Saturday, November 25th 2017.

Destinations

Anne Schelfhof
THE MAHARAJAS EXPRESS
An incredible experience – a tale that needs to told and shared …

 

By Anne Schelfhof –  Managing Director, Tellus Incentive & Travel Company

 

The Maharajas and India are definitely the stuff of dreams...definitely as far as I am concerned!

Since March of this year, India proudly boasts the latest in the exclusive series of luxury trains worldwide: the Maharajas’ Express, the most luxurious train in the world, created with the wealthier travelers in mind who want to relive the pomp of the Maharaja era.

 

Maharajas Maharajas Maharajas

 

This new train that can take a maximum of 84 very privileged passengers, has 14 carriages equipped with luxury cabins, juniors suites, suites and 1 presidential suite that is situated in its own carriage. Each cabin has private facilities (toilette and private shower/bath included) and is equipped with the latest high tech: LCD television, DVD player, telephone and internet, individual film choice, individual air-conditioning, safety box... and let’s not forget the Personal Butler, who is ready to attend to your every wish and brings you your ‘morning  tea’ in bed.

The Maharajas’ Express started its maiden voyage on 13 March between New Delhi and Calcutta. Thanks to an invitation by the DMC Cox & Kings who are partners in the project, we were there! By ‘we’, I mean BBT Online, a small group of Belgian incentive houses  (@dmire, De Buck Incentives and Preference) and myself. And we lived an incredible experience, a tale that needs to be told and shared…..

 

Maharaja Maharaja Maharaja

 

All aboard!

What better way to travel to New Delhi than in absolute comfort and surrounded by great service by the crew of Jet Airways? We left Brussels by the early Friday morning flight, arrived in India by the end of the day and had a good night’s sleep and a free day before setting of on our journey at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning. I took the opportunity to test the new ‘Eliza’ rooms of the Imperial Hotel, 12 rooms specially designed for single traveling business ladies. All located on the same corridor they provide a manicure set, women’s magazines, a bouquet of flowers and fruit, service by female butlers and a special call control system. The comfort and charm of the hotel has not changed at all and as from breakfast taken under the parasols in the wonderful gardens, I was ready for embarkation, relaxed and impatient to begin our adventure.

The Maharajas’ Express proposes two routes which operate in both directions and last 6 or 7 nights depending on the starting station. The main Indian cultural destinations are all on the program such as Mumbai , Udaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Jaipur and  Agra for the journey that travels from Mumbai to Delhi (or vice- versa) and Agra,  Gwalior, Khajuraho, Varanasi (Benares) and Kalkata (Calcutta)  for those traveling from Delhi to Calcutta or also called the ‘Classical India’ tour which was ours.

Upon arrival in the station we discovered our train, magnificent with its gold and burgundy colors, the Cox & Kings staff who would travel with us and we enjoyed our first of a long series of receptions: flower necklaces and red bindi on our pale foreheads, traditional orchestra and welcome drink. Whilst we were enjoying our cocktail our luggage which had been taken in charge at the hotel was transferred to our cabins. Finally the embarkation time had arrived and we set of to discover the interior of the train and our cabins.

The train has two restaurants (so even with a full train all passengers can dine in one sitting) which serve either Indian or Continental cuisine, an English bar for the pre-dinner dinks and where our little group was mostly to be found, a cards salon and a panoramic lounge from where the wonderful landscapes can be admired.

 

Maharaja Maharaja Maharaja
Maharaja Maharaja

 

The cabins are of a very reasonable size, beautifully appointed and – oh luxury! – equipped with a great bathroom with its own shower (or bath if you are lucky enough to be in a Suite or the Presidential Suite). The bathroom amenities are nicely presented and reflect the rich smells of the continent. In a nutshell, nothing is missing.

The train started its journey whilst we went to the restaurant for our second breakfast of the day. By the time we had finished unpacking whilst admiring the landscape through our panoramic windows, we arrived in Agra. Upon debarkation we see our bus, also in the Maharaja Express gold & burgundy livery and meet our friendly bus driver. They will both follow us from stop to stop which was like meeting up with old friends along the entire trip.

