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Maharajas’ Express to Palace on Wheels

Luxury trains in India date back to its colonial era, when opulent carriages transported dignitaries, officials and royalty.

More trains were built in the 19th century for the country’s maharajas and other ruling elites and their families.

Following India’s independence in 1947, privy purses — or governmental payments to these rulers — ended. Without the money to maintain them, India’s luxury rail carriages were abandoned.

Indian Railways, which is part of India’s national railway system, refurbished several trains over the years, with the first making its debut in the 1980s. The trains were introduced to promote tourism in India by providing travelers with a unique and opulent way to experience the country.

Blending historical elegance with modern comforts, these trains are a glimpse into India’s regal past.

A note to travelers: Travel companies have websites that appear to be official sites for the trains in this article, sometimes selling trips at higher rates. Official sites for each train are embedded in the links.

1.    Palace on Wheels

Route: an eight-day journey across northwest India, including the country’s “Golden Triangle” of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra

Price: from $864 (based on twin sharing)

When it runs: September to April

Introduced in 1982, the Palace on Wheels is an icon in Indian luxury train travel. Chugging along the northern reaches of India through Rajasthan and Agra, this train immerses passengers in a royal bygone era with sundowners in the dunes, camel safaris and trips to Rajasthan’s palaces and historic forts.

A peek inside a dining car and a cabin show the ornate details on board India’s Palace on Wheels train.

Source: Palace on Wheels

Its 14-coach train, each named after former princely states of Rajasthan, have 41 cabins, with panoramic windows, sumptuous carpets, frescoed ceilings, mahogany paneling and attached bathrooms. The two “super deluxe” cabins come with a noteworthy perk: a private car and guide for sightseeing.

The train’s two dining cars serve Indian, continental and Italian cuisines, and there’s a separate bar for cocktails and drinks. Active guests can get their exercise fix in the gym, while those who prefer to relax can book Ayurvedic treatments in the spa.

2.    The Golden Chariot

Routes: three itineraries, ranging from three to five nights, across south India

Price: from $3,160 per person (based on twin sharing)

When it runs: October to March

Launched in 2008, the Golden Chariot runs across South India, past historic towns, sun-kissed beaches, jungle-covered hills, temples and safaris. It has 18 purple and gold carriages, each named after the dynasties of south India.

Cabins come with ensuite bathrooms, smart TVs, Wi-Fi and an attendant. Local and international fare is served in two dining cars, and the train’s lounge bar, Madira, features decor inspired by Mysore Palace.

There is also an exercise room and spa with traditional Indian and modern massage therapies.

All journeys start and end in Bengaluru.

3.    Deccan Odyssey

Routes: Six week-long itineraries, departing from Mumbai and Delhi

Price: From $8,330 for single occupancy and $11,900 for double occupancy

When it runs: September to May

The Deccan Odyssey — running since 2004 — feels like a roving hotel.

Its 21 carriages house a high-tech conference space, spa, souvenir shop, gym and a bar serving fine wines and spirits, plus mocktails. Twelve cars are sleeper cabins, which come with personal butlers and plush carpeting, private bathrooms and mod cons such as internet and DVD players.

One of two restaurants on board the Deccan Odyssey, which runs from September to May.

The train was refurbished during the Covid-19 pandemic, reopening in 2023 with gas stoves in lieu of gas-powered ones in the pantry car, with added suspension for a smoother journey, according to The Times of India.

The two onboard restaurants — Waavar and Utsav — are another highlight, serving specialties from the regions traversed by the train. Sumptuously draped curtains, crisp linens, engraved wood panelling and fine silver cutlery add to the royal aesthetic.

The journey also weaves in cultural experiences. One day, passengers might be admiring ancient Indian architecture, and on the next, wine-tasting or embarking on a game drive.

4.    Maharajas’ Express

Routes: four itineraries, ranging from three to six nights, departing from Delhi and Mumbai

Price: from $4,890 per person (based on twin sharing)

When it runs: October to April

Lavish interiors combined with the traditional royal hospitality of India have garnered the 23-carriage Maharajas’ Express numerous awards since it launched in 2010.

Passengers can choose from four categories of room in 14 guest cabins — the largest being the Presidential Suite, which has two bedrooms, a living room and a bathroom with a bathtub.

Indian food served in one of the dining cars on board the luxury Maharajas’ Express.

Sergi Reboredo | Vw Pics | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

A choice of two restaurants — the peacock-themed Mayur Mahal and Rang Mahal — are suitable for vegetarians and meat lovers alike.

Travelers can mingle over cocktails at the Safari Bar or opt for a more tranquil setting at the Rajah Lounge, where they can play games or read while taking in views of the passing landscapes.

Stops along the way highlight Indian culture and history, including holy baths in the sacred ghats, jungle safaris, palace and temple visits and shopping in bustling bazaars.


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