Life is good aboard the Deccan Odyssey
India. At home, my mornings start to the dull pulse of the alarm
clock. But aboard this luxury train traversing India's Maharashtra
state, they began with soft rap on my cabin door by my butler,
Harish, ready with a cup of tea. He then escorted me to breakfast
as I caught a glimpse of the rising sun through the compartment
culinary satisfaction, it was time to alight at our first stop. I
was greeted at the station platform with a garland of flowers by a
local welcome committee, to the accompaniment of live drums and
horns, and by my private guide for the day's excursion.
This is a lot for
me to absorb, a far cry from my quotidian routine, but I have no
Chugging along for
four years now, the 96-passenger Deccan Odyssey, a joint venture of
the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corp. and Indian Railways, is
India's premier train. It crosses Maharashtra, making stops at
diverse points of interest: cultural villages, historical cities,
centuries-old UNESCO World Heritage Sites and beaches along the
Arabian Sea coast.
Onboard, guests are
treated to stately cabins, gourmet Indian cuisine and exceptional
amenities, not to mention terrific views of rustic landscapes along
Sure, a visitor to
India can rough it, like the fictional trio of brothers do in
director Wes Anderson's new film, "The Darjeeling Limited." But did I mention the personal
wake-up call from my butler?
The train consists
of 44 suites in 11 cars, four presidential suites in two cars, two
restaurant cars, a bar car, a conference car with business center
and a spa car with salon and gym.
cell phones on demand, laundry, 24-hour room service, welcome
amenity kits, daily newspapers, bottled water and flat-screen
Cabins on the
Deccan Odyssey are priced from $350, double.
The following are
highlights of the seven-day trip.
Day 1, Mumbai: Attractions abound in the dizzying city of Mumbai, where I
arrived to board the Deccan Odyssey, but I had limited time to
I had a 4 p.m.
departure from Victoria Terminus station, so I made sure I cruised
the short ferry ride from the Gateway of India to Elephanta Island,
a UNESCO site that features sixth-century, rock-carved temples,
which are admired for both historic and aesthetic value.
inexpensive street markets made shopping a priority before a quick
tour of Gandhi's living quarters. Then came a ride in one of the
city's ubiquitous, vintage taxis to the train station.
After I boarded the
train, Harish showed me to my cabin. As the train set forth, I
explored the range of services offered.
Day 2, Ratnagiri: The
contrast between Mumbai's bustle and the quiet pace of Ratnagiri
was obvious as soon as we detrained, but it wasn't until I was
sprawled on gorgeous Ganpatipule Beach that I understood the
importance of experiencing the ambient side of India.
A modest fishing
village, Ratnagiri is known for its mangos and fresh catches from
the Arabian Sea as well as a coastline with miles of sandy beaches.
A wealth of entertainment was provided for train guests: camel and
horseback riding on the beach, bull-cart sightseeing through the
village and the services of a henna artist and certified
Day 3, Sindhudurg: From
Sindhudurg Nagari Station, we leisurely navigated a small, local
market to reach Malvan Jetty, the launch pad for the impregnable,
never-conquered 16th century Ocean Fort of Sindhudurg. Small,
wooden boats steered by local fishermen ferried us to the
Our group of 16 was
later shuttled to Tarkarli, a beach resort where, for approximately
$20, I received a traditional, Aryuvedic, four-hand
concluded with a visit to Sawantwadi, a small town under the World
Heritage umbrella for its Royal Palace and unique wadas (houses)
and popular for its handicrafts and performing arts.
Day 4, Goa: This city may
be a young jet-setter's paradise with its sublime beaches and
European flair, but it's also rich in history, predominantly in Old
settled Goa in the 16th century, introducing Catholicism, so it was
an interesting change of pace to visit Christian churches rather
than Hindu shrines. We explored the awe-inspiring remnants of the
Church of St. Augustine, its tower still rising high in the sky.
Nearby, the 400-year-old Basilica De Bom Jesus is home to the
remains of St. Francis Xavier.
Back onboard the
train, our locomotive ascended into the mountains, passing
cascading waterfalls that glimmered from the full moon's warm
Day 5, Kolhapur and Pune: At Kolhapur, a city dating to the third century B.C.,
Chhatrapati Shivaji's three-century rule is showcased in the New
Palace, which was converted into a museum. In the Old Palace, we
were treated to a traditional martial arts performance.
Next stop: Pune.
The train's spa was a comfortable refuge during the long haul. A
rarity for trains, the Deccan Odyssey offers a full-service spa
with a steam room.
Before dinner, we
stopped in Pune, where I dusted off my haggling skills at the
Fashion Street market, where silk scarves can be had for as little
Day 6, Aurangabad: The
farther we traveled into the heart of the Deccan Plateau, we
Americans became more "exotic" to the locals -- particularly so, it
seemed, in Aurangabad, a city that is home to Daulatabad, a
12th-century fortress that's one of the world's best
Nearby are the
Ellora Caves, a World Heritage site comprising 34 structures
excavated out of the face of the Charanandri hills. They were
carved between the fourth and seventh centuries.
popular cave is No. 34, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is the
biggest, man-made monolith structure in the world.
Day 7, Ajanta and Nashik: We rose early to visit Maharashtra's most renowned
attraction, the Ajanta Caves. These remote caves, once a Buddhist
refuge, date to as early as 2 B.C. and feature some of the oldest
paintings in the world. They remained unnoticed until 1819, when
British officers stumbled upon them during a tiger hunt.
Still entranced, we
were ushered to Nashik, one of the four ancient cities of India
(founded in A.D. 150) to admire the Sita Gumpha. The underground
caves of this temple are approximately 3,500 years old.
Sales agents for
the Deccan Odyssey include SITA World Travel (800-421-5643; www.sitatours.com), TravBuzz (877-GO-INDIA; www.travbuzz.com) and
Travel Corporation India (866-674-8687; www.tcindia.com). For
more on the Deccan Odyssey and Maharashtra state, visit www.maharashtratourism.gov.in.
contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].