One of the best thing to have happened this month was invitation to the Palace on Wheels inaugural ceremony. To travel on India’s most revered luxury train Palace on Wheels a long cherished dream of mine. I first heard the name when I joined Indian Holiday Pvt. Ltd.; the organization I work with. Palace on Wheels is the first luxury train to be launched in India in the lines of legendary Orient Express.
I have been involved in the digital promotion of this luxury train on behalf of my company and it was really gladdening to receive the invite to attend the opening ceremony of Palace on Wheels for the season 2013-14. Palace on Wheels inaugural ceremony was held on 4th September at Safdarjung Railway Station in Delhi.
So I got off from office early – a welcome respite – and went straight back home to collect the camera. I was also instructed by head to get the shave done and wear formal – what the heck, I toiled so hard to grow that perfect moustache and beard, but I told myself to get on board Palace on Wheels “apun saala kuchh bhi karega”; anything for you POW.
So I reached home, got my beard trimmed instead of shaved, changed the shirt but left the jeans as it was and took my Man O’ War, (for first timers that’s what I call my Royal Enfield 350) and rode towards Safdarjung Railway Station to live the dream.
Safdarjung Railway Station is unlike any other railway station I have visited in Delhi. The first thing I noticed that it was “clean”, there were no shanties/jhuggies around and there was negligible crowd.
The entrance of the Station was lavishly decorated with flowers, rangolis and earthen wares and the walk was on red carpet that was laid out right from the entrance to the either end of the train compartments.
The music played by the band composed of bagpipers and drummers greeted me as I entered the platform. Guests were seated and there was a band of folk musicians too who later performed for the assembled guests that were to board the first journey of the Palace on Wheels.
Just after the entrance, two staff welcoming the guests with vermillion mark on forehead and flower garlands across the neck, a traditional welcome. Behind the two cheery receptionists stood the khidmatgars (personal attendants) in traditional attire; smiling graciously and posing for pictures for media .
With the band of bagpipers and drummers in turban playing the royal tunes, I guess this would have been the welcome which the erstwhile maharajas of Rajputana were accustomed to and the welcome the train authorities proclaim – for truth – they offer.
After clicking a few shots of the ceremony, the time was ripe to click the photos of my beloved Palace on Wheels; up, close and personal. “This is heck of an opportunity” I told myself. I was so excited – or say nervous – that initially my hands were shaking as I clicked. But I got over it as I started a frenzied photo session of Palace on Wheels.
Starting with the power car at the rear of the train, I captured each of the carriage in my camera. All carriages of Palace on Wheels are named after a princely state which now comprises the various districts of Rajasthan. They are named Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Bharatpur etc. etc. and the interior décor reflects the same motif.
Each guest carriage has a lounge at one end. Their décor reflect the art and heritage of the princely state after which they are named. Miniature paintings, royal insignia of the royal dynasty that ruled the state, comfy sofas and a television and DVD player make these lounge an ideal place to sit and get together.
When I entered one of the lounges, guests were already sitting in the lounge. It was a kind of get together session, each introducing themselves to one another. There was an NRI couple, two guys from US and yet another couple chatting with each other.
I captured a few shots of the cabins in a few carriages and then headed out to where the press and train managers and officials of Rajasthan Tourism were gathered for press briefing.
And that’s when I entered the most happening carriage of the Palace on Wheels. Yes it’s the bar car. At the entrance was the area where the bartender – the same I used to see in pictures. He’s been serving in Palace on Wheels ever since the inception of this train in 1982.
At the bar, a good selection of wine and spirits from around the world were stacked tastefully. On both sides comfortable sofas were places with a table at front. A live television was also present at the opposite end of the bar.
The bar has the décor resembling Sheesh Mahal or Glass Palace. Sheesh Mahals were common feature in the palaces of almost all Rajput kingdoms. Glass is the main motif with embellishments including rich tapestries, embroidered curtains, miniature paintings and wall to wall carpeting.
As I was standing there soaking in the opulence of the bar, there arrived a gentleman from Los Angeles. He said to the bartender “This is my favorite space in the coach”. They both got chatting and I noticed that the bartender talked to the guest with a distinct flair.
The gentleman from LA was soon joined by his spouse and a kid. I reckon the child in the pram definitely gotta be the youngest traveler on board the Palace on Wheels; may be even in its entire history. The couple was approached by quite a few media persons and they politely obliged them. Answering questions and posing for photo.
One of the additions in this year’s run of Palace on Wheels is the Royal Spa. Answering to media query, the official said that it is introduced to add to the royalty of the train. A range of rejuvenation therapies will be offered at the spa where guest could relax and recuperate after long days of sightseeing.
Adjacent to bar car are the 2 restaurant named Maharaja and Maharani. Both are equally well decorated and comfortable and the menu is also quite extensive. All the guest carriages as well as the restaurant, bar and spa carriages are fully carpeted.
The only downside I could notice was the aisles of the guest carriages. The cabins are made spacious and comfortable at the cost of the space where guests and staff of the train would walk for moving around on the train. The space is so less that only one person could walk at a time.
What it means is that if I am one end of the train and you are at the other one will have to wait at his end before the other crosses the aisle. The narrow space will also mean that it may cause hassle in terms of wheelchair accessibility which is available in this train.
After exploring the train, it was the time of snacks which were arranged at the station in a tented space. The snacks were delicious to eat. There were several varieties of pakora. Paneer Pakoda was awesome. Then there were several varieties of sweets and a stall for chocolate too. Since I avoid sweets, I had a few pakora – most of them Paneer – and bid adieu to my dream.
As I was leaving I heard a reporter – I am not sure if he was reporting or yelling – is train ka naam hai Palace on Wheels jiska matlab hai pahiyon pe rajmahal aur is train ko dekhkar ye kehna galat nahin hoga ki ye wakai pahiyon par ek rah Mahal hin hai. And he was not wrong.
The train is really a moving Palace on Wheels with state of the art amenities, impeccable hospitality and tastefully crafted itineraries. The interior recreates the times when maharajas used to own their trains and travelled for the purpose of state visits or hunting. Even the staff is attired in a manner reminiscent of the retinue of the former princes.
I gather that all in all, the journey on board Palace on Wheels would definitely be a memorable experience; exploring the forts & palaces, wildlife and sand dunes of royal Rajasthan as a Maharaja would. “Hey Palace on Wheels! Next time I’ll come, it definitely won’t be for media session but to accompany you on your royal ride” I said smiling at the last glimpse of the train.
Details of the Palace on Wheels as well as other luxury trains could be found on the portal I am associated with: Indian Luxury Trains
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