With the fourth-largest rail network in the world, India offers an ideal opportunity for travellers to explore its magnificent countryside and cities in style. No matter what your budget, travelling around India by rail will be an unforgettable experience. India’s broad-gauge tracks will be a delight for rail fans, and those who hold a long-standing ambition to enjoy the increased space of wider carriages will not be disappointed. Running across India through Maharashtra and Rajasthan to Delhi, via Jaipur and the Thar Desert, this is a more comfortable alternative to crowded buses.
It is possible to take advantage of the rail network without having to compete with the crowds – and at more affordable prices than an equivalent service in Europe, such as the Orient Express. As an alternative to bumpy bus rides and sleepless nights in sticky hostels, the reassuring presence of dedicated staff and world-class standards of comfort should be considered an investment in your comfort – it is still very good value for money, no matter what service or class of accommodation you choose, and individual fares start from around £500 for a six-day itinerary.
The origins of the trains lie in the private services used to shuttle different Maharajas across India to survey their vast kingdoms. Many of these semi-autonomous rulers were independently wealthy and only paid lip service to British rule. For their part, the British largely left them alone to enjoy their sumptuous lifestyles.
Although luxury rail travel is in decline in the West, India’s railways take pride in the revived services that run across various parts of the country. Within the train network there are many special trains offering paying guests the opportunity to recreate the golden age of rail travel that developed under the Maharajas. Among these is the Maharaja Express, which offers unrivalled standards of luxury –14 carriages with compartments, en-suite bathrooms, and even two restaurants. The route takes travellers across India and between Delhi and Mumbai, taking in Jaipur and Agra along the way. Sumptuous cuisine, served by elegant white-clad waiters, is served for guests and menus include Indian, Chinese and International cuisines. The final arrival in the vast neo-Gothic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai is truly breath-taking.
Taking a leisurely seven days to travel across the Thar Desert into Rajasthan, the Palace on Wheels runs a weekly service from Delhi. Stopping at Jaipur, guests will have the opportunity to enjoy the ‘Pink City’, with its elegant rose-coloured buildings and vast palaces. The train also rolls on to Chittorgarh and Udaipur, home of the famous Lake Palace, which sits in splendid isolation on Lake Pichola and was made famous by its starring role in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy.
Toy Train to Darjeeling
India’s deserts and princely fortresses are just one side of the story; the Himalayan plateau has its own railway through the forests and tea plantations of the foothills, taking visitors on a leisurely ride against a steep gradient to survey some amazing views.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is referred to as the Toy Train due to its slow speed and narrow 2ft track gauge. Running from Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, the track takes in several amazing loops as the track meanders over the steep landscape.
Amazingly, the tradition of separating first and second-class carriages survives to this day, although the small dimensions of the train do not match the luxury of the Maharajah Express.
Audley Travel are a tour operator that specialise in luxury tours and holidays. Visit their site to discover more about their exotic tours in India.