GOLDEN CHARIOT: COME RIDE WITH ME
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
Madira, the bar Spa on the train
A booklet showcasing the places visited on the journey
Turning down the bed
Turning in for the night
The Golden Chariot Gym
Golden Chariot staff
Musical interlude on the platform
Boatride in Rajiv Gandhi National Park in Kabini
Passengers on the train
Jain sacred site, Shravanabelagola
Garden city of Bengaluru
Restaurant on the train
Splendours of Hampi
Yoga on a sunny beach in Goa