For my first visit to India, I decided to do it right. Instead of dragging it out in the hot heat and crowded streets, I opted for luxury. The reasons are twofold. One, I am three years removed from backpacking full-time. Two, I wanted to see some highlights now and decide on what to return to see more of later. The Deccan Odyssey train offers this and then some. This is my Deccan Odyssey Train Review.
Deccan Odyssey Train Review
Listed as one of the top luxury trains in the world, I sold myself on this idea and booked the pricey trip. On the positive, flying there was super cheap as it was a part of my awesome Aeroplan mini RTW ticket.
But I digress. This is all about seeing India by luxury train. What’s life like onboard? What sights do you get to see? How’s the food? Read on for my full review of the Deccan Odyssey Indian Sojourn.
The Deccan Odyssey Train
This Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn review kicks off with a look at the train itself. 21 luxury coaches, two restaurants, a conference car, a spa car, and a bar car. The interior is set to mirror a time when royalty travelled the now wobbly rails. This can be seen through its decoration and engraved wood panelling.
The restaurant and dining cars are comfortable and that is a good thing as you spend a lot of time there. All but a couple of meals are served on the train. This is a good thing as the food in this Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn review is tops, but more on that later.
The bar car was it a bit plain for my liking but is a great place to have a post-tour Kingfisher or gin and tonic.
In the conference car, you will find a collection of games and books and a small souvenir shop. This is a good spot to flip through the day’s photos while enjoying a masala chai.
Lastly, the Deccan Odyssey has a spa car that includes a hair salon, massage room, and a gym. I had intentions of hitting the gym but found the wobbly walk from the bar car to my cabin a workout. I also wanted to get a massage because, I mean, a massage on a moving train? Again, just not enough time! I did speak with a couple of passengers that skipped a tour to indulge in the spa car and they spoke highly of the service.
Rooms aboard the Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn train come in two flavours – Deluxe and Presidential. The latter is essentially two deluxe cabins with one being a living/seating area. I travelled in a Deluxe cabin and was perfectly comfortable with the bed as my lounge area. Although I wouldn’t call the rooms spacious, the slide-out cabinets offered plenty of space to unpack for the week and our luggage tucked away under the beds nicely. That said, we travel light. I would not recommend more than one suitcase per person.
Two large bottles of water, which the attendant refills daily, rest on the bedside table along with a cell phone for use while onboard. It was never clear to me if possible, but this phone would be of great use on excursions in case you get separated from the group. Nevertheless, it is a quick way to get a hold of your cars personal attendant.
The room in my Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn review includes a small desk and a TV loaded with Bollywood movies. If you have never watched a Bollywood film there is no better place to do it!
The TVs don’t have access to any sort of stations but I believe you can connect your own USB device. I Intended to test this but didn’t have time. I was very busy on my Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn review!
Other modern amenities in the room include air conditioning and WiFi. The latter was spotty but surprisingly good for a train ride. Service is best when at a major station or passing through a city.
Each cabin has a private bathroom, again with plenty of thought put into storage. Inside you will find a spacious shower, hairdryer, plush towels, and a western toilet. No squatting over the tracks here!
One word of caution, we did notice a strong sewer smell the first day. This improved as we moved but was a concern as seven days of it would have been too much to take.
Another thing to highlight on this Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn review about the rooms is there is very little downtime. This means you will find you will be spending your time in your room sleeping. There is not a lot of time to watch the scenery from your room, but that is a good thing. A big part of my love of train travel is watching the world go by. The Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn is all about getting you from A to B and seeing the highlights in-between. This means travelling at night so views of the busy train stations along the way are common.
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I’m always impressed when high-quality and well-presented dishes are pushed out of a tiny moving kitchen. I noted this in my post on the food aboard Viking River Cruises and can say that the Deccan Odyssey also succeeds in this area.
Each onboard meal service offers both a Western and Indian menu. For the most part, I stuck with the Indian menu and highly recommend you do the same. I could be swayed by my love for Indian cuisine but really, why would you go to India and have pork tenderloin or pasta?
