GOLDEN CHARIOT: THE ONLY LUXURY TRAIN OF SOUTH INDIA. FIND OUT WHAT IT’S LIKE.

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The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India

THE SOUTHERN SPLENDOUR ROUTE OF GOLDEN CHARIOT, the luxury train of South India is irresistible. It covers the best of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry in 7 nights and 8 days. The Southern Splendour of Golden Chariot starts from Bengaluru and covers destinations such as Chennai, Mahabalipuram aka Mammallapuram, Puducherry aka Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Trichy, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Kovalam, Alleypey and Kochi. When the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC) invited me on a Media Trip to Golden Chariot, I instantly said yes. This was also the trip when I started traveling again after a break of few months because I was tired of traveling. I knew it would take something special to make me fall in love with travel again. I am glad I boarded the right train, the Golden Chariot. It is now one of my finest travel memories.

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View of a sleeper class from Golden Chariot, the only luxury train of South India. I love both!

Indian Railways has been my choice number one when it comes to the mode of transport. Trains are close to my heart. In some way or the other, trains have been a part of more than 90 % of my journeys. However, it was the first time I was traveling in a luxury train. I am a hotel management (IHM Lucknow) pass-out. During my industrial training in the palatial Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi, I was awed by the Orient Express restaurant.

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The Bar Madira at Golden Chariot, the luxury train.

The theme of the restaurant was the famous luxury train of Europe. I would stare at it, mouth agape, imagining how the real Orient Express must have been like. Experiencing the Orient Express is a false dream since it has been discontinued. However, India has many luxury trains with impeccable service, food and delightful destinations to choose from. Southern Splendour of Golden Chariot is a clear winner because of the variety it offers in such short span of time. The train derives its name from the famous Stone Chariot in Hampi, a world heritage site in Karnataka.

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Indian and foreign guests at the Golden Chariot, luxury train.

We were welcomed with much fanfare at Hotel Taj West End, Bangalore. We were registered at a desk followed up by a high tea and power point presentation by Mr. Abhijay Verma, general manager. The evening was closed with a wonderful performance by trained classical dancers. The Thanjavur doll dance won my heart. It actually seemed like that the dolls and not humans were dancing.

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Dancers performing Thanjavur doll dance at Taj West End Bangalore. It was the opening ceremony of the Golden Chariot, luxury train.

As soon as we arrived at the Yeshwantpur Railway Station in Bengaluru, the music makers welcomed us with aplomb. Wearing impeccably white shirts and lungi (sarong), they passionately played the thavil, a drum hanging from their shoulder with a cloth locally called nadai. Their fingers were covered with thimble like finger caps. Made of rice flour or maida flour, the caps are called Koodu.The other man played Nadaswaram, a metallic pipe which flares up at the bottom like a bell.

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The bar Madira. Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

Both Thavil and Nadaswaram are ancient musical instruments of South India. These are widely used in weddings, temples and carnatic music. The women garlanded us as the curious crowd jumped from across the barrier to get a glimpse of the train interiors and its occupants. The theme of curious onlookers continued for the entire journey. People would get curious and excited every time the train passed through a destination or was parked at a station. On one of the day, I saw the railway attendants of another train requesting to catch a glimpse of the interiors of the Golden Chariot. Moments like these made me grateful that such an opportunity came my way. Moments like these gave me the epiphany that we are in the midst of something special and exclusive.

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MY FIRST REACTION: THE ENTRY TO THE GOLDEN CHARIOT VIA MADIRA BAR

I vividly remember my reaction as soon as I entered the Golden Chariot. We made our first entry in the Golden Chariot through the only bar of the train called Madira (Meaning alcohol). “Wow”, that was all I could manage as soon as I entered the bar Madira in the Golden Chariot. It took me a while to accept that the luxurious furnishings and the well stocked bar was indeed inside an Indian train. As if to calm our nerves we were served complimentary red wine and white wine.

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Me in the bar of Golden Chariot. Luxury Train Of South India. Pic by Ami Bhat

I couldn’t help but minutely notice each and every detail of the bar, smile never leaving my lips. It was something which I had never experienced before despite having traveled across more than 150 destinations in India and beyond since 2008. For the entire trip, Madira bar was our exit point for everyday sightseeing. The entire Golden Chariot train,. We discovered was nothing less than a palace. Be it the furniture, the furnishings, the carpeting, the food, the service or the facilities, everything matched the level of any 5 star property.

