By Ravi Valluri
For a few moments take a break and imagine a gargantuan wedge plunging into the Indian Ocean. South India is the subcontinent's steamy heartland – a lush contrast to the peaks and plains up north.
Wherever a person traverses southern India, one uncovers iconic relics of the several civilisations which have inhabited this land over two millennia. The spectacular rock-cut shrines carved out by Buddhists, Hindus and Jains at Ajanta and Ellora; the palaces, tombs, forts and mosques of Muslim dynasties in the Deccan plateau.
Further Tamil Nadu's inspired Pallava sculptures and the towering Chola temples; the preternatural ruins of the Vijayanagar capital at Hampi…and several diverse places more that perhaps an individual needs to remain immortal to appreciate the grandeur. Southern India is a melting pot and a treasure trove with few parallels.
Several thousands of kilometres long, with cascading coastline dotting the landscape of fertile plains, glinting backwaters and rolling hills in South India. This is a constantly changing landscape which is glisteningly green by the double-barrelled monsoon.
The palm-strung strands and inland waterways of the west provide gateway to the spice gardens, emerald tea plantations, tropical forests and cool hill-station retreats in the Western Ghats.
The drier Deccan 'plateau' is far from flat, crisscrossed by several craggy ranges and often spattered with dramatic, fort-topped outcrops. Across the region, protected wild forests provide shelter a world of wildlife, ranging from elephants and tigers to monkeys, deer and sloth bears.
Amazing Culinary Delights
South India's glorious culinary variety offers a melange of dining options to the connoisseur and the gluttonous. Some of India's most famous and traditional staples originate from this part of the country- the large papery dosas (savoury crêpes) and fluffy idlis (fermented rice cakes) are the backbone of South Indian cooking. Goa's spicy, Portuguese-influenced cuisine is a fiery inventive fusion at its splendiferous.
Kerala's coconut-infused seafood is the stuff of legends; and, everywhere one travels, the humble South Indian kaapi (filter coffee) makes one tick.
The Maharajas' Express is a luxury tourist train owned and operated by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). The opulent train plies on seven circuits traversing more than a dozen destinations across the axis of North-West- Central and South–Western India.
The Maharajas' Express provides a plethora of solutions under a single umbrella of ostentation - pneumatic suspension, live television, Wi-Fi, attached bathroom, dining cars, bar, lounge and a premium souvenir shop. Larger cabins are endowed with roll-top baths and spacious sitting rooms.
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 places covered by this opulent train makes a dramatic beginning with the historical city of Thiruvananthapuram which is the capital of God’s own country Kerala followed by tropical Mahabalipuram, Chettinad/Karaikudi, then weaves its way to Mysore, followed by Hampi, Goa, and Ratnagiri before calling it a day at the financial capital of India, Mumbai.
After a visit to the famous Kollam beach and Anantha Padmanabha Swami Temple the wondrous journey begins by embarking upon Maharajas' Express as the sun sets in the Arabian Sea.
The excursionist savours delicious dinner onboard while continuing the sojourn to Mahabalipuram which is famous for its pristine beaches and the Shore Temple as it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal.
This is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating back to the 8th century AD. At the time of its construction this area was a busy port during the reign of Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava dynasty.
The propertied train then drops anchor at Chettinad/Karaikudi in interior Tamil Nadu. Following a sumptuous breakfast on board, the sightseers take a trip to the statuesque Chettinad Mansions and the celebrated Athangudi Tile Factory.
The sovereign mansions cast an indelible impression on the minds of the globetrotter, leaving them spellbound. As a unique measure the tripper is part of a cooking demo at the Chettinad Heritage Hotel besides indulgence in other fun activities.
After travelling through backwaters of Kerala, Mahabalipuram and Chettinad the holiday maker, is a witness to the train scorching the tracks to Mysore.
The lush train drops anchorage at Mysore. Upon arrival at Mysore, the voyagers feast on a delectable gourmet breakfast. Thereafter, they visit the resplendent Mysore Palace. The day then proceeds with a wholesome lunch at an exclusive get away.
Thereafter the trippers appreciate the majesty of Ranganatha Swamy temple and the armoury of Tipu Sultan who waged a forlorn battle against the French invaders. Dinner is served onboard and the train moves towards Hampi.
Overnight the portentous train chugs its way to Hampi, the wondrous UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hampi was the capital of Vijayanagara Empire and known for rulers like Krishnadevaraya and Harihara and Bukka.
The journeyers spend the day at Anegundi village, which is legendary for its historical, cultural and religious significance.
The melting pot, sylvan beaches of Goa welcome the pilgrims of this odyssey the next morning. After a tingling breakfast the backpackers pay obeisance at the churches of North Goa. This is followed by a delightful walk through of the Old Panjim Houses.
The more adventurous are provided an option to swim in the gushing waves of the beaches of Goa. This is followed by a visit to the Goa Chitra Museum. After dinner on board, the grandiose train moves to Ratnagiri.
Once at Ratnagiri, the trippers are served a wholesome breakfast on board which is followed with a trip to Ratnadurg Fort ruins, the Government Aquarium (which houses the fossil of a gargantuan whale) and a visit to Thibaw Palace (which has Burmese connections).
The out-of-house visitors are left awestruck by the majesty of South India and conclude their journey at Mumbai.
“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown land,” wrote the famous trouper Sir Richard Burton.
Also Read: Maharajas’ Express- Southern Sojourn