In the lap of moving luxury!


Text and Photographs By Radhika Mehta

 

Radhika Mehta travels in the Golden Chariot train and gives a first hand account of what it is to travel in one of the most luxurious vehicles in India. Welcome Aboard!

 

Thank God It’s Friday. And it was Friday the 13th. It should have been scary or unlucky going by Gregorian Calendar, but for me it was one lucky Friday. I received a call from the Karnataka State Tourism inviting me to experience ‘once in a lifetime’ journey on-board The Golden Chariot, a luxury train that will take me to south of the country and make me experience royalty at its best. Since there was very little time to mentally prepare for the journey that was commencing just two-days later, I just gave in to the idea, like you do when you let an experience massage therapist rejuvenate you completely. And boy, the journey was like a 7-day long spa, where all my senses were pampered royally. 

 

So it all started with a heritage walk at the Taj West End Bengaluru where we all assembled to commence our journey. A cultural program, high-tea, drum beats, tilak ceremony and a red carpet was laid to welcome a bunch of us in the Pride of South. Now this was so unlike a train journey we all are so used to taking in India. There was no pushing around to hop on the train, no last-minute platform changes, no pressure to turn ourselves into coolies, it was smoothest entry you can ever get into a train in India. And I also had my celebrity moment, walking the red-carpet, onlookers clicked picture of me boarding the train.

 

So here I was in the plush Madira lounge of the Golden Chariot, the surroundings left me in awe. Drinking a glass of wine in an allure bar of a running train and that too in India was always beyond my imagination. In the introduction of the train, we were told that the train has a total of 44 cabins that includes 26 twin bed cabins, 17 double bed cabins and one for the physically challenged. Every coach has been named after dynasties that ruled the region like Kadamba, Hoysala, Rashtrakuta, Ganga, Chalukya, Bahamani, Adil Shahi, Sangama, Satavahana, Yadukula and Vijaynagara. Apart from these there were two restaurants called Ruchi and Nalapaka, and another coach called Arogya, which is for Spa, Gym and a business centre.

 

After exchanging pleasantries with other passengers travelling and the train staff, my cabin attendant Rudra, who has been working with the Golden Chariot since its inception escorted me to my coach Vijayanagara. Getting an accommodation in the capital city of the historic Vijayanagar Empire kind of gave me goosebumps. My room was elegantly furnished with a queen size bed, bed tables, royal lamp shades, a neat wardrobe, and a washroom to die-for in a moving train. The washrooms attached to the rooms deserve 10 out of 10 as it offers 24x7 hot water, world class essentials and ultra clean towels as well as bathrobes. A buzzer to call your private butter in each room is also quite remarkable.

 

As the train moved from Yeshwantpur station to Mysuru, our first stop, we got the first taste of what would be sumptuous marathon; a dinner to die-for in the Nalapaka restaurant. Mapple group of hotels manages train’s hospitality, and they leave no stones unturned in making you gain at least 4 kgs in a week’s time. From great appetizer soups like Crispy Coleslaw, to continental and Indian cuisine options I had to eat everything. There was no choice, out of warm hospitality of the staff, I had to at least taste everything on the menu.   

 

‘Good morning ladies & gentlemen, hope you all had a good night sleep, breakfast service has been commenced and we will leave for Kabini around 8:30 am’ - this announcement used to be like our wake up call everyday. As per the instructions for the second day, we all gathered at the Madira bar to leave for a one-night stay at the Kabini Jungle Lodges & Resort followed by a visit to the Mysore Palace. The only night that we spent outside the train at Kabini included a three hour-long jungle safari. Sadly our jungle books could not be completed, as the King of the Jungle did not come out to entertain despite us maintaining the silence. Our bad luck of not finding the Tigers turned into a good luck next morning as we found Otters dancing in the Kabini River through our early morning boat ride. The home cooked food at the Jungle Lodge and the combination of the activities was surely a good idea to detox from the gizmos all around. And a bon-fire dinner to complete a thorough jungle experience. 

 

Our second half of the day three had started with a visit to Srirangapatana, the capital of Hyder Ali’s son Tipu Sultan and Daria Daulat Bagh. We also drove around the village of Tipu Sultan where we visited his tomb, Sri Ranganathaswamy temple, water gate and the Hanging bridge before we headed to have dinner at the Lalitha Mahal Palace, the second largest palace in Mysore.

 

The rest of the days followed a set pattern of waking up at 7 after having breakfast on board, leaving for sightseeing and returning to the train for every meal. Chatting with Mr. Rathore (the man who is responsible for the nitty-gritty of the train) about the delicious food on board also became a part of our daily routine. Our day excursions included a visit to the monolithic statue of Bahubali at Shravanabelagola, Belur (the early capital of the Hoysala Empire), Halebidu (the regal capital of the Hoysala Empire), Hampi town (UNESCO world heritage site), Vittala temple, Pattadakal (another UNESCO world heritage site) and Badami Caves (ancient rock cut temples). Although at times it felt like a slight overdose of history, but to be able to visit the 4th century structures and 15th century caves, it felt surreal. Best part about returning to the train after a day-long sight seeing was the welcome on the platform. Your personal butler would stand outside of the door with a chill towel, welcome drink and hand sanitizer invariably lifted your enthusiasm level to try out the new things on board.

 

So every evening was different. If there was a Henna ceremony on one day, there were cooking lessons on the other. One can also enjoy board games in the lounge and to give it a thumping end, train arranged for a DJ night.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the Henna night when Ruksar, the henna artist came all the way from the city of Hassan to decorate our hands with her incredible designs. “Ma’am I have been coming to this train for 6 years. This is the only time when I meet people outside of Hassan and it keeps me motivated throughout the year. If you want I can put mehendi on your feet as well,” said Ruksar with an innocent face. Her smile and the entire atmosphere made that henna evening as special as my wedding henna night.

 

Another epic evening came right before reaching Goa when DJ took the train from Hospet and made all of us dance on his beats. From Bollywood to Hollywood, the foreign tourists as well as Indians showed their dance moves in the running train. The Saturday night fever also made a 75-year-old Canadian tourist to dance with the entire staff of the Golden Chariot. Even Mr. Rathore who always have a stern look on his face changed his expressions to mingle with us on that evening. Amongst many celebrations, we also celebrated the 33rd anniversary of an Argentinian couple with a cake cutting ceremony and made them dance on the 90’s music. So even as the train parked itself on Vasco station our after-party continued in the lounge of Adil Shahi coach, where there weren’t any guests staying.

 

The penultimate day in Goa kicked off with the visits to the old Goa churches and then lunch at the Zuri’s White resort on Varca beach. The proximity of the resort to the beach gave me the opportunity to do my favourite Goa thing. Lounge around on the bed, listen to Goa music and sip my favourite drink.

 

As the train headed back to Bengaluru for a 17-hour ride, the farewell feeling gulped most of us. If ever you can feel the joy of having an extended family it was on this train. For a week we were in the lap of luxury and pampered immensely and brought together. The withdrawal symptoms were starting to show up but with a light dinner and some soothing conversations we called it a night. As we reached the Yeshwantpur station we checked-out of the rooms, and left the gratuity in a closed envelop in the gratuity box. I was told that this would be distributed equally amongst all front end and backend staff. And we all lined-up for one last picture in front of the train.

 

It was indeed a lifetime experience for me. I had been to the Bahamas cruise just in August last year, but this trip made me realize that in terms of hospitality no country can match ours.