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Maharajas' Express

Gerald Eskenazi
From the Print Edition:
Jim Nantz, May/June 2011

As the train pulled in to Agra, where we were to see the Taj Mahal, I looked out of the huge window in our compartment. Across the tracks, dozens of people gathered to stare. It was a very Indian site. For as much as we were curious about them, people were curious about us, visitors on this sleek, shiny, magic carpet on wheels.

And then, as my wife and I got off the train, we stepped onto a red carpet. Some men held a silken canopy over our heads. Two young women greeted us, one daubing a “tika,” a red welcoming dot, onto our foreheads, the other woman placing a wreath around our necks.

This was part of the Maharajas’ Express experience—a weeklong pampered journey through India on the newly minted luxury train that’s barely a year old. For us, second-timers to India, this was a magical way to do the great sites in Maharajas’ comfort.
Train travel is the way to get around India, but doing it aboard a 23-car caravan with a maximum of 45 people is true indulgence. We took the six-night, seven-day, round-trip excursion known as “Classical India” out of Delhi. We traveled every night and spent most of every day, between breakfast and dinner, at various sites.

Our suite, swathed in browns and reds, took up half a railroad car. It included a sitting room with a sofa and a flat-screen TV. Our bedroom had a queen-sized bed, a television and a telephone. Open a door, and there was a full, white-marble bath and a stall shower. The first day, when I was having trouble connecting to the Wi-Fi, I called the butler (who else?), who promptly sent in the onboard computer geek to show me what I was doing wrong. Then again, would a maharaja expect anything less?

After our butler unpacked us, we sat in one of the two lounge cars, presided over by a bartender as well as a sommelier. My wife and I even played a game of Scrabble. But we were to learn that conversation—and long, leisurely dinners, followed by more talk in the lounge cars—were to be a staple of this particular train.

Dinners are considered “formal”—but you don’t need a tux. I wore a suit or sport jacket and tie, which added to a colonial feel. We dined on gold-rimmed china, drank wine out of crystal glasses and chose from either the Indian or the continental menu.

After dinner, we usually sat in a lounge car arranged with sofas and chairs so that several couples could mingle and discuss the Taj Mahal or the night sail on the Ganges. Always, there were three officials from the train available to answer our questions or just join in the dialogue.

We didn’t have to worry about oversleeping. Our butler provided a morning wake-up call, and moments later brought our coffee.

There is a Sanskrit saying, “The Guest is God.” Must have had the Maharajas’ Express in mind.

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