GOLDEN CHARIOT: COME RIDE WITH ME

Airports India - - CONTENTS - TEXT: G. BRINDHA

Iwas in the ‘Golden Chariot’, a lux­ury train in South In­dia, run­ning across the state of Kar­nataka, tak­ing you from one in­cred­i­ble spot to the other. A band of dancers and drum­mers had as­sem­bled and no sooner did we reach the plat­form than they started beat­ing their drums. Af­ter a mo­ment’s hes­i­ta­tion, a bit un­nerved by the grand welcome, I joined in the bon­homie. Such mo­ments are rare. And a step in­side the train brought me to a mag­i­cal world, so splen­did was the draped and glit­ter­ing lux­ury, that it seemed straight out of a Bol­ly­wood set. Train jour­neys are in­trigu­ing, in­spir­ing ad­ven­tures, hand­ing you ro­man­tic mo­ments as they whisk you from one ex­otic land­scape to the other. And the thought of a week-long jour­ney on this mov­ing palace roused the dreamer in me.

The train’s jour­ney starts with a visit to ei­ther the gar­den city of Ban­ga­lore or the eco-vil­lage of Yesh­want­pur, and of­fers up both his­tory and nat­u­ral splen­dours in equal mea­sure, in­clud­ing Sri­ran­ga­p­at­nam, the Is­land fortress of the leg­endary war­rior king Tipu Sul­tan, or Bandipur re­serve – the hunt­ing grounds of the erst­while Ma­haraja of Mysore and the tiger ter­ri­tory of Na­gar­hole Park as well as re­laxed mo­ments on the lazy beaches of Goa, with its glis­ten­ing white sands.

The train pays tribute to the cul­tural and regal panorama of Kar­nataka. Ev­ery coach is named af­ter a dynasty that ruled

the state, and de­tailed his­tor­i­cal ac­counts of the dy­nas­ties hang in the lounges of ev­ery coach, which, with its glossy velvet touches and lux­u­ri­ous cab­ins, gives the feel of an up­scale ho­tel. Trav­ellers feast off fine china, watch­ing the world slide past by, land­scapes and life­styles grad­u­ally dis­solv­ing. Each day the train would stop at one des­ti­na­tion and we would dis­em­bark to get on the Volvo bus to see the sights. By break­fast we would be at a par­tic­u­lar sta­tion. Our first stop was the Her­itage city of Mysore, the city of palaces and tem­ples, and an­cient build­ings with or­nate domes and tur­rets. Mysore Palace is a grand spec­ta­cle, with splen­did eye­pop­ping art­work in its in­te­ri­ors. From

there we headed to Jun­gles lodges and re­sorts in Kabini for our wildlife ad­ven­ture and an overnight stay. The itin­er­ary was packed with a Jun­gle sa­fari in the evening and a boat ex­cur­sion the next morn­ing. On re­turn­ing from our ex­cur­sions, our coach staff would greet us with fresh juice or a cock­tail and of­fer a cool towel to soothe our skin. Our bed­spreads would be folded, room ti­died, laun­dry cleared and sweets, cakes or choco­lates left out for us. And then a cup of strong south In­dian cof­fee would pro­vide re­lief and re­ju­ve­nate us, as we swayed through the line of coaches to the din­ing car. The keen at­ten­tion given to de­tails and ser­vice was the high­light. The food was de­li­cious and cui­sine was both in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal.

The next three days were par­tic­u­larly tempt­ing, like a roll-call of In­dia’s great­est cul­tural hits. From the an­cient stone

tem­ples of Belur and Hallebidu in Has­san, we moved 52 kms to the im­por­tant Jain pil­grim centre, Shra­van­abelagola, home to Asia’s largest mono­lithic statue of Lord Go­mateswara. Then it was on to the deeply ro­man­tic re­mains of the Vi­jay­na­gar empire in Hampi, a UNESCO world her­itage site, run­ning for over 10 square miles, and on to the rock tem­ples of Badami, an­other world her­itage site. Then we were on to Pat­tadakal, with its beau­ti­fully chis­elled tem­ples, in a world her­itage site lo­cated