That said, I did order off the western menu a couple of times and was by no means disappointed. I mean, how can I say no to lobster thermidor or a rack of lamb on a train??
Also, by ordering off the Indian menu I got to sample so many dishes I would never normally try. Each Thali platter includes a different curry and is always at the perfect spice level.
Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn Review Hot Tip: In India, mild spice is hot. Medium is hot-hot. Hot is forget-about-it hot.
The biggest surprise for me came with breakfast. I left the Deccan Odyssey train convinced I would go home and open a restaurant in Vancouver dedicated to Indian breakfast dishes.
Service on this Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn review is also a highlight of the trip. Guests are treated like royalty and it truly shows in the service. Elaborate welcome parties greet you at each stop and highly trained wait staff are on hand to make your trip as memorable as possible. This truly makes the experience luxury on wheels. I found myself looking forward to seeing the friendly staff on the dining car each day as well as meeting our guide at each stop.
Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn Review Hot Tip: for roughly $500 USD extra we opted for a private tour guide. This made for a much more relaxed experience and allowed us to explore at our own pace instead of in the middle of a herd. I highly recommend.
The Deccan Odyssey Indian Sojourn Stops
The Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn makes 6 stops between Mumbai and Delhi. As noted, the journey is all about getting off the train and exploring each location. Expect to be busy exploring highlights of the region of the day. Each stop on this Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn Review includes complimentary excursions as well as additional options at a cost. Here’s a breakdown of each stop, highlighted by my favourite activities.
Note: The Deccan Odyssey runs a similar itinerary in the opposite direction called the Indian Odyssey.
Day 1 – Mumbai
Close to 20 million people call Mumbai home making it the 2nd largest metropolitan areas in India and one of the largest in the world. Known to be more cosmopolitan than Delhi, Mumbai has modern shops, an impressive skyline, and is home of the Bollywood film industry.
I arrived in Mumbai 2 days prior to departure in an effort to get over jet lag and get climatized. This left a day or so to explore Mumbai’s old town. Highlights include a visit to the Gateway of India, sipping cocktails at the famous Taj Mahal Palace, and admiring the surprising amount of UNESCO protected Art Deco buildings.
READ MORE: Since 1933 Cocktail Link
Another amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site to check out is the massive Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station. It just happens to be where this Deccan Odyssey India Sojourn review kicks off. Built in 1887, its Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival architecture stood out then and stands out today!
A word of warning, although the joining instructions say the train departs from a platform 18, it is not clear that this location is down the track away from the main station. We waited for a solid 30-minutes before I took a walk and found the elaborate welcome party.
What to See and Do in Mumbai
Included Shore Excursion: None
Optional Excursion(s): City tour at extra cost.
Explore on your own: The Gateway to India and the nearby Taj Mahal Palace hotel. Be sure to the Harbour Bar for Mumbai’s signature cocktail, Harbour Bar Since 1933, a refreshing drink celebrating the cities very first bar. Other highlights include the Art Deco buildings, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station, and local markets such as Fashion Street.
Day 2 – Vadodara
With the sprawl of Mumbai behind you, the Deccan Odyssey Indian Sojourn truly begins. The first stop is Vadodara, the capital of the Gaekwads.
After a breakfast on board highlighted by fresh fruit and dosas, guests make their way to Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site is significant as it is the only pre-Mughal Islamic city in the country.
The Jami Masjid (Great Mosque) is mind-blowing, to say the least. The fact that you can roam freely around it is crazy to me. Built in 1513, this structure blends Muslim and Hindu architecture which set the trend for future buildings in India and beyond.
After a head-scratching guided tour, guests enjoy lunch onboard the train. I suggest eating light as the afternoon features a fulfilling High Tea spread.
An interesting tour through the Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum follows lunch. Originally constructed as a school for the Maharaja’s children, today it houses a collection of paintings by Raja Ravi Varma as well as marble and bronze sculptures.
