Despite what the movie Slumdog Millionaire shows, not all of India is swamped in squalor. After all, what other country boasts of a train ride fit for a majarajah? The Palace on Wheels combines at least three things that India is renowned for: the world’s largest rail network, the elite lifestyle of its former monarchs, and the rich heritage of buildings and structures still existing today. Following the trail of history in Delhi, Rajasthan and Agra, this touring carriage is reserved only for those visitors with simple needs: only the best will do for them.
The Palace on Wheels is supplied with everything that will let passengers travel in style and luxury. This luxury train and others like it in India rate among the top 25 trains in the world. The cars, inspired by the royal palaces of Karnakata, are adorned with Rajasthani decorations, from the length of the ceiling, extending to the walls and floor. The 14 coaches comprising the Palace are named after the Rajput states, along with the 14 air-conditioned saloons whose designs are each inspired by their respective states. The ceiling of the Alwar Saloon, for example, has been designed with a mixed-media relief of a hunting scene, to reflect that stateâ€™s indigenous flora and fauna. These cream-colored saloons are equipped with a small pantry for ready-to-eat dishes, but can also serve refreshments and entertainment for the moments between destinations. Each saloon is installed with 4 splendidly furnished double-bedded chambers, internet facilities, attached toilets with both hot and cold water, and wall-to-wall carpeting.
Two exclusive restaurants called The Maharajah and Maharani provide sumptuous cuisine such as popular Rajasthani dishes and Chinese continental concoctions. There is also a well-stocked bar with thirst-quenching mixes, allowing passengers to unwind after each day’s journey, and even a valet to attend to your every fancy. The majestic setting, high-class amenities and the convenience of traveling at night and stopping by day for group tours conducted by expert guides make the luxury trains of India clearly appealing to visitors all over the world. And though initially reserved only for foreigners, this luxury train soon allowed locals to board, although the prices are still quoted in dollars.
The journey aboard The Palace on Wheels starts in Delhi every Wednesday, where a tour of Humayun’s Tomb, India Gate, Qutab Minar, New Delhi, and other sites brings visitors with an immediate sense of wonder of the city’s past glories. Passengers then assemble in Safdarjung Railway Station in New Delhi before 4pm, where they hop on the train of dreams, equally memorable as any of the attractions they will see in the days ahead. Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Sawai Madhopur, Chittaurgarh, Udaipur, Bharapur and Agra make up the itinerary of the 8-day journey. The sights to be visited include Hawa Mahal (the Palace of Winds), Ranthambhore National Park, Jag Niwas (Lake Palace), Jag Mandir (City Palace), Keoladeo National Park and the Taj Mahal. The train finally makes the return trip to Delhi at 6am the following Wednesday.
The Palace on Wheels was the first of five luxury trains on Indian Railways, and was followed by Deccan Odyssey, Golden Chariot, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels and Heritage on Wheels. The global economic slowdown has reduced the demand of these luxury trains for this year. Many of them are now parked in railway yards instead of moving along the tracks with the grace of kings. The decline of visitors from Europe, a major source of passengers, have resulted in low bookings, and some trips even having more staff than clients. This is in contrast with their performance in 2008, when no bookings were available for The Palace on Wheels while Deccan Odyssey, another luxury train, was also difficult to board. Fortunately, bookings for the Palace on Wheels have been reserved until 2010. It is only a matter of time, however, when these luxury trains will soon ferry affluent travelers to the best parts of India once more.
The Palace on Wheels runs from September until the end of April each year, stopping operations during the hot and monsoon months.