The fabled Orient Express is now oriental in name only – book a berth on the Palace on Wheels instead, and travel across the Indian desert state of Rajasthan on one of the world’s most inspirational train journeys
NEED TO KNOW
ROUTE This railway tour from Delhi travels through Rajasthan via Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Bharatpur, and Agra
LENGTH AND TIME
1,790 miles (2,880 km); 7 days
Jan: 59°F (15°C); Apr & Jul: 87°F (30°C); Oct: 80°F (27°C)
Railways are an integral part of the fabric of Indian life – from chuntering third-class local services with daredevil commuters hanging off every available space, to the fast and efficient modern expresses which connect the major cities.
There’s no better way to enjoy the slowly unwinding landscapes of the subcontinent than from a window seat aboard one of the country’s thousands of trains.
None of the trains, however, can surpass the legendary Palace on Wheels. It offers a memorable taste of the style and opulence of the Raj era, and of the sumptuous lifestyles enjoyed by Indian maharajas and British colonial bigwigs alike. The Palace on Wheels first entered service in 1982, using the lavishly decorated coaches once owned by Indian and colonial notables, including the former rulers of the princely states of Gujarat and Rajputana, the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the British Viceroy of India. The old train was subsequently replaced with new, fully modernized, and air- conditioned carriages in 1991, but much of the ambience of the original remains, with luxurious private cabins, a well-stocked bar, two dining cars, and devoted personal service from a group of highly trained retainers.
Starting from Delhi, the Palace on Wheels makes a seven-day tour of one of India’s most magical regions, traveling through the state of Rajasthan, with its iconic desert landscapes dotted with magnificent forts, palaces, and cities. The tour begins with visits to three of the state’s finest cities: Jaipur, the famous Pink City; the fabulous desert citadel of Jaisalmer; and Jodhpur, home to the majestic Meherangarh Fort, one of the mightiest in India. The train then proceeds to Sawai Madhopur and the Ranthambhore National Park – one of the best places on the planet to spot tigers in the wild – and then to Chittorgarh, the site of another iconic Indian fort. Then it’s on to the romantic lakeside city of Udaipur, before heading back north to the village of Bharatpur, site of the Keoladeo Ghana National Park, one of the world’s finest bird sanctuaries. The best, however, is saved for the end of the tour, with the last stop being the famous city of Agra, home of the unforgettable Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and nearby Fatehpur Sikri, all UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
FORGET THE ORIENT EXPRESS?
THE BUILD-UP The most famous train in Europe, if not the world, the Orient Express has become synonymous with luxury, romance, and intrigue, immortalized in books and on film.
THE LETDOWN The original Paris–Istanbul route has been steadily cut back over the years, and the current Orient Express only runs from Strasbourg to Vienna. To recreate the original route, you’ll either have to put together a route combining four trains, or shell out a staggering US$9,190 per person to travel on the privately run Venice-Simplon Orient Express (which doesn’t, strictly speaking, have anything to do with the original at all).
GOING ANYWAY? Leave your visions of glamor at home, and remember that the Orient Express, despite the name, is now simply a standard-issue European train. However, it still offers one of the most comfortable ways of traveling from Strasbourg in northeastern France to Vienna without leaving the ground.
Getting There and Around
From New Delhi airport, it’s a short taxi ride to Safdarjung railway station, from where the train departs.
Where to Eat
The Palace on Wheels has two dining cars which serve international and Indian food.
Where to Stay
There are 14 fully equipped deluxe rooms in the train.
When to Go
Oct–Mar is the best time, as it is outside the monsoon period and before the weather gets too hot.
Budget for Two
The 7-day tour starts at around US$5,420, based on two sharing, and includes accommodations, food on the train, and entrance fees specified in the itinerary.