By Ravi Valluri
South India symbolises classical Indian heritage. The landscape is dotted with wondrous and breathtaking temples, churches, mosques and synagogues reflecting how strongly its pluralistic religious and spiritual thought is interwoven and interlaced in the lives of the denizens.
The swinging coconut palm trees, the sun kissed beaches, the mesmerizing backwaters, the prodigious and colourful festivals, varied and delightful cuisine, attract millions of travellers to south of Vindhyas every year.
The art and architecture leave the spellbound onlookers awestruck. Reflecting exotic and prepossessing beauty and grace, the places of worship of variegated faiths, the grandeur of its monuments and palaces of South India are singular their pull. South India is a place to experience the rich culture and heritage of India.
The Maharajas' Express, the luxury tourist train owned and operated by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), has also been charmed by the wonders of South India. The opulent train runs the ‘Sothern Splendour’ tour along the west coast from Mumbai to Kerala.
The estimable train Maharajas' Express was voted as “The World's Leading Luxury Train” five times in a succession from 2012 to 2017, at the World Travel Awards. No mean achievement which skewers the misgivings of the Cassandra’s of doubt about tourism marketing prowess of Indians.
The train comprises of twenty-three carriages which include accommodation, dining, bar, lounge, generator and store cars. Accommodation has been provided in all the guest carriages with a capacity to haul eighty-eight passengers in plush luxury.
The train gloats of a lounge called the Rajah Club which has a private bar, two dining cars and a dedicated bar car. There is a delectable on-board souvenir boutique which offers tat for the pilgrims of this opulent odyssey. The train is also equipped with a water filtration plant.
LCD televisions, eco-friendly toilets, direct dial phones, DVD player, internet, individual climate control and electronic safes are provided in each guest cabin.
It is worthwhile to mention that there are five carriages in the category of Deluxe Cabins, a total of 20 cabins accommodating forty passengers (twelve twin bed cabins and eight double bed cabins).
There are eighteen cabins in the Junior Suites category that accommodate thirty-six passengers. Additionally, there are four Suites available, which are endowed with large separate sitting and sleeping areas.
The Presidential Suite is constructed on an entire rail carriage, incorporating a separate sitting-cum-dining room, a master bedroom and bathroom with shower and bathtub, a twin bedroom and bathroom with shower.
The Maharajas' Express Presidential Suite is the first such a rail carriage of its kind in the world meant for commercial usage.
The train has a state-of-the-art kitchen car designed to provide a range of cuisines in the restaurants Rang Mahal and Mayur Mahal. Mayur Mahal has a peacock feather theme for the interiors.
The restaurant menu includes traditional Indian cuisine along with Continental, Chinese and other International fare.
The peregrination commences from Mumbai, the financial capital of India and traverses through Ratnagiri on the Konkan coast and drops anchor at the exotic beaches of Goa, and weaves its way through the historical ruins of Hampi in Karnataka and traditional Mysore and finally criss-crosses through God’s own Country - Kerala.
Travelling overnight from Mumbai, the train reaches Ratnagiri where tourists reconnoitre this port town in Maharashtra. Overlooking the Arabian Sea is the majestic Ratnadurg Fort which houses the legendary Bhagwati temple.
A lighthouse, a fish museum and an aquarium which houses turtles and a jaw-dropping gargantuan skeleton of a whale are the other notable attractions. Further to discover is the Thibaw Palace which was once the residence of the exiled king of Burma. Tourists make a beeline to the fabled Ganpatipule Temple following which is an encounter with ferocious tigers in the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary.
On the second day after a sumptuous breakfast served onboard, pilgrims of this opulent train head towards North Goa to pay obeisance at the transcendent churches. After a brief “Walk the Talk” tour of Old Panjim Houses the plush guests spend some quality time with the astounding waves on the beaches of Goa.
Post lunch onboard, the travellers visit the Goa Chitra Museum, which houses around 4000 artefacts—showcasing Goa's traditional agrarian lifestyle and technology. Dinner is served at an exclusive joint and thereafter the train scorches the tracks to the interiors of Karnataka.
The medieval town of Hampi is the next cynosure for the tourists. Hampi also referred to as the Medley of Monuments at Hampi has been designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The landmark place is associated with Harihara, Bukka and the celebrated emperor Krishnadevaraya.
This was the epicentre of the Hindu Vijanagara Empire in the 14th century. Chronicles recorded by Persian and European travellers, particularly the Portuguese, indicate that Hampi was a prosperous, wealthy and grand city on the banks of the Tungabhadra River, with numerous temples, farms and trading markets.
The Vijayanagara Empire was defeated by a coalition of Muslim sultanates and its capital was conquered, pillaged and destroyed by Sultanate armies in 1565, and in the aftermath of bloodbath Hampi remained in ruins.
The propertied train then chugs its way to Mysore by night. Typical South Indian fare is served at breakfast which is followed by a voyage to the spectacular Mysore Palace. The hosts transport the guests to an exclusive destination for a lip smacking lunch.
The propertied guests are then treated to an exciting visit to the banks of Cauvery River near the historical town of Srirangapatnam where they have a glimpse of Srirangapatna Fort, Daria Daulat Baugh, Scott’s Bungalow, the Ranganatha Swamy Temple and the famous Tipu’s armoury.
After luxuriating in Karnataka this grandeur train transports its well-heeled guests to God’s own Country, Kerala. The train stops at Kochi (a melting pot of faiths and a truly representative of the pluralistic culture of India).
Kochi is also known as the Queen of Arabian Sea, and is eponymous for the famous synagogue, St Francis’s Church and the grave of the original traveller Vasco da Gama. This was also the place where the Chera Kingdom established their empire. The tourists unravel at the model ecotourism village during their stay and traverse to Kumarakom.
On the seventh day of this expedition, guests relish a Canoe Cruise in the tranquil backwaters. After dinner on board, this upscale train motors its way to Thiruvananthapuram, where the voyage terminates.
“Remember that happiness is a way of travel – not a destination,” writes the American politician Roy M. Goodman. One could very well say that travel is a way of happiness!
Also Read: Maharajas’ Express – Indian Splendour