 

Day 1 – Agra and the Taj Mahal

The day in Agra was developed around two major points: the visit of Agra Fort and of course the visit of the Taj Mahal. Is it necessary to introduce both? They both are proof of the life and passionate love of Shah Jahan, a mughal emperor of the 17th century and his beloved wife the beautiful Mumtaz Mahal.

The Red Fort revives the happy period when the court resided there and also the sad ending of the emperor: destitute and jailed by his son, he lived there till the end of his days looking at the mausoleum he built for his beloved. Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 when giving birth to their 14th child; maddened with grief, Shah Jahan decides to give her a sumptuous resting place all in white marble. Its construction took over 16 years with dates varying depending on the authors. The best builders were brought in from all over India and more than 1000 elephants transported the precious marble to Agra. The splendor of the building can be found in the architecture and the materials used but mostly it stems from the magic aura of the monument that changes hues depending on the time of the day. We had the opportunity to admire it from close up and also from afar as we were served a magnificent champagne luncheon on the lawns of the Taj Khema overlooking the Taj Mahal.

This perfect first day ended in the restaurant car (after a stop at the bar for our first pre-dinner drink of the trip!) where we discovered each evening a great menu with a choice of 3 starters, 2 soups, 4 main courses and 3 desserts, all with a great selection of drinks and all included in the package price: a good choice of softs and beers, a red and white wine that were perfectly drinkable as soon as we made it clear to our dear waiter that we preferred our white wine cold and not tepid!

 

MaharajaMaharaja

 

Day 2  - Gwalior

Have you ever slept soothed by the soft rhythm of a train? Well, after a short period of ‘adaptation’ (a traveling train brakes regularly and stops sometimes in stations and Indian stations are noisy, even at night!), one gets used to this and even more so as the beds are large and comfortable. So it was a rested party that disembarked at dawn in the state of Madhya Pradesh to discover Gwalior and its imposing fortress.

Like many Indian cities, the origin of Gwalior is more the stuff of legends than reality. The city was supposedly founded in the 8th century after en encounter by Suraj Sen, a local chief and Gwalipa the hermit who nursed Suraj Sen who suffered from leprosy. To thank the hermit he founded a city and gave it his name …
Situated high on a rock and defended by solid walls, Gwalior Fort is home to a number of remarkable buildings: the Man Mandir Palace, it’s beauty enhanced by splendid enamel tiles in blue, green and yellow, the Sasbahu Mandirs, two Vishnu temples constructed in the 11th century and covered in sculptures and the spectacular Teli-Ka-Mandir, the oldest monument of the fort. After these beautiful discoveries lunch awaited in the Usha Kiran Palace which in a distant past – well before our arrival, once housed the king of England!  

After a relaxing afternoon by the pool we visited the Jai Vilas Palace, part of which is still inhabited by the Maharaja of Gwalior. In the Durbar Hall two enormous chandeliers of over 3 tons each are suspended from the ceiling; before hanging them the architects stood 10 elephants on the ceiling to test the weight! A funny attraction of the palace is the little silver train that brings the after dinner drinks and cigars to the diners! We saw it in action before we were cordially invited to the garden for cocktails under the stars and to the tunes played by a traditional orchestra.

 

Maharaja Maharaja
Maharaja Maharaja

 

Day 3 - Khajuraho

No less than 10 musicians in pink outfits, 10 dancers and acrobats in red and saffron outfits were waiting for us in real Maharajas Style the next morning! On the program that day: Khajuraho and its famous erotic temples - Unesco Heritage protected. Built over 1,000 years ago by the Chandela dynasty, these splendid temples are world-famous because of their sculptures – gods, dancers, mythological or real animals vie for space in the beautifully executed stone friezes but it is mainly the erotic nature of the sculptures that have made it famous. 

The theories around their significance are multiple: a Kama Sutra manual for the young Brahmins, protection against the god Indris, a vile old voyeur, or tantric images to find nirvana. This last hypothesis is the most acknowledged today. In the tantric cult the bhoga (physical pleasure) and yoga (spiritual exercise) are indeed considered as the two legitimate paths to nirvana.

