It’s the way the maharajahs travelled, and there’s an undeniable romance and sense of adventure about exploring the country by rail. Imagine receiving a royal welcome in New Delhi, with a red carpet laid down just for you. Boarding luxury trains in India is an experience in itself.
It’s the only way to visit so much in a short time. Experience one of our Rajasthan holidays, the majestic expanse where once the royal Rajputs lived in grand style, arriving at India’s holy land Varanasi, which 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.
Luxury trains in India often have a spa car complete with steam room and gym, two sumptuous dining carriages, library, bar, sleeping carriages with en suite cabins, a seating area 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 everyone’s favourite pastime. View snapshots – women walking with huge bundles of grass on their heads; buffalo 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 at your cabin window the evening before arriving in Goa and watch the sun stream through the forests before setting on the hills.
Menus on your Indian luxury train tend to reflect the region you are travelling through – spicy lamb raarha gosht and vegetable gawafali with mooli in Rajasthan; bhuna gosht, a Luchnow 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 traveller’s 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.
A similar pretty little train journey exists in Shimla, famous for its 102 tunnels, 87 bridges and 900 curves. As you approach Shimla, the orchards bloom with tiny red flowers and thin rivulets of water run through the vegetation. The train stops regularly en route, so passengers can hop off to amble and enjoy tea and hot pakoras.
These new luxury rail journeys do indeed allow visitors to cross the subcontinent in comfort.