Pursuant to my recent post in which my mind has packed its bags and my body just needs to follow…one of the articles of inspiration that Stuart found for me was this piece on the Maharaja’s Express, which sounds to me, like a pretty eclectic and fabulous way to experience India, steeped in rich tapestries and with the slightest air of British colonialism. And all arrivals, according to this article, are met with a Bollywood-like sense of theatricality. A heady combination for someone like myself.
Highs & lows of a princely progress
“Except between Agra and Delhi, the Maharajas’ Express travels at night. It’s not a train from which you watch the passing show; it’s all about connections, about shuttling in style between the sights and being received when you arrive in a manner befitting a princely progress.”
Seeing the same sights by road would take about a fortnight, flying between them would entail wasted hours in dull airports, and in neither case would you be welcomed with the Bollywood-on-wheels razzmatazz that made an occasion of our arrival at every station.
Advance publicity made much of the train itself – which is comfortable and spacious in both compartments and public areas – but it was the outings that our fellow passengers cited as highlights, in particular the elephant polo and the camel caravan into the desert.?
The lows? Some complained of the night-time noise. Rattling doors aside (fixed next day), we had no trouble sleeping except on one night. However, two couples, who had travelled respectively on the Orient-Express and on Rovos Rail in South Africa, said that the Maharajas’ Express – or at least India’s track – had been noisier than either; and Celia, the teacher marking her 60th, said she’d had to resort to sleeping pills.
I remembered the boast of the Indian railway executives when I had first heard of their new train, at a lunch in London in March 2009: its hi-tech suspension offered a ride so smooth, they said, that passengers might forget they were on a train at all. Clearly, there’s no danger of that.
The Orient-Express veterans thought the food was inferior to that on the European train and that too much of it was Indian. The latter seems an odd complaint about a vehicle called the Maharajas’ Express. Food was a mixture of Indian and international cuisine: Mewari murg (braised chicken in a ginger and yogurt sauce) on one side of the menu, for example, with fried potato, zucchini, tomato and goat cheese terrine on the other.
Execution was sometimes spot-on (creamy scrambled eggs at breakfast) and sometimes less assured: the ice cream on apple pie à la mode didn’t melt because the pie seemed to have come straight from the fridge.
As for service, it was clear that while staff were both warm and eager, most of them were still in training. Some passengers compared them unfavourably with those they had encountered in Taj and Oberoi hotels.
One tour operator, while acknowledging that in its “hardware” – especially bathrooms – the new train was far superior to the Palace on Wheels, said the latter was streets ahead in service: “They have people there,” he said, “who can tell just by looking at your eyes what you want or are about to want.”
On one evening, after our starter, what we wanted was our main course, and because of a mix-up it took nearly an hour to arrive. In general, though, staff compensated in enthusiasm for what they lacked in experience.
Here’s the full article from The Telegraph.
or a bit of the history of the Maharajas’ Express – and the role the steam engine has played in Indian royal history, click here to go to the website.