Last up on the itinerary for Vadodara is a visit to the peculiar Laxmi Vilas Palace. Built in 1890 for the Royal family, it is four times the size of Buckingham Palace and is a mishmash of architectural influences. Looking across its spires and domes you can see everything from India to Turkey to London. This reminded me of the peculiar White Temple in Thailand, but with fewer Michel Jackson murals 😉
The true sense of the red carpet treatment the Deccan Odyssey rolls out shows in the floral tossing guests receive as they enter. Inside you will find more of an afternoon feast than tea along with a folk dance performance. It is a great cap to a day exploring the regions history and posh life of the royals.
What to See and Do in Vadodara
Included Shore Excursion: Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum, afternoon tea at Laxmi Vilas Palace.
Optional Excursion(s): None
Day 3 – Udaipur
Day 3 of this Deccan Odyssey Train review gets you to the country’s most romantic city, Udaipur. Known as the “City of Lakes,” Udaipur’s is surrounded by seven lakes and hills topped with palaces and historic hotels. To this day it continues to serve as a resort destination for both royalty and commoners.
The day begins with a boat tour of Lake Pichola. This gives a unique view of the city palace and a chance to visit the island retreat Jag Mandir. Known as the “Lake Garden Palace,” Jag Mandir was built as the royal family summer resort in 1551 by Maharana Amar Singh and completed by Maharana Jagat Singh nearly 100 years later.
The boat tour concludes at the foot of the famous City Palace. Known for its fretted balcony, arched windows, and dominating presences looking over the city and lake, Udaipur’s City Palace is the largest of its kind in Rajasthan. A tour of the jewels and Crystal Gallery inside follows before a demonstration on miniature paintings which the area is known for.
Last up on the day tour through Udaipur includes a stroll through a busy city market. These colourful bazar visits are my favourite part of my Deccan Odyssey Train review. It provides a chance to see day-to-day life in the most interesting and real way possible. Wandering the narrow streets you will find the organized chaos that comes with simple tasks like picking up vegetables and spices. Sitting back and watching the scooters dodge cows milling about in traffic and vendors interacting with customers is about as India as it gets.
A bonus with opting in for the private guide is the opportunity to tour at your own pace. Instead of shuffling through a tourist shop with the rest of the group we ended our time exploring Udaipur with drinks at a lakeside resort. Not a bad way to watch the sunset on my favourite day so far on this Deccan Odyssey Train review.
What to See and Do in Udaipur
Included Shore Excursion: Boat ride on Lake Pichola, City Palace visit, miniature-painting shop.
Optional Excursion(s): Beers at a lakeside restaurant *I asked our private guide for this.
Day 4 – Jodhpur
Just when I thought the palaces in India couldn’t be any grander, we roll into Jodhpur and find its dominating fort. Mehrangarh Fort is a massive complex atop a hill that overlooks the “Blue City” and its many painted house. I felt like I was in a dusty Athens, but with arguably better food 😉
The morning in Jodhpur begins with a tuk-tuk ride into the walled city. Roads are narrow and packed with scooters (and cows) so no busses here. From there, visitors can stroll through the busy stalls of Sardar Market. Its narrow alleyways are packed with people selling spices, produces, and textiles. In the centre of it all is the Ghanta Ghar, a massive clock tower only overshadowed by the Mehrangarh Fort.
After another awesome market stroll, guests are shuffled into a textile shop. Interesting sales tactics are used to push shawls and blankets. With promise and conviction that this modest shop supplies to luxury brands like Kenzo and Armani, the shop owner rolls out piece after piece. I am a pessimist in general and yet I found myself close to being swept up. It was a buying frenzy.
Scam or not, the items are undeniably beautiful and I am sure they are cheaper than you would find at home, just not cheaper than what you would find next door.
The real highlight of the day is visiting Mehrangarh Fort. With its expansive courtyards and the head-scratching detail found in its archways and halls, the architecture is as amazing as the views.
Built in the 1400s by Roa Jodha, founder of Jodhpur and ruler of Rajasthan at the time, today Mehrangarh Fort is home to one of the best museums in the state. There you will find paintings, arms, and a collection of royal palanquins – that’s a wheelless carrier for young royals. And yes, I had to look that up.
