Launched in 1982 and refurbished many times since, the Palace on Wheels is one of the top luxury trains in India and rated as one of the world’s great train journeys. The delight of the experience is twofold. On the one hand, you get to see all the great sights of Rajasthan in a short space of time, without needing to check in and out of hotels or get between cities by road or plane. On the other, the travelling itself is an absolute joy aboard the opulent train as it traverses the country though the evenings and nights towards the next day’s magical tour.
The train’s fourteen luxurious coaches are replicas of those once owned by the Indian royal family and British colonial rulers. The original coaches were mothballed after independence in 1947 before being reincarnated as the Palace on Wheels in 1982, a move partly inspired by the popularity at the time of the BBC’s “Great Railway Journeys of the World”. The modern replicas combine all the opulence and plush accommodation of the past with all the mod-cons today’s traveller expects. The Viceroys and Maharajahs didn’t have the comforts of air-conditioning, satellite TV or wi-fi. But you will. And after refreshing yourself in your cabin’s en-suite bathroom, or maybe the invigorating on-board spa, you can make your way to one of the train’s two dining cars, perhaps stopping along the way for a drink in the lounge coach which has both a bar and a library. After dinner you might want to retire to your quarters to watch TV or update your travel diary at the cabin’s writing table. The impeccable service is warm and attentive, and each coach has a captain and attendant.
The train covers more than 3,000 kilometres over the seven-night, eight day trip, usually overnight to maximise sightseeing during the days. It begins in Delhi every Wednesday from Safdarjung railway station. First destination is Jaipur, the “Pink City” and capital of Rajasthan with its palaces and legendary Amber Fort. Next stop is Ranthambore Park, where you may get to spot a tiger in the wild, and on the Chittaurgarh for a late afternoon excursion to India’s largest fort. The next day you’ll arrive in Udaipur, the city of lakes (and a location for the James Bond movie Octopussy), where in between sightseeing you can relax over lunch at the famous Lake Palace Hotel. The journey continues across the desert to Jaisalmer, with its stunning sandstone fort, and on to Jodhpur, with its magnificent and well-preserved Mehrangarh fort. The final leg of the trip takes you to Bharatpur, a paradise for bird-watchers, and finally (and fittingly) to Agra, where the majestic Taj Mahal provides the crowning experience of an unforgettable week.
After checking out after breakfast on Day Eight and into your hotel in Delhi, the rest of the day is yours to enjoy at your leisure – perhaps with some last-minute shopping in Chandhi Chowk, one of the oldest and busiest markets in India, or relaxing in the tranquil greenery of Lodhi Gardens and reflecting on the previous week’s journey of a lifetime.