In conclusion of this enriching journey both physically and emotionally we were invited to visit and observe daily life in a village. We were warmly welcomed by both young and old and had a great time. Not many words were exchanged of course but lots of great smiles and lots of laughter when we showed the results of our digital images with the children. With our thanks to new technologies!

 

Maharaja Maharaja
Maharaja Maharaja

 

Day 4 -  Bandhavgarh National Parc – Tiger Safari

The further we go, the earlier we rise! Today our devoted butler brought our early morning tea at…4 am. All this because the tiger is an early riser and does not wait for us! We have an appointment with this noble warrior at Bandhavgarh National Park, at one time the private hunting grounds of the Maharaja of Rewa. It stretches over a surface of a total of 437km² of rugged hills and is reputed to have the highest concentration of tigers in India.
Traveling in heavy 4 X 4 vehicles, we go tracking relentlessly! The hunt proved to be very beneficial: we came back with pictures of two females and one male (Dixit our guide advised and we have to believe him because at that distance frankly I could not see a difference!) who did not seem overly bothered by our rather noisy incursion in their territory. That was enough emotion for one day and after a delightful lunch in the heart of the park at Mahua Kothi the Relais & Chateau rated Taj Safari Lodge, we returned to the train to continue our long journey that will bring us to Varanasi, the mythical Benares. 

 

MaharajaMaharaja

 

Day 5 -  Varanasi

Varanasi is the city of Shiva, the god of destruction. Is this the reason why our train started going slow during the night?! Or is it because a train journey in India always remains an adventure, luxury train or not!  Therefore, we arrived three hours late on the banks of the Ganges where we should have been admiring the sunrise over the ghats. No such luck and we had all been looking forward to what would certainly have been one of the highlights of this trip. Luckily the imagination and initiative of the Cox & Kings people went into overdrive.

Our train was supposed to leave Varanasi in the afternoon but they overhauled the entire program in order for us to be present at the sundown ceremony. This is how, after a long day visiting Sarnath, the holy city where Buddha gave his first sermon, followed by a walk through the old city’s silk district and a rickshaw ride to the ghats, we were privileged to view the aarti ceremony which takes place everyday at sundown along the holy Ganges.

On board large flat barges we witnessed the entire river getting covered in floating candles launched by pilgrims and we saw the ritual by the priests chanting mantras accompanied by cymbals. An unforgettable experience that can be absolutely recommend to our clients on top of the sunrise ritual.

 

MaharajaMaharaja

 

Day 6 -  Gaya

Finally our last full day had arrived and we already began to miss the idea of our luxury “luxury home on rails”. This day however had another enchanting moment waiting for us come evening. In the meantime we visited Gaya, one of the sacred Hindu towns and Nalanda where one can find one of the oldest universities in the world where in the 7the century 2,000 professors and 10,000 students from all over the world studied here.

By the end of the day we were in Bodhgaya, a holy city for Buddhists all over the world.  The Mahabodhi temple, in the centre of the village is situated on the very spot where Buddha had his revelation.  At the back of the monument is the Bodhi tree (a ficus religiosa) which is supposed to be a descendant of the very tree underneath which Buddha meditated. Once more we were fortunate to be able to mingle with pilgrims and live the passion of the crowd around the sacred tree, a long procession of people all dressed in white. A beautiful ending for a trip during which the sacred element was never far away and mixed up with the cultural discoveries.

 

MaharajaMaharaja

 

Day 7 - Calcutta

That was it, the end. After a quick and far too short trip around the city – we already started regretting we could not stay longer and discover more of this fascinating city – we made our way to the airport with only one wish: to return very soon to discover the other program, the marvels of Rajasthan, on board of the Maharaja Express!