The day ends with an amazing Marwar barbecue in the royal courtyard. From here, guests can truly appreciate why Jodhpur is called The Blue City. The sun setting over the blue houses is something I will never forget.
What to See and Do in Jodhpur
Included Shore Excursion: Sardar Market visit, Mehrangarh Fort with sunset bbq.
Optional Excursion(s): Spa visit at a hotel or a visit to a Bishnoi tribal village.
Day 5 – Sawai Madhopur
Located on the cusp of the Thar Desert, Sawai Madhopur is the jumping-off point for the famous Ranthambore National Park. There, guests have a chance to spot an incredible Bengal tiger in the wild.
Before the tiger safari, guests visit a nearby village for a look into the day-to-day life of the locals. Rajasthan’s villages are mostly tribal and those living there exist on hunting and farming. Walking through the village was a personal highlight and a nice change of pace from the palaces and forts. Instead of royal possessions, we got to see brightly dressed women go about their day of herding water buffalo and tending to the kids. We enjoyed masala chai at a locals home before checking out a natural history museum.
After lunch, it’s time for a long, dusty, tiger safari. Although incredibly sceptical at first given the crowds and dust-covered everything, we ended up seeing a tiger in the wild and it was freaking amazing.
For a full recap of this experience see my post on A Hot and Dusty Day Through Ranthambore National Park. So many awesome pictures!
We celebrated our tiger sighting with high tea at the Sawai Madhopur Lodge, the former hunting lodge of the royal family of Jaipur. A favourite highlight is a magic show by “India’s David Copperfield” and watching massive fruit bats pass overhead.
What to See and Do in Sawai Madhopur
Included Shore Excursion: Village safari, Ranthambore National Park tiger safari, and Sawai Madhopur Lodge for late afternoon tea.
Optional Excursion(s): None
Day 6 – Agra
It’s pretty hard to top a tiger sighting on this Deccan Odyssey Train review but Agra certainly does just that. Once the capital of India, Agra is home to several significant and historic sights. The grandest of them all is, of course, the Taj Mahal.
Shah Jahan, the ruling Mughal emperor of the day, commissioned the Taj Mahal construction in 1632. His favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal (one of nine!) had passed during childbirth. It was the couples 14th child so I can understand wanting to honour her however as I spied the Taj Mahal for the first time though that crowded gate, I realize that the love is real and the guy wanted the world to know it. It took 22 years, 20,000 workers, and 1,000 elephants to bring this vision to life. I can confirm the attention it receives is valid. This place is amazing.
The Taj Mahal is ridiculously busy. Thankfully, guests of the Deccan Odyssey are well taken care of. Like all major sites visited on this Deccan Odyssey Train review, there is little to no waiting. After a guided tour, guests are given plenty of time to explore on their own.
READ MORE: Is Visiting The Taj Mahal Overrated?
After an incredible lunch buffet at a nearby hotel, the tour of Agra continues with a visit to Itmad-ud-Daulah. This marble mausoleum was built by Nur Jahan, the wife of Emperor Jahangir. It is known as the “Baby Taj” and is easy to see why.
The Taj Mahal drew influence from the Itmad-ud-Daulah. Although nowhere close to being as dominating of a sight, I almost preferred my visit to the Baby Taj, although it could have been the lack of crowds and selfie-sticks.
The tour of Agra concludes with a visit to Agra Fort. It dates back to 1573 and owes its red colour to the sandstone used in its construction. Aside from dozens of monkeys vowing for your attention, the highlight for me is the quarters Shah Jahan spent his house arrest in. Shortly after completing the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his third son. From the tower, in Agra Fort, he lived out his days with the tomb of his wife visible from his window.
What to See and Do in Agra
Included Shore Excursion: Taj Mahal, Itmad-ud-Daulah, and Agra Fort.
Optional Excursion(s): Market visit, marble shop.
Day 7 – Jaipur
The last full day of this Deccan Odyssey Train review is all about the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur. Known as the “Pink City,” it’s choice building colour is best on display at the Hawa Mahal, the first stop on a packed outing.