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Me in my room in the Golden Chariot, the luxury train.

ROOMS OF GOLDEN CHARIOT, THE LUXURY TRAIN OF SOUTH INDIA!

I was curious to see the rooms. Each room had either twin beds or double beds. Interestingly, the décor of each coach of the Golden Chariot is designed differently. Christened after the famed dynasties of South India, viz. Yadukula, Hoysala, Adilshahi, Ganga, Chalukya, Vijayanagara, the décor of each room and coach reflected the architectural style of the respective era. The luxury train is managed by Mapple hotels. There are total 18 coaches with 11 passenger coaches boasting of well equipped private cabins (Rooms). Each room was appointed with a television.

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Madira bar, The Golden Chariot, luxury train.

Since cable TV is not possible due to the movement, we were given a choice of watching films on demand. Not a TV person, I used my leisure time reading the books on Karnataka and Mysore which were thoughtfully kept on the table near my bed. Some of the rooms had foldable berths which you can pull down if required; just like in regular trains. This means that upto 3 individuals can accommodate in some of the rooms.

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Views from my room in Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India

Since I had the room to myself, the child in me would hop on to the either of the twin beds. If the train moved in day, I would sit by the bed on the window side and admire the change in the beautiful sceneries of South India. Palm fringed landscapes, huge water bodies, charming huts, and mountains dominated the views from the train window. Scores of wind mills (at Aralvaymoli station near Kanyakumari) caught my attention. This is my favourite pastime every time I am in an Indian Train. However, doing it in a private room in an air conditioned luxurious train is something I will not forget in a lifetime. Most of the movement of train was during the night. On only few occasions did we get to see moving sceneries since most of the day was spent in sightseeing.

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My Room in the Yadukula Coach of the Golden Chariot, the luxury train of South India.
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Attached washroom in Golden Chariot, luxury train.

The washrooms are appointed with shaving kit, dental care, soaps, shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, moisturizer and slippers. Despite the tiny size of the washroom, space management has ensured that the rack to keep toileteries, shower area, W.C. and the washbasin are compartmentalized making the movement easy and swift. It was a weird feeling for me to have a hot shower in a moving train. The room has two large mirrors; one is in the washroom above washbasin and the other one is on the washroom door, towards the room side.

FACILITIES OF THE GOLDEN CHARIOT, LUXURY TRAIN:

A personalized room attendant is appointed in each coach. All one has to do is press the buzzer and the attendant will appear on your door, ready to serve you with a smile. Not much of a fussy traveler, I never used this facility but it’s a great idea to appoint each room with an attendant. It helps especially the elderly for anything they might need. The attendants sleep near the entrance of their respective coaches. Each coach is also appointed with a well stocked pantry. This is important because due to the layout of the linear palace, it takes time to reach the other coaches or restaurants and bar. Even luxury has its limitations! Also, I wished there was an individual temperature control panel in the room. In case a guest wanted to increase or decrease the temperature, he/she was required to use the buzzer and instruct the room attendant.

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Me with the room attendant of Yadukula coach. The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.
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Me at the sit out area, Golden Chariot. Luxury Train.

Some space is left at one end of each coach for a sit out area. 4 chairs and 2 tables are placed next to the door windows. The walls of the sit out area are decorated with South Indian elements such as dance themed face masks. The tables are stocked with fresh newspaper. Every day, there are announcements done in the train. The announcement reaches each corner of the train including rooms, washrooms and spa etc. There is a well appointed business centre as well. Laundry facility is available with a same day return policy. Besides a readily available first aid kit, a doctor on call is also available at each station. All coaches are open, not locked. All 4 doors have only one top latch provided for a quick escape during any emergency. All the services at the spa are chargeable. There are many therapies to choose from.They have a menu card for the same.

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The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India halts at Aralvaymoli near Kanyakumari. Scores of wind mills dotted the landscape.

The Madira Bar of The Golden Chariot: The bar at Golden Chariot is grand. Thanks to its well planned layout, rich furnishings and a lively ambiance, it was the most preferred place for all the passengers to have a conversation, sip wine, read books or socialize. Interactive events like live South Indian cooking demo was held in this area. The women also flocked to the bar to get their palms painted with Mehandi/Heena during an event. The best part: There is no closing time for the bar. The bar stays open till the last drink is ordered. The consumables at the bars are chargeable separately. But oh, there are happy hours as well.

