First Published on March 8, 2017
The first time I discovered luxury trains was when I read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. I was extremely fascinated with the whole train scene that for the first time I paid more attention to the description in the novel rather than the plot. Since then, I have devoured all possible articles and references to Orient Express, Palace on Wheels, Deccan Odyssey and the Golden Chariot. I always wanted to travel on one of these, and thanks to the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation, I finally managed to get onto the Golden Chariot.
Before I embarked on the Golden Chariot, I wondered what it would be like to stay on this train? How would they take us to places like Mahabalipuram that had no railway stations? What would the coach rooms be like? Would they have a dining car just as they described on the Orient Express? I wouldn’t be surprised if these questions are running through your head. Frankly, the best way to answer these, would be taking you along on my experience with the Golden Chariot. So, without much ado, let’s chug away!
About the Golden Chariot
The Golden Chariot is operated by the Karnataka State Tourism board, who in turn, have got Mapple hotels to manage the same. It has won Asia’s leading luxury train award. It currently, operates on two circuits –
- The Pride of South that runs from Bengaluru to Goa and covers destinations like Mysuru, Hampi and Badami along the way
- The Southern Splendor which covers three states – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and takes you through the best in each of these.
These tours are for a duration of 7 nights and 8 days and run every fortnight. I had the fortune of being on the 2nd route that took me from Bengaluru through Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Puducherry, Thanjavur, Trichy, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Kovalam, Alleppey, Kochi and back. While each of these destinations is marvelous, it is the train journey that became the highlight of this travel for me – starting with the grand welcome.
Grand Welcome at the Golden Chariot
The first welcome that you get is when you arrive at the Taj West-End Hotel in Bengaluru. While the primary aim was to check-in the guests and brief them about the tour, it is here that you get the first taste of their hospitality. A small glimpse of what is to come is accompanied by a cultural show. From here, you are transferred via a coach to the train waiting at Yeshwantpur station.
A royal welcome awaits you here with garlands and trumpets. And quite like the Maharajas of yester-years, you are welcomed into the Golden Chariot.Take a look at this Facebook Live video of my own welcome.
Coaches of the Golden Chariot
What awaits inside is just quite unlike a train. The decor within is nothing short of a royal palace. The best part is that each coach of the Golden Chariot is different. Each one is named after the famous dynasties of South India – Chalukya, Vijaynagara, Adilshahi etc. The decor within the coach matched the architectural style of that era. From the carpet to the ceiling and the soft furnishings, each part of the interior added to the whole royal feel of the train.
Each coach had the butler’s cabin at one end and a small sitting area at the other. There were just 4 cabins or rooms within each coach – with either a double bed or a split bed arrangement.
The Rooms in Golden Chariot
My room was in the Adilshahi coach and once the door to it slide open, I was in awe. The whole room looked no less than one that you could find in a luxury hotel. Comfortable beds, warm lighting, lovely wall pictures, a little wardrobe and side table….what more would you need?
Each room has an attached bathroom that has a small shower area and 24 hours of hot water. The bathroom is also, well stocked with towels and toiletries. With all this, there was no doubt that this was a hotel on wheels.
Facilities on board the Golden Chariot
Within each room, there is a small TV where you can see Movies on Demand. WiFi is restricted to the bar and restaurant area and does not reach the room. However, through the journey, I had an excellent mobile data connection. So, staying connected is not an issue.
The Golden Chariot has a special coach called Arogya (literally meaning health) that has a small gym and a spa. You will also, find a mini business center here, in case you wish to send some urgent emails or need a desktop.
Restaurants and Bar
The Golden Chariot has two restaurant coaches – Ruchi and Nalapakka. The menu on the train is fixed but you will realize that you are not restricted with your choices even within the fixed menu. You have a lovely blend of Indian cuisine with Continental and that honestly, covers it all. The chef accommodates any special diet requirements you may have. Every meal time, you will find him walking through these coaches and talking to the guests to make them comfortable.
For me, the desserts every night were just heavenly. And then, the morning breakfast with fruits, a cheese platter and the Indian specialty of the day had me set for a complete day out at the destination.
The Golden Chariot also, has a bar called Madira (meaning Alcohol in Hindi). The bar is a central meeting point in the morning but transforms into a lounge by evening. It is perfect for the end-of-the-day glass of wine or just for a game of chess with your travel mates.
The hospitality of the staff
The one thing that made my experience on the Golden Chariot perfect were the ever-smiling staff. Every coach has a dedicated butler who caters to all your requirements within your room. Besides this, the head waiter and his crew ensure that you have tried every possible specialty on their menu. They feed you till you plead full.
The tour manager and his crew never leave you unattended while you are on your tour and every special request is catered to their best abilities. Honestly, without this entire crew, the Golden Chariot experience for me would not be what it was.
Visiting the destinations on Golden Chariot
Here is what will answer your question on what if the destination like Mahabalipuram did not have a train station. Part of the journey on the Golden Chariot is on a luxury travel coach. The buses are quite comfortable and await you at the main railway station. So where you cannot go by train, you travel by bus.
At every destination, you will be greeted by an experienced tour guide. He takes you through the details of various sight-seeing places and helps you understand the same better.
However, your end of the day is always on the train. This is to say that once we were done with our day’s itinerary, we boarded the train back either at the same railway station or at the next one. For example, we disembarked at Alleypey for the backwaters and then traveled to Kochi by the luxury coach to board the train back there. The coach travel is not more than 1-2 hours and is during the day only. During this travel, WiFi is available on the coach and you can well do your social sharing on the go – just as I did 🙂
My views of the Golden Chariot
The key advantages of the Golden Chariot are –
- The unique luxury experience of a train
- Essentially you are combining your sleep time with your travel time as the train moves mostly at night. This means that you are effectively using more time at the destinations you visit instead of traveling during the day.
- A pre-planned and a well-managed itinerary
- Amazing food throughout the journey
However, having said that, I would warn you that there were two things that I feel could cause a bit of discomfort for a few travelers. If you are deep sleeper, then the night travel will not bother you but if you are a light sleeper, then the natural jerks of the train could cause a bit of a discomfort. The second is that you need to be mindful of the time constraint at certain destinations. This again is unavoidable as the train needs to be boarded on time and there are only that many hours during the day.:-)
There is no doubt that a trip on the Golden Chariot is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It allows you to see the best of the unexplored South India in a really luxurious manner. I can assure you that I was completely spoiled for that one week that getting back home was a shock. I mean, no one would pamper me anymore – right? I am sure you too, would not mind being spoiled for that one week while you visit the best of South India on the Golden Chariot. For now, treat yourself to this video of my journey through the train and don’t forget to pin the image below that on your board as a reminder to try it out yourself.
- You can get more information on the Golden Chariot tour, its rates and schedule on this website. You can even book through this site.
- Stick to the itinerary time to get the maximum out of your destination. Do not get late as it will delay the rest of the guests too.
- Light cotton clothes would do for most of the destinations. Carry enough sun-screen for your day sightseeing. Flat shoes are recommended on all days as there is plenty of walking.
- At the temples, please avoid half pants, shorts and sleeveless tops. The Golden Chariot crew will also, advise you against the same. For more tips on visiting Hindu temples. you might want to read this.
- The Golden Chariot team hands out temple socks at the venue so that you can walk comfortably without shoes.
- The Golden Chariot team asks you not to tip any individual but to add your tips to the gratuity box at the bar so that it may be distributed equally. Kindly stick to the same.
- On long days when you are out sight-seeing, the Golden Chariot team offers snacks and cold drinks within the bus coaches. Alternatively, you can request them to stop at a shop for you to grab some for yourself.