women in elegantly fashioned saris cradling babies with dark kohl-colored eyes (to keep the evil spirits away) interact with local food vendors at the bustling train intersections.

Onboard the train, the carriage rooms — including even the deluxe cabin, which is the lowest category — are spacious enough for two twin beds, a desk, closets and a good-sized bathroom with a shower.

There are two dining carriages, encompassing the Rang Mahal (Haveli) and Mayur Mahal (Peacock) restaurants. The cuisine at both restaurants is the same — a mixture of Indian and continental cuisines, perfect for those who want to sample the local flavors while still having access to more recognizable staples. Breakfast is eaten on the train, most lunches are eaten at a resort and dinners are split between off-train extravaganzas and onboard dining.

The observation lounge and the bar cars serve as the social hubs of the train, with guests interacting over drinks. House-brand wine and beer is complimentary; an extensive collection of wine and spirits is
available at an additional cost.

Depending on the itinerary, most excursions leave after breakfast (or earlier, if it’s a tiger safari day) and don’t return to the rail car until the evening. Guests who want a bit more time to relax can stay onboard the train and opt out of any excursion.

While the days spent on the journey may be long, the itineraries are quite impressive. In addition to sightseeing, visiting forts and palaces and shopping at local markets, there are many opportunities for insider experiences that are truly unique.

On the Royal India itinerary, which includes stops along the most popular tourist sites throughout India, passengers take in an elephant polo match in Jaipur where they can actually ride the elephants and participate in the sport. In Bikaner, a convoy of canopied camel carts transports travelers and Indian musicians across the sand dunes for sun downers and canapes in the desert. The cultural tour in Jodhpur includes visits to small villages to interact with the locals and visit their homes, allowing travelers to catch a real glimpse into the daily life of rural Indians. Stops on the six-night Royal India itinerary include the famous Taj Mahal, where guests are allowed to enjoy the majestic site at sunset; Ranthambore National Park, to see its famed Bengal tigers and the pink city of Jaipur for a chance to explore its beautiful Amber Fort. Other stops include Bikaner, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Vadodara, Mumbai and Delhi. To travel this same itinerary in reverse, from Mumbai to Delhi, clients may book the Princely India itinerary.

Another train itinerary, the 11-night Classical India, is groundbreaking in that it traverses destinations that typically require flying to and from Delhi. Stops include Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Khajuraho, Bandhavgarh, Varanasi, Gaya and Kolkata, and the itinerary begins in Delhi and ends in Kolkata. The reverse itinerary, which begins in Kolkata and ends in Delhi, is called Celestial India.

No matter which itinerary your client chooses, however, they are guaranteed a one-of-a-kind luxury train experience that introduces them firsthand to the unforgettable landscapes of India — a true great escape to Asia.
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