Easily Jaipur’s most distinctive landmark, the Hawa Mahal is five storeys of pink and red sandstone. Stepping inside will reveal that this is just a facade, but impressive none the less. Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh as a way for the royal women to watch the city life below, today it Jaipur’s most photographed site.
Of interesting note, the Hawal Mahal is said to be the tallest building in the world without a foundation and has over 950 windows!
The day continues with a visit to the Amber Fort, Maharaja Mansingh’s 17th-century fort overlooking Maota Lake. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a highlight of Jaipur and thus a busy tourist attraction.
Guests have the option of riding an elephant to the top however I am not comfortable with that ever since a visit to an elephant orphanage in Thailand. Have a read of my take and consider this before choosing for yourself.
We opted to drive up the windy back roads. This offered a bonus stop to a fascinating step well, Chand Baori. Built as a way to conserve as much water as possible, this 13-story labyrinth of stairs has over 3,000 steps. Its coolness factor goes beyond providing locals over 300 years worth of refuge from the heat. It has been in many films including The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It also inspired the prison set in The Dark Knight Rises.
Inside the Amber Fort, guides walk you through the sprawling courtyards and halls, explaining the artefacts along the way. Of note, the “Hall of Mirrors” is particularly interesting. Its design allows it to light up the entire room with a single lit lamp.
Post Amber Fort tour, guests make there way to Jaipur’s other UNESCO World Heritage Site – Jantar Mantar. This equinoctial sundial, the world’s largest of its kind, is surrounded by several instruments built to study astrology and time. The place is like an amusement park dedicated to the sun and is fascinating.
Adjacent to the Jantar Mantar is the City Palace of Jaipur, a massive complex of gardens, courtyards, and decorative art. It is `Instagram famous for its elaborate doorways, specifically the Peacock gate.
For me, the most interesting artefacts are the massive Gangajalis Silver Water Urns, the world’s largest of its kind. They were used to transport water from the holy Ganges River for Madho Singh II’s visit to London 1902. What I found interesting was the urns were filled with beer for the return journey…or so my tour guide said. I can’t seem to verify this but I like to believe this is true.
In the afternoon, guests have an optional spa visit and a not-so-optional tour of a textile shop. Again, the demonstrations are great. I’m just not a fan of the exit through the gift shop. We rushed through and went to a local market instead.
What to See and Do in Jaipur
Included Shore Excursion: Jantar Mantar, Amber Fort, Jaipur City Palace, and textile shop.
Optional Excursion(s): Market stroll.
Day 8 – Delhi
Delhi is where we said our sad goodbyes to the Deccan Odyssey train. Worse than having to say goodbye is the ridiculous hour you have to do it at. We had to have our bags packed and at our door at 0400 for a 0500 disembarkation from the train. This does not play well with the farewell Bollywood party the night before.
Chalk it up to the early morning departure or lack of sleep but disembarking was not smooth. There was confusion over luggage and transportation from the out-of-town railway station we stopped at. We ended up having a staff member book us an uber to our Old Delhi hotel. I would recommend you do the same. Arranging transportation ahead of time is tricky as the train is often late.
Sleepy-eyed, we made our way to Old Delhi where we stayed for two nights. I highly recommend taking a food walking tour of Old Delhi with Delhi Walks. It was by far one of my overall highlights from my time in India. That is saying a lot given the amazing train trip I just stepped off of!
What to See and Do in Delhi
Included Shore Excursion: None.
Optional Excursion(s): City tour for an additional fee.
Explore on your own: Food tour of Old Delhi!
The Deccan Odyssey Train Review Conclusion
For a first visit to India, this is an incredible way to go. The Deccan Odyssey Indian Sojourn train offers a jam-packed itinerary of India’s best sights. There is no way you can cover this much in a week on your own. With cosy cabins, amazing food, and friendly staff, it also makes for a memorable time on board.
I set out on this journey with the idea that I would return to my favourite spots to explore on my own. Instead, I am already looking into other luxury train trips around India.
Now doesn’t that just say it all?
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In exchange for this Deccan Odyssey Train Review I was provided a media rate. As always the experience, opinions, and relaxation is my own.