The Maharajas’ Express calls itself “India’s most luxurious train.” Last month I traveled to India to see if the train indeed lives up to its claim. Almost immediately upon boarding the beautiful, new maroon coaches of the Maharajas’ Express, I knew it would. The luxury was obvious, and I knew it would quickly be added to World’s Top 25 Trains list issued by The Society of International Railway Travelers.®
The train was custom-built and began operating in March 2010, so I was keen on exploring every inch. I boarded at the Rajah Club and scurried around to peek into each of the four cabin types—from the smallest Deluxe Suites (at 110 square feet, still quite roomy for train cabins) to the Presidential Suite, which takes up an entire train car and comprises an unbelievable 5 rooms (two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large sitting room). I was impressed with the large windows, beautiful furnishings, storage space, bathrooms with glass-door shower, fluffy towels and full amenities (all-natural soap, shampoo, conditioner and lotions).
But it was the dining cars that excited me most. The Rang Mahal (Color Palace) and Mayur Mahal (Peacock Palace) are the two lovely restaurant cars. Both seat 42 passengers and offer the same multi-course menu with the choice of either Indian or continental cuisine, as well as a vegetarian option. The place settings alone provide the royal feeling – gold-trimmed plates and utensils, all emblazoned with the elegant crowned “M.”
It is easy to see how the Mayur Mahal (“Peacock Palace”) dining car got its name, decorated beautifully in green, blue and gold. The chairs and window shades (which won’t be pulled until night) feature peacock feather designs, all accentuated by the silver mirror-style ceiling. Meanwhile, the Rang Mahal is bright and cheery in pink and cream, with an elegantly hand-painted floral-design ceiling.
The food is good, and the staff is great. Some of my favorite dining touches – a new freshly squeezed fruit juice each morning; made-to-order espresso drinks; and a lengthy list of “mocktails,” nonalcoholic fruit juices which were so refreshing after a few hours of touring in the heat. There is also an on-board sommelier readily available at dinner to recommend wines, liqueurs or other after-dinner drinks.
Throughout my “Royal India” tour, the off-train excursions enhanced the “maharaja” feeling—including sipping champagne while watching the sun set on the Taj Mahal; a camel cart ride to a remote sand dune for “sundowner” barbecue and drinks; an exhibition elephant polo match, with option to join in; high tea at the Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara; dinner in the royal courtyard of Jodhpur’s Meherangarh Fort, with dancers and musicians, ending with fireworks. In fact, merely exiting the train is exciting, with local dancers, musicians, or animals — camels in Bikaner, for example — greeting us at each stop.
A few special touches on this train: the water filtration system makes all food safe and the water drinkable (although I did not drink the water, I did use it for brushing my teeth); wi-fi is available in all cars (this was intermittent on my journey, but could be used to send the occasional e-mail); and there is a variety of touring options. Suite and Presidential Suite passengers get private car and guide at each stop, but there is the option for any passenger to do this along the way (at additional cost for Deluxe and Junior Suite guests). There are also options to visit spas in many locations and golf in either Jaipur or Vadodara.
All in all, it is difficult not to feel like royalty after taking the Maharajas’ Express. It is only difficult to drag yourself away from the comfort of the train and the care of the wonderful staff. We are delighted to welcome this new train to the Society’s distinguished list of The World’s Top 25 Trains.
All photos ©The Society of International Railway Travelers by Angela Walker. Ms. Walker is the VP for Operations for The Society of International Railway Travelers® and has reviewed trains all over the world, including the Royal Scotsman, Glacier Express, Bernina Express, Royal Canadian Pacific, Rocky Mountaineer, Deccan Odyssey, Hiram Bingham and Andean Explorer and the Shangri-La Express.