 

Maharaja

 

 

MAHARAJAS EXPRESS / INCENTIVE DESTINATION

The plus points

  • Another way to discover India. 
  • A cruise by rail with a practical side as on a cruise ship: no suitcases to pack and unpack, no long car/coach journeys, no internal flights.
  • A rich and varied excursion program and long days well filled without any time being lost (as the train travels by night) with transfers from one city to another.
  • The events (VIP welcome, ceremonies, spectacles, exclusive visits) all along the program.
  • A definitely feeling of “once in a life-time experience”.

The lesser points

  • The price.
  • The absence of a ‘Welcome diner’ or a ‘Farewell diner’ to mark the start and ending of the trip.

 

MAHARJAS EXPRESS – A train like no other – an experience like no other – www.maharajas-express-india.com

 

The Maharajas Express is a product of the Indian DMC Cox and Kings. A great Indian DMC, who has all the know-how in house.

Angela Hewitt
Head of Sales - Europe & Africa
Cox & Kings (India) Ltd
3 Nottingham Road, Cropwell Bishop, Notts. NG12 3BP. UK
Tel: 00 44 (0)115 8298685 Mob: 00 44 (0)7712 881 779
Email: angela.hewitt@coxandkings.com
www.coxandkings.com

www.the-maharajas.com

 

Maharajas’ Express – A summary

Ever dreamt of travelling through India, in the lap of luxury? Well, now you can, on the Maharajas’ Express …. Truly the last word in luxury trains. The first Pan-India super-luxury train that cuts across state boundaries, it is equipped with every modern comfort that money can buy: from large LCD screens to the largest cabins found on any luxury train, the Maharajas’ Express offers you an experience of India that is truly a world apart.

From Mumbai to Delhi, from Delhi to Kolkata, the Maharajas’ Express passes through the highlights of Rajasthan and Eastern India, as well as national parks for safari ….. and no journey to India would be complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal.

For departure dates, rates and any further information, please contact Kate Iversen on kate.iversen@coxandkings.com

Maharajas’ Express, first pan-India super-luxury train embarked on its maiden voyage on 6th March 2010
 
This brand new train redefines luxury train travel not just in India, but worldwide.

The state of the art train has 23 coaches with a passenger capacity of 84 across four cabin categories.

The unique aspects of the train, first of its kind in India, are:

  • State-of-the-art German pneumatic and hydraulic suspension system ensuring smoother train ride
  • Largest cabin & bathroom sizes in all categories
  • Passenger cabins with individual air-conditioning
  • First Pan-India luxury train that cuts across state boundaries
  • Flat-screen TV, DVD player, internet access & direct dial telephone in each cabin
  • Guest lecturers on many departures, and unique special events planned throughout each journey.

Itineraries:
The Royal/Princely India Tour is a 6/7 night itinerary: Mumbai-Vadodara-Udaipur-Jodhpur-Bikaner-Jaipur-Ranthambore National Park-Agra-Delhi.

The Classical/Celestial India Tour is a 6/7 night itinerary: Delhi-Agra-Gwalior-Khajuraho-Bandavgarh National Park-Varanasi-Gaya-Kolkatta.

Reasons to choose the Maharajas Express:

  • Be one of the first to travel on the world’s newest and most luxurious train
  • Pack and unpack only once
  • No long car journeys taking valuable daylight hours – spend a full day in each location and travel to the next overnight
  • No tiresome internal flights with long check in times, many security checks and general hassle
  • See far more in 6/7 nights than is possible on a land based tour
  • For the nervous traveller it’s a very safe and secure way to visit India

About Royale Indian Rail Tours Ltd:
The Royale India Rail Tours Ltd. is a joint venture between Indian Railways and Cox & Kings India Ltd, the first of its kind between the Indian Railways and a private sector partner to operate a luxury passenger train. 

For more details, rates, commission and news of planned FAM trips please contact:
Angela Hewitt & Kate Iversen
RIRTL & Cox & Kings Sales – Europe
angela.hewitt@coxandkings.com & kate.iversen@coxandkings.com
Tel: 00 44 (0)115 8298685  Mob: 00 44 (0)7712 881 779 / 00 44 (0)7545 208975

Web: www.maharajas-express-india.com

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