31 December 2009
If you’re looking to see India via the cosseted comfort of a luxury rail journey, South India’s Golden Chariot is an excellent alternative to the nascent Maharajas’ Express (opposite).
Leaving Bangalore every Monday evening, The Golden Chariot takes travellers on a seven-night journey through the scenic state of Karnataka in southern India, through Nagarhole (Kabini) National Park, Mysore, Hassan, Hospet, Badami and Goa, returning to Bangalore the following Monday.
Wexas India expert Tim Tan knows more than a thing or two about luxury trains, having travelled aboard the Venice Simplon- Orient-Express, Australia’s The Ghan and South Africa’s Rovos Rail (among others). He shares his own experiences of travelling by Chariot.
Lavish carriages and impeccable service aside (for now), the itinerary itself is my number one reason for recommending this trip. Combining wildlife safaris, historical sights, cultural attractions and the beautiful beaches of Goa, the route brings together all the best parts of India in a single, well balanced holiday. Best of all, rather than travelling through the night like many luxury trains, when you rarely get a good night’s sleep, The Golden Chariot stops most nights near a sightseeing spot, so you wake refreshed and ready to go.
Two stand out. The first was the safari in Kabini, once the hunting retreat of the Mysore Maharajas. I saw a leopard within half an hour of setting off by jeep. I’ve been to Africa five times and never seen a leopard. I couldn’t believe it. Admittedly we didn’t see any tigers, but I saw from the lodge guestbook that people had spotted tigers just a few days before, so I know they’re out there. The second highlight was the Badami Cave Temples, carved in the 6th century from a sandstone hillside.
Guests choose from twin- or double-bed en suite cabins, all with carved ceilings, hand-woven bedspreads, minibar, wifi, dvd and satellite tv. There are two restaurants. The western food is the train’s only disappointment so I’d stick to the local delicacies: exquisite curries, breads, rice and chutneys served in numerous small bowls on large silver plates. There is also a lounge bar, conference coach and even a gym and small spa, offering massages and traditional herbal treatments.
Service is excellent – as good as anything I’ve seen in the luxury market. Each carriage has its own turban-clad butler, who provides a turndown service and brings tea and coffee in the mornings. When you get back from sightseeing – and all you want is to cool off and freshen up – they’re waiting with cold drinks and moist towels.
Who is it suited to?
With the exception of Goa, Karnataka is an unusual part of India to visit for first timers, who traditionally start with Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra, though that needn’t put them off. Since I got back, I’ve had four Wexas members book the train upon my recommendation and they’ve all loved it. The one question I always ask is, “Do you like Indian food?”. If you don’t, then it may not be for you.
Before and after
You can fly direct from the uk to Bangalore. All guests check in for The Golden Chariot at Bangalore’s prestigious Leela Palace Hotel. Quite frankly, if you’re looking for luxury, why choose anywhere else as your pre-tour hotel? It’s also easy to extend your stay in Goa, adding a few days of bronzing on the beach to what would otherwise be a fairly short holiday. I’d recommend the Park Hyatt Goa Resort & Spa, set in 45 acres of beautiful beachfront gardens.