The art of elegant travelling in India witnessed a revival with the arrival of Palace on Wheels on the scene. However the concept of luxury tourist train in the west devised years back in 1864, the James Watt creation managed to capture the attention of erstwhile Indian monarchs. Known for their pomp and idiosyncrasy, the erstwhile Indian maharajas developed a fascination for the steam engine and vied with each other to possess the best rail carriage in the world. Taking cue from the personal carriages of Rajputs, Nizam of Hyderabad and the Viceroy of India, Rajasthan Tourism and Development Corporation (RTDC) launched Palace on Wheels in 1982 with a motive to promote tourism in Rajasthan.
The major reason why Palace on Wheels achieved unprecedented heights is the unavailability of normal tour hassles such as packing and unpacking every night, looking for a tour guide and a decent accommodation & restaurant. Also the idea of overnight travelling and utilization of the day time for sightseeing excursion was favored by the tourists.
Following the resounding success of the Palace on Wheels train, many state tourism boards and private players too joined the bandwagon of introducing luxury trains in their respective region. Today as many as six luxury trains are functional in India named as Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, Deccan Odyssey, Indian Maharaja, Golden Chariot and the latest Maharajas’ Express with a total of 11 journeys on offer.
Whereas Deccan Odyssey crisscrosses the route of destinations in Maharashtra, Golden Chariot with its two itineraries- Pride of the South and Splendor of the South- takes guests on a whirlwind tour across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Then there is Indian Maharaja, a privately managed luxury train, that covers Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh with its two journeys- Mumbai to Delhi and Delhi to Mumbai. Although these trains have different owners and themes, all of them are driven by a single goal that is to unearth the natural and cultural heritage of their region.
With the launch of Maharajas’ Express in 2012, India got the perfect answer for the Venice Simplon Orient Express of the west. Due to its recent repackaging, Maharajas’ Express has been re-launched with five brand new itineraries- Indian Splendor, Indian Panorama, Treasures of India, Gems of India and the Heritage of India. In terms of facilities, Maharajas’ Express has a presidential suite spanning over entire carriage and runs on high-tech pneumatic and hydraulic suspension system.
Luxury train travelling in India is reminiscent of the day of erstwhile maharajas when royalty is a way of living life. The rail journeys offered by these trains are all inclusive of guided sightseeing excursions, on board meals, entrance fees at the monuments and the best part is that you travel during night and explore new destinations every day. To say that a new era of elegant and gracious traveling has certainly arrived in India since the advent of the luxury tourist trains will not be an overstatement.