A train fit for Maharajas

The whisky-wallah poured out our Red Blazers. Arthur made the toast. “To the POWs!”

We chinked and swallowed, shuddering simultaneously.

Arthur then tempted me with a Black Dog. Neither of us trusted the ice. And both said a polite but stern “No” to the fish finger canapes. Our eyes watered. “Indian whisky’s an acquired taste. It’s a real culture shock,” observed Arthur, a “semi-retired” Kiwi GP. And stubbornly not Art or Arty.

We were on a moving palace and making our way through the Rajasthan night and the top shelf of the train’s bar. The “khidmatgars” or personal attendants hovered. India’s “Palace on Wheels” has the reputation of being one of the most luxurious “escorted” train journeys of the world. It runs throughout the year but takes a break from May to July. The journey departs from and returns to New Delhi’s Safdarjung station.

The seven-day, quite-a-lot-of-money, “week in wonderland” trip around “man-made marvels and the wonders of nature” is further described in the official guff as “a splendid and enchanting royal journey through the bygone era of the erstwhile Maharajahs”.

Passengers are given a welcoming “arrival kit”, comprising a garland of wilted marigold petals, six postcards, no stamps, a fetching sandalwood paste dot in mid-forehead and a complimentary turban. As well as an option on a Dutch wife. The third eye is an Indian custom. The turban is a red handkerchief stapled very cleverly to a brown paper carrier bag which means it will keep its shape even if you fall asleep in it.

The Dutch wife is an optional, body-length pillow used as a his-or-hers bed bolster. Travelling through the night in “plush” berths complete with en suite (“attached”) toilets and “luxury geysers” (showers), you wake up every morning to a new city and a new scrum of hawkers. Everyone wants to see the legendary “Palace on Wheels”. Meeting it is a social occasion. Selling worthless things to those on board is a time-honoured custom.

And a respectable way of making a living. The passengers of the 14-carriage “Palace on Wheels” are called “POWs”. Everyone rolls out the carpets. Especially the owners of the state-run handicraft shops that seem an integral part of every day’s sightseeing itinerary. The Palace is further billed as “an extraordinary train for extraordinary people”.

Read the full report here, New Zealand Herald


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