on the banks of the Malaprabha river, which bears tes­ti­mony to the rich­ness of Chalukyan ar­chi­tec­ture. It was a tryst with a colour­ful and un­seen In­dia glimpsed from a mov­ing train, me ab­sorb­ing ev­ery mo­ment quickly, as we rushed past rus­tic land­scapes, a sky painted a myr­iad hues, with in­cred­i­ble sun­rises and sun­sets, and dra­matic rain clouds draped against your cabin’s win­dow like an old magic lantern.

The Golden Chariot is the first lux­ury tourist train in Kar­nataka, and is run by Kar­nataka State Tourism Board in part­ner­ship with Map­ple Group of Ho­tels, which man­ages its hospi­tal­ity on and off board. For In­dian na­tion­als, the jour­ney costs INR 1,82,000 per per­son.

The train has eleven guest coaches, two restau­rants, one bar and one coach with a gym, spa and busi­ness centre. I was stay­ing in the Chalukya coach, named af­ter the Chalukyan dynasty, which ruled over the Dec­can in the 8th and 9th cen­tury. The room had twin beds, a built in writ­ing desk, a teeny wardrobe, at­tached bath­room with all mod­ern ameni­ties and a large win­dow. The other coaches are equally lush and in­spired by the state’s rich ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage.

The two restau­rants Nala­paka and Ruchi re­flect the in­tri­ca­cies of the Vi­jay­na­gara and Hoysala ar­chi­tec­tures. Madira, the bar, bears a re­sem­blance to the Mysore palace. The ser­vice is im­pec­ca­ble. The ex­ec­u­tive chef on the train, Deepak Acharya, per­son­ally re­searches your

taste pref­er­ences and cre­ates your meals ac­cord­ingly. Mr. Ma­hen­dra Rathore, the F&B Man­ager, over­sees all your needs as a friendly guardian and al­most dou­bles up as your guide on the field. The re­sult of these ef­forts is ev­i­dent on the din­ner ta­ble. The soups are clas­sics — mul­li­gatawny, roasted bell pep­per and tomato, car­rot and co­rian­der, it’s rich and un­for­get­table. Meal times were glo­ri­ous, the lav­ish, de­lec­ta­ble cour­ses far su­pe­rior to 5-star ho­tel meals.

As the train lulls you to sleep, you hear the creak of the train’s wheels, the whis­tle of the en­gines and the sooth­ing whoosh as it rat­tles through the night, while you are lost in soli­tary thoughts and pro­found dreams re­sult­ing from your day-long af­fair with the stun­ning coun­try­side. And as the train nears its fi­nal des­ti­na­tion, I feel so pam­pered and priv­i­leged, and so un­used am I to be­ing co­cooned in lux­ury, that it is hard to tear my­self away back into mun­dane re­al­ity.

Server on the Golden Chariot train

Golden Chariot train trav­els through the pris­tine coun­try­side

Staff wait­ing to greet pas­sen­gers

Train chug­ging through the hills

Badami Cave Tem­ples

Sand­stone cliffs and Bhootanath tem­ple in Badami

Morn­ing Tea

Seat­ing area

Madira, the bar Spa on the train

A book­let show­cas­ing the places vis­ited on the jour­ney

Turn­ing down the bed

The bed­room

Lux­u­ri­ous bath­room

Smil­ing staff

Turn­ing in for the night

The Golden Chariot Gym

Golden Chariot staff

Din­ing car

Mu­si­cal in­ter­lude on the plat­form

Lav­ish spread

Mul­li­gatawny soup

Boa­tride in Ra­jiv Gandhi Na­tional Park in Kabini

Pas­sen­gers on the train

Jain sa­cred site, Shra­van­abelagola

Gar­den city of Bengaluru

Restau­rant on the train

Mysore Palace

Splen­dours of Hampi

Greet­ing pas­sen­gers

Yoga on a sunny beach in Goa

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