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Chess and other pastimes at Madira Bar. The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

THE RESTAURANTS AND FOOD AT THE GOLDEN CHARIOT, LUXURY TRAIN

There are 2 restaurants in the Golden Chariot. The food in Golden Chariot is so tasteful that I used to wait for my next meal every day. In fact the food and service in Golden Chariot is one of its highlights. Mr. Mahender Singh Rathore, food and beverage manager has been the part of the management ever since its inception. He personally takes care of the need of each guest. I talked to some foreign guests from Canada, Fiji and Ireland and they seemed delighted with the quality of the European cuisine and service on board. Every day, the breakfast and dinner was aboard the Golden Chariot Train. The lunch was served in the luxury hotels of the cities we visited. The breakfast aboard the Golden Chariot comprised of fresh fruits, juices and a choice of continental and Indian meals. I was impressed with the freshness of the food despite the change in its city every day. The executive chef Deepak Chaubey told me, “We source fresh ingredients every day. We have our tie ups at each station which facilitates it. Quality is never compromised.”

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Indian Food in the Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

The breakfast and dinner in Golden Chariot also had a choice of continental food. Below are some of the dishes I stuffed my face with.

Breakfast (Indian) –Masala Dosa, Aaloo Paratha, Idli, Palak Poori, Khara and Kesari Bhath, Gobhi Paratha, Khara Pongal, Masala Vada, Poori Bhaji, Paneer Paratha, Shavige Bhath, Ajwaiini Poori.

Breakfast (Non Indian): Cheese platter with olive and crackers, Muffins, Croissants with assorted jams, honey and butter, Wheat Flakes, Corn Flakes, Oatmeal, Muesli, Seasonal Cut fruits, juices.

Beverages (Non Alcoholic) – Tea (Darjeeling/Masala/Earl Grey/English Breakfast/Green Tea), Coffee (South Indian Filter/Cappucino/Espresso/Latte), Hot Chocolate

Soups served were Mulligatawny Soup, Tamatar Dhaniya Shorba, Crème Dubarry, Mushroom and Barley Soup

Salads– Grilled pineapple and prunes salad, Creamy cucumber with cashew kernels, Crispy coleslaw, Three Bean Salad.

Entrée– Bouqueterie of vegetables and herbed potatoes, Basil Scented Vegetable Skewers, Grilled Mediterranean Vegetables with Fruit Salsa, Fettuccine Alfredo,

Indian– Manguluru Paneer Masala, Mysuru Brinjal Curry, Drumstick Ulli Sambhar, Zafarani Pulao, Lal Mirch Paratha, Mirch Bhutta Makhana, Kandhari Kofta, Hare Cholia Te Paneer, Khattey Aaloo, Tawa Paratha, Panchras dal, Jeera Rice, Tomato Raita, Palak Khumb, Paneer Lababdar, Kadi pakodi, Aloo Udaygiri, Kerala Parotta, Angoori Pulao

Dessert – Tender coconut soufflé, Gulab Jamun, Dharwadi Bendekai, Pineapple Strudels, Nariyal Til Sikkha, Tiramisu, Sheer Korma, Apple Cinnamon Pie, Zafrani Gajar aur Badam Kheer.

Pictures above- (Left to right) 1) Executive chef Mr. Deepak Chaubey; 2) Continental dish served in the Golden Chariot, luxury train.

The Staff and Service: The staff is courteous, very attentive and gives importance to the smallest of request from the guests.

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The Tour Map of Southern Splendour Golden Chariot

Below are the two routes of the Golden Chariot, the only luxury train of South India:

Golden Chariot Pride of South Brief Itinerary: Bangalore-Chennai & Mammallapuram-Pondicherry-Thanjavur-Madurai-Trivandrum & Kovalam Beach-Kerala backwaters & Kochi-Bangalore

Southern Splendour Golden Chariot Brief Itinerary: Bangalore-Kabini-Mysore-Hassan-Hampi-Badami-Goa-Bangalore

I covered the Southern Splendour.

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Foreign guests at the Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

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The bus used for sights-seeing for guests of the Golden Chariot, the luxury train.

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Me in one of the restaurants of the Golden Chariot, the luxury train of South India.

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

Pictures (Left to Right)- Spa, Gym and Aisle of the Golden Chariot. Please click to enlarge.

