India is perhaps one of the most complex, vibrant, diverse, rich and sometimes confusing destinations to travel to. There are a number of ways to get around India – by car, plane, bus and regular passenger trains, but perhaps the most unique of them all is by opulent, luxury trains that take you back to the days when Maharajas ruled the empire. I was fortunate enough to travel aboard one of the luxury trains (The Golden Chariot train) for 1 week and it is one of those experiences that I would recommend that every traveler try, at least once in their lives. If you are thinking about embarking on a luxury train journey in India, here are a few things you should know about the top trains in India!
12 things to know before going on a luxury train in India
1. There are several options and routes to choose from
India has not 1, but a total of 5 different luxury trains operating around India, with most itineraries lasting approximately 1 week. There are 1 dozen or so different routes that you can choose from, but here are the general week-long ones that you can embark on. For more information about the routes, cabin options, destinations and where the trains depart from, click here for a comparison chart. Here is a list of luxury trains in India:
Royal Rajasthan itinerary: Delhi – Jodhpur – Udaipur – Chittorgarh – Sawai Madhopur – Jaipur – Khajuraho – Varanasi – Agra – Delhi
Palace on Wheels itinerary: Delhi – Jaipur – Sawai Madhopur – Chittorgarh – Udaipur – Jaisalmer – Jodhpur – Bharatpur – Agra – Delhi
Deccan Odyssey itinerary: Mumbai – Nashik – Aurangabad (Ellora Caves) – Ajanta Caves – Kolhapur – Goa – Sindhudurg – Mumbai
Maharajas’ Express itinerary: Delhi – Jaipur – Ranthambore – Fatehpur Sikri – Agra – Gwalior – Khajuraho – Varanasi – Lucknow – Delhi
The Golden Chariot itinerary: Bengaluru – Mysore – Srirangapatna – Kabini – Hassan – Belur – Halebid – Shravanabelagola – Hospet – Hampi – Gadag – Badami Pattadakal – Goa – Bengaluru or Bengaluru – Chennai – Mahabalipuram – Pondicherry – Tanjavur – Trichy – Madurai – Trivandrum – Aleppey – Kochi – Bengaluru
Heading to the Golden Triangle? Click here for a complete guide to visiting Delhi, Agra and Jaipur for first time visitors to India!
2. The rooms are very comfortable
Take everything you know about Indian train travel and throw it out of the window. The standard rooms have comfortable beds (twin configuration or double), a proper running toilet and a shower with hot water (but that still doesn’t mean you should drink from the tap). Though the decor and furnishing is slightly dated given the trains have been running for approximately a decade or longer, the train management company and local tourism ministries are planning renovations. The rooms aboard the Golden Chariot train also had TVs with multiple channels and a variety of Western and local films playing throughout the day.
3. But you need to be prepared if you’re a light sleeper
Though the rooms themselves are comfortable, the Indian rail tracks are old and rickety, so the cabins shake a fair bit when the train is moving. If you are a light sleeper you’ll want to bring some earplugs, and if you are prone to motion sickness you’ll want to bring some dramamine. I slept like a baby throughout the week, but a few of my fellow passengers woke up several times when the train was moving.
4. It costs a pretty penny
Yup, the experience comes with a hefty price tag – typically somewhere between US$600-1200 per night. However, the prices are pretty much all-inclusive: includes accommodation on board, the meals, the sightseeing trips, the entrance fees (while entering monuments, parks, palaces and other sightseeing locations). Some trains include the cost of alcoholic beverages, some don’t, and the packages do not include gratuities for the guides, butlers and other service staff.
5. A great way to see a lot in very little time
Boy oh boy, there was never a dull moment – each day there are day trips planned and you travel to the sightseeing locations by luxury coach. In 1 weeks’ time we explored palaces and temple complexes, went on a wildlife safari, frolicked on the beach, visited a coffee plantation and much much more. In the evenings there are additional activities such as henna artists onboard, cooking demonstrations and occasionally dance parties as well. That being said, you don’t actually spend as much time as you’d think aboard the train, as you’re often out the door by 8 or 9 am and back at the train, ready to depart from the platform at 6 to 7 pm.
6. Suitable for most ages
Photo credit: Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India / Jinson Abraham
You would think that most people opting to travel by luxury train are retirees, but that just isn’t true. During our week aboard the Golden Chariot train there were people ranging from 25 to 60+ years old. On our train there were retirees, families with young children under the age of 5, solo yuppies and so on. Because the train takes care of everything, you don’t have to worry about logistics and transportation at all, so it is a great option for people who don’t want to sort out the logistics of travelling through India. I was a solo female traveller and would recommend this experience for women who are planning a trip to India.
7. Onboard wifi is pretty patchy
This is a given. Because the trains travel through some pretty remote parts of India, the onboard wifi might cut out from time to time, and isn’t always available throughout the entire length of the train. On the Golden Chariot train, onboard wifi was only available in the dining carts and lounge cart, though the management company offered some additional mobile wifi dongles for us. Wifi is also available on the luxury coaches that take you to the sightseeing locations, but again it can be fairly slow and unreliable, depending on how many people connect to it. The best way to get around this issue is to purchase a local SIM card (approximately 250 INR if you buy it it in town, or 1200 INR if you buy it from Delhi airport) – but you still might not get cell reception in some areas.
8. You’re going to put on a few pounds
I don’t know how the chefs manage this with a small kitchen, but the food onboard is absolutely scrumptious. You can expect fancy 3-course dinners and Western and continental options. The menu changes every day so you’re never bored, and you’ll try some of the most incredible local dishes and international fare!
9. Is great whether it is your first time or tenth time to India
There is SO much of India to see, and I truly believe that travelling by luxury train is a fantastic and unique way to see the country. In particular, if you’ve already explored the Golden Triangle then I would recommend that you hop on the Golden Chariot to see the very underrated southern parts of India.
10. There are good facilities on board
The Golden Chariot had a business center, Ayurvedic spa, 2 dining carts, bar and small gym. Other trains share a similar configuration. You can also get your laundry done at specific stops during the journey, just hand your dirty laundry to one of the butlers and they will have it back to you by the end of the day. My favorite place to hang out aboard the Golden Chariot had to be the lounge where they served up delicious cocktails and an endless supply of wine!
11. The trains don’t run all year round
This is probably one of the most important things you need to know. The trains operate on a seasonal basis from approximately September to April, and each train has a different departure date for different routes. You’ll need to check out their upcoming travel dates and itineraries for specific details.
12. The service will blow your mind
Perhaps what impressed me the most beyond the breathtaking palaces, temples and beautiful rooms was the incredible service – you’ll want to take the staff home with you! The hospitality was some of the best I’ve ever experienced, and the staff are friendly, helpful, and passionate about their jobs. From your dedicated room butlers to the waiters, everyone on board is ready to help you with anything you might need.
If you are contemplating a trip to India to explore everything it has to offer, you absolutely should consider hopping aboard one of its luxury trains. It makes getting around India easy, fuss-free and a trip to remember – travelling by luxury train through India is a unique experience and is not simply about getting from point A to point B. Have you ever traveled by luxury train? Share your experience with me in the comments section below!
Interested in even more India-related travel content? Click here for my India destination guides and travel tips!
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My stay aboard the Golden Chariot was sponsored by India’s Ministry of Tourism / Incredible India; however, no compensation was received for this review, and as always, the opinions on Yogawinetravel.com are (and always will be) my own!