A ride aboard the Golden Chariot : Karnataka’s luxury tourist train and answer to the famous Palace on Wheels. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, really.
For those of you, who still haven’t heard of this special train, here’s some background: The train goes on a 8 day journey covering Bangalore, Mysore, Srirangapatna, Kabini, Belur-Halebid, Sravanabelagola, Hampi, Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal, Goa and then back to Bangalore. Tickets are priced at $350/per head/per night that makes the entire week approx $2450 (or Rs 1 lakh)/head, comparable to the pricing of the Palace on wheels. It’s mainly geared at showcasing Karnataka to overseas visitors and giving them an experience of the culture, history and heritage of the state over the 8 days and 7 nights.
Needless to say, the experience of riding on the trial run of the train was quite out of the world. From a traditional welcome at Yeshwantpur station to boarding the train and then later having champagne at the bar and an elaborate dinner in the lounge, this was a totally different experience from our normal train journeys. Cramped interiors, not too clean seats, stinky toilets are some of our associations with Indian trains so this was like a bit of a culture shock on wheels.
The whole train has been done up in different vestibules in various architectural styles of Karnataka. This theme is reflected in the doors of the cabins which are carved in that particular style. The usual basin and overflowing dustbin we’re used to in trains right at the entrance, has been replaced by a small but cosy foyer with a couple of chairs, a mirror with a mural and stylish entrance doors.
The bar (called Madeira initially) had to be erased on the outside apparently because it was felt to be against Kannadiga culture (erm?!). Anyway, there were quite a few people already in the bar area (Kannadigas and non-Kannadigas might I add) thus bringing an end to the myth but who are we to argue against such strange reasoning anyway?
Getting back to the train – the staff are extremely friendly and well-trained and this being their one and only test run obviously wanted to get everything right. Mapple Hotels has been given the responsibility of on board service. We were all pampered in true royal style and obviously enjoyed every moment of it. All the meals including dinner and breakfast that we had on the train were great.
We had a word with the head chef who told us a bit about the challenges of cooking on a moving train and providing world class food. For dinner we had a choice of continental and Indian food, and it was quite good, including the delicious dessert (mango cheesecake) that everyone polished off. In Mysore, we had lunch was at the Regalis and dinner was planned for the Lalit Mahal Palace hotel.
The Golden Chariot is going to be an experience that will obviously be unaffordable to many : it is basically geared mostly at the affluent foreign tourist and will be a means to showcase Karnataka. While it can be argued as to why it should be more affordable to Indians, I guess it is also a business decision considering the amount of money the Railways will have to spend maintaining the train.
Though the rooms are small (how big can you get on a train) they have been designed for maximum comfort within the available space and the bathrooms too has been well designed. All the off-board activities will be taken care of by Arun Pai and his Indiawalks team. I’ve already written extensively about his Bangalore Walks experience earlier.
Whether they will be able to maintain these high levels of service is something that only time will tell. But there is a lot riding on stake. For the price that people will be paying for the 7 days trip the hotel management and the railways cannot afford to make too many mistakes.
One thing I noticed was that while the windows are large, the visibility is both ways. A suggestion would be to give it a one way visibility from inside (similar to the Volvo buses). This is especially uncomfortable when dining or enjoying a drink when people on the platforms come right up to the window and peer into your food 🙂
Overall, I had a great experience and also got to meet some very interesting people from diverse backgrounds on the train. At the end of journey, I wished I could have spent a few days more aboard the Golden Chariot, but unfortunately other plans got in the way. So, at Mysore station, I had to bid adieu to the rest of the team and the Golden Chariot as it geared up for its onward journey.
For more about the Golden Chariot, visit this link.
I leave you with a few pictures that should give you a good idea of the grandeur and opulence you can expect on the journey aboard the Golden Chariot.