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Cooking demo by executive chef and team at Madira Bar, the Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.
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Scenes from my window at The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.
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Aralvaymoli near Kanyakumari is abundant of wind mills. The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India halted here for sometime.
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The view of Sleeper Class from one of the windows of The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India. Both are dear to me.

P.S. The pictures featuring me clicked by Ami Bhat and Swati Jain. Rest of the pictures are clicked by me

TRAVEL GONE WRONG: WHY 4 MONTHS OF NON STOP TRAVEL MADE ME HATE TRAVEL!

TO TRAVEL NON STOP FOR 4 MONTHS NON STOP! That was my travel fantasy when I was still working in Navi Mumbai in a 9 to 5 corporate job (Fine, make that 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. job). Sitting at my desk all day, I would dream of packing my bags to never return. My day dreaming would be assaulted with more official excel sheets (some of which I used surreptitiously for making my travel plans for next few months). Circa 2016! As I mentioned in an earlier blog, 2016 was a magical year for me travel wise.

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Me at Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

Thanks to my new freelance lifestyle, I had the freedom to realize my dream of traveling non-stop. I had accepted a bit too many professional invites for Press Trips and planned many of my personal travels as well. So from August 2016 to November 2016, it was non-stop travel for me for 4 months. Between this period, I showed up at my brother’s house (I was staying with him till then) only for few hours. I would be back home only to wash and change clothes, rest or deliver already delayed projects before starting my next travel. I remember before my Amazing Trip To Ladakh, I took a post midnight cab to home, picked fresh clothes, unpacked and packed my luggage again and leave before 5 a.m. to catch flight to Leh. Within those few hours, I crazily packed my bag, answered mails and even submitted assignments. As I was unpacking and packing I realized much of my room resembled a war zone. I wasted a lot of time to find my things. Because I had had no time to organize my life!

COMPLETE GUIDE TO PARO TAKTSANG AKA TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY IN BHUTAN

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Offbeat Bhutan : Cycling in Unseen Thimphu

Since November end to present day (February 2017), I have been declining Media Trips because I want to concentrate on my writing, earning and other pursuits in life.  I will start traveling again hopefully towards the end of February 2017. Till then, I just want to be at peace. I used my sabbatical from travel well to write more articles for print travel magazines and newspapers, to burn lot of food every day in my kitchen (I am a hopeless cook), play with my friend’s dog, catch up on movies and dining with my friends, organize my desk. I caught up with food festivals, film festivals, book fair and restaurant hopping in New Delhi too. I had spent quality time at 2 of my friend’s quiet homes and offices to write pending blogs. The month of December was most productive as I wrote around 20 blogs in December alone, most of it on Jordan and Bhutan etc. I also managed my finances and raised pending bills and earned more. I further augmented more wealth for me by landing up for assignments for me. On one of the days, I wrote 4 articles in a day! And oh, I caught up on a lot of sleep too. It was a creatively satisfying phase and I hope to repeat it again.

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Click to read about the mystery behind Penis paintings on walls of Bhutan near Chimi Lhakhang

I have realized that I can’t be location independent. I realized that my fantasy was just a fantasy! When I actually tried to live my fantasy of traveling non-stop, I ended up cancelling my own trips. After being on road and in air for so long, I had realized that I do like a base to come back to. (Coz बाबा को base पसंद है). I also realized that no matter how much I love travel, it is not the only thing I want to do. I was itching to read lots of books, even newspapers (I am known for reading 2 months old newspaper even when not traveling), catch up on Bollywood and world cinema (I saw 15 Iranian films in between), meet old friends, spend time with parents and nephews and nieces. On most of my travels in this period I carried books to read. Not even once did I get time to read those thanks to my packed schedules during travel. I talk to my parents in Lucknow daily on phone since 2008, when I left home. I had to request them to hang up because I was too tired (mentally) to even talk)

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I went to a remote village Sehore in Madhya Pradesh to see how Delhi girl Sanjana Kaushik is changing lives in rural India.

Even places like Ladakh, where I had planned 16 days trip started to make me restless. Even though it was my first time in Ladakh, I was constantly craving to get back home. This, when I don’t even like Delhi or Ghaziabad, my adopted home since 1 year! I realized I started to enjoy travel less and on every travel, after a few days, there were moments when I just wanted it to end right there. Perhaps if I was a newbie traveler, I would have still enjoyed it but after having traveled to more than 150 destinations in India since 2008, most of it solo travel in shoestring budgets, I was near saturation. I didn’t want to kill travel for me and since December 2016 I took a strict sabbatical from Travel. Not very long ago (Till just a few month ago), I used to crave for such a trip. From being Fired for travelling too much in 2015 to Tired of travelling too much in 2016, I had seen a paradigm shift in my travel aspirations within a year, a bit too fast. Henceforth, my focus this year onwards is to choose my official trips carefully.

  • I don’t want to travel for more than 10 days in a month.
  • I also want to travel more and more with parents, friends.
  • That said, I realized how much I crave to go back to my original Solo Travel Style. I did manage some amazing Solo Travel experiences last year. I hope to plan some epic solo travels for myself this year.
  • I want to choose my Press Trips more carefully. I should be charged up about the destination before committing.
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Taj Balloon Festival near Taj Mahal Agra was the highlight of my trips.

This break from travel was also important because I finally shifted to my own rented apartment in January 2017. When I shifted from Navi Mumbai to Ghaziabad to stay with my brother in November 2015, I knew I would move out within a year. But I was unable to even find time to go apartment hunting because I was hardly seen at home. Much of January was spent in organizing my life and cutting the clutter. From August 2017 to January 2017 (staying at 2 of my friend’s homes) I was literally living out of suitcases and backpacks wearing the same set of clothes over and again. It was fun and challenging but also cumbersome.

Before Ladakh in September, a Media Trip to Bhutan for 10 days happened to me in August. After enjoying Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Haa Valley at leisure, I spent quality time with parents at Mussoorie and Landour.   September was marked with 16 days in Ladakh. After Ladakh, I made a solo trip to Mumbai, Bangalore and Agumbe, Ikkeri, Kaledi, Shimoga, Jog falls in Karnataka. It was a mix of flights, rickety buses and sleeper class trains. My train to Mumbai from Delhi was not even sleeper class. It was an overnight Chair Car journey in Gareeb Rath.  September was indeed my busiest month.

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Did you know about the Corn Village Bhutoli in Mussoorie? Mosaic Hotels helped me find!

By the time it was October, I had started cancelling my own travels. Never before had I stood at a railway platform with my backpack and cancelled my own tickets. As I sat in metro to Nizamuddin railway station, I was boggled by the amount of work pending. The horrific visions of messy desk and room nagged me further. Upon reaching, I just cancelled the sleeper class train ticket to Surat on my cellphone and returned back to home. I promised myself to travel to Surat next winter to sample the seasonal dishes Ponk and Oundhiyo. Never before in my life had I done something like this. I even cancelled my much awaited trip to Kolkata on Durga Pooja in October. I had wanted to do it since eons. When I was so close to realizing that dream, I cancelled the ticket myself because 1) I was tired and 2) I had so much of freelance work pending). Before this, I explored Madhya Pradesh (Satpura, Bhopal, Pachmarhi, Sanchi, Sehore and Bhimbhetka.) for 7 days. I also stayed at parents’ home in Lucknow for sometime during Diwali. I had plans to visit nearby Ayodhya, Faizabad and Varanasi but I was too tired and just wanted to chill at home and eat some comfort food made by mom. November was all about hot air balloon ride near Taj Mahal and a quick trip to Boat Festival in Goa. I almost said no to these 2 invites. But it was so tempting I had to go. This was the time when I started to slow down. In reality, my 4 month long non-stop travel thus had brief moments of rest at home, thanks to the cancellations.

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Alongwith Naropa Festival, I also attended the Ladakh Festival in Leh.

I don’t know if I will travel like this again (Though I still have some crazy travel plans) but for now I want to take it slow. Kudos to those travelers who spend months on road! Before this trip, the most I had travelled at a stretch was one month in Nepal in 2015 (Everest Base camp Trek and Kathmandu). I remember I was itching for a base even then.

It taught me that we should all understand what personality types we are and make travel plans which suit our personalities. I would love your views on this. Does the same thing happen to you as well or do you love living out of suitcases and backpacks? Do let me know in the comment section below.

This song from the Bollywood film Lootera sums up my current state of mind well.

ना उड़ने की इस दफा ठानी परिंदो ने भी वफा जानी. शिकायते मिटाने चली; सुबह बेदाग है!”

(“Having decided not to fly, even the birds learned to stay this time! I answered all the complaints; the morning is spotless now!”)

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I took some time off from Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart and went to see Sanchi Stupa. Mesmerised, I spent all day here.

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Spotting Gaur aka Bison and other wildlife at Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.