Backpacking India has long been on my bucket list. Taking a luxury train in India, not so much. With every year that passed without ticking off a visit to India, the idea of navigating the country on my own and on a backpacking budget became less and less appealing. With that in mind I looked at taking a luxury train in India. It would be the perfect way to have a handheld experience and if something peaked my interest, I could always return to that area.
Although this approach was sound, there are still a few things I wish I knew ahead of time. With that here are 10 things to know before taking a luxury train trip in India.
1) You will be Treated like Royalty (and you may not like it)
First up on this list of things to know before taking a luxury train in India is how you are treated. Welcome parties greet you at every stop and if you are someone that does not like attention, this can be awkward. The separation between rich and poor in India is very clear and very visible in day to day life. Platforms are shared with locals going about their daily routine so prepare to be noticed.
I am not saying I don’t enjoy and recognize great service. The attention just caught me off guard. In the end, the performances are great and the self-awareness may just be me. As Kerri McConnel from Beer and Croissants points out, the locals do enjoy the show. They take pictures, smile and wave. No harm no foul?
We later discovered that traveling on a luxury train in India was less a draw than the colour of our skin. Locals took photos with us wherever we went and by the end of the trip it become second nature. Essentially, I’m a big deal in India 😉
2) You Will Cover a lot of Ground
Next up on this list of things to know before taking a luxury train trip in India is the simple fact that you will cover a lot of ground. This may be stating the obvious however I had no idea just how much we would cover in such little time. For the couple days I was exploring Mumbai and Delhi on my own I found out just how busy and slow moving India really is. There is no way we would have covered Mumbai to Delhi in a week on our own and saw so many highlights stress-free.
3) Views are Limited
The reason we were able to see so much of India in such little time is because the trains travel at night. The downfall to this is any thought of watching India go by while relaxing in your private room is limited to those up at the crack of dawn. If this does not describe you, your view is watching people (and cows, monkeys, and other animals) move about at the station. Although very interesting, I did see enough public urination and garbage to last a year.
Part of the reason I love train travel so much is the comfort and scenery. I would’ve liked to have known train travel in India is before taking a luxury train trip in India.
4) The Rooms are Comfy
Even if the views are missing, the rooms are super comfortable. Our room on the Deccan Odyssey was very well laid out with plenty of storage space. This meant we could settle in. Recharging after a hot day of seeing the sights was a pleasure here.
5) Expect a Rough Ride
Even though the rooms are incredibly comfortable, getting some sleep can be challenging. The luxury trains in India ride on the same rails as regular passenger trains and are not very level. This makes for a rocky ride, especially when traveling at high-speeds. Add to that the sequels from the grinding wheels and the constant horn blast to scare away sacred cows, it’s also a noisy ride. Be sure to pack ear plugs, an eye mask, and motion sickness meds if this is a concern for you.
Personally, I enjoyed the experience and slept well! The bar car did help though…
6) The Food is Amazing
Although persuaded by my love of Indian cuisine, the food onboard is so freaking good! Although Western options are available, be sure to stick to the Indian menu. I discovered new favourites to try back home, especially the breakfast dishes.
7) There will be Tourist Traps
One thing I really didn’t care about and wish I knew before taking a luxury train trip in India is the tourist traps along the way. Being a big tour group, I expected this. I did not, however, expect it at every stop along the way. Almost all the cities we visited are known for something. In Udaipur it was miniature paintings, in Jaipur it was rugs. In Jodhpur it was textiles. Each of which we were shuffled through the process of how they are made then through various show rooms.
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Besides lakes and being one of the cleanest cities in India, Udaipur is known for its miniature paintings. Once done on ivory, this mind blowing art work is meticulously painted on camel bone by hand using fine brushes made from camel eyelashes and squirrel tail hairs! Naturally, small pieces like this can take months of careful work.
Although I enjoyed some of the demonstrations, I didn’t love the process, especially since we paid for a private guide. If this is not in your interest, ask to skip these stops or have your personal guide take you to a local shop and not a tourist one.
8) You will get VIP Access to Sites
Don’t get me wrong. The tours are not all tourist traps. The positives of the group travel certainly outweigh the negatives. Since you have a train to catch each day, you are on a schedule. Visits to tourist attractions are prearranged. With that comes faster access and bypassing extremely long lines.
It also means access to areas that the general public may not get. In Jodhpur this meant the most incredible sunset meal on top of a fortress over looking the blue city. It was unreal.
9) There are Options
If you are thinking of taking a luxury train in India, know that you have plenty of options. At the time of posting this there are four luxury trains in India, each offering several different routes. I choose Deccan Odyssey for its tour through Rajasthan and the ability to get me some incredible highlights for my first trip to India. From what I have read, the Deccan Odyessy ranks lower in service than the other three. If this is true, I can’t imagine the other options as I found the service on board the Deccan Odyssey absolutely amazing!
READ MORE: The Deccan Odyssey Review
10) It’s not Cheap
Last up on this list of things to know before taking a luxury train in India is the cost. At roughly $5,000-$10,000 USD per person, it is not a cheap trip. Although I knew this in advance, I didn’t think about the clientele that comes with the price. We were definitely the youngest couple on board by a couple decades. This didn’t lighten the fun as we were often the ones leaving the bar car first and we were not the ones cutting a rug on Bollywood night!
Bonus: It’s well Worth it!
Despite the few shortcomings and things I wish I knew before taking a luxury train In India, the trip, experience, food, and sites are unforgettable. I would gladly pay the high ticket price again and would recommend it to anyone thinking of visiting India for the first or fifteenth time.
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Although this Deccan Odyssey Indian Sojourn Review was made possible through a media rate, as always the experience, opinions, and relaxation is my own.