Monday, May 31, 2010

The Golden Chariot Luxury Train

In March 2010 Gary Tree, Sales Consultant at Kerala Connections, had the opportunity to travel on the Golden Chariot Luxury Train as part of his recent FAM (familiarisation) trip. The route included Bangalore, Mysore, Nagarhole, Hassan, Hampi, Bijapur, Badami and Goa.

Luxury trains cater for visitors only (not commuters) and offer routes that take you to places of tourist interest. At each destination vehicles (usually coaches) are laid on to take you from the train to the tourist attractions. Guests have their own en-suite cabin within the train and there is a restaurant, bar, lounge and usually a spa/gym on board. Effectively your hotel moves with you, which enables you to see a lot of places in a short space of time without the need of tiring car journeys or a lot of packing and unpacking.

The Golden Chariot recently introduced a new itinerary - the Southern Splendours which also starts and finishes in Bangalore and completes a circular loop to the south including Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry, Tanjore, Madurai, Kovalam, the Kerala backwaters and Cochin. This trip alternates with the Karnataka and Goa trip that Gary went on. For full details and departure dates please contact us.

Below is Gary’s diary about his trip. If you are interested to know more please ring Gary on 01892 722440 to discuss.

Diana Syrett
Managing Director
Kerala Connections Ltd

Gary's Diary


Traffic! That was my first impression of Bangalore. The taxi driver brilliantly negotiated the congested streets - weaving between buses, taxis and motorbikes. Finally, we arrived at an oasis of serenity – The Leela. This is a stunning property - what a hotel to start the trip from! Everything about the Leela is a “wow” - elegant corridors, lush gardens, stylish eateries and even a Hugo Boss shop (if only I had an endless supply of rupees!) After a very quick and efficient check-in, lunch was served in Jamavar, the hotel’s open air restaurant. Here, a delicious three course meal was served which provided much needed energy for the upcoming afternoon of sightseeing, and venturing back into the traffic!

The next five hours consisted of visiting Bangalore's ‘highlights’, and I have to say Tipu's Palace, Bull Temple and Lalbagh botanical gardens didn't seem to ignite the group’s excitement. The worst traffic congestion I have seen in India made the day drag, and forty five minutes in a sari emporium didn't help.

The twenty of us finally arrived at Yeshwanthpur Station at around eight pm. We headed to the busy platform, where we were taken to a waiting room. After a drink and being joined by the remaining passengers (the lucky ones who had decided against the Bangalore “traffic tour”), we headed to our coaches. Background music was provided by Indian musicians, and many Bangalore residents stood on the platform watching with interest. My coach attendant Satish was waiting by my coach (named Rashtrakuta) to show me to cabin 'D'.

It was very contained but comfortable, like a cabin on a cruise ship. As with any small room it lacks much luggage space; as I am on my own I can use the other bed to lay things out, but for a couple it would be quite cosy! The bathroom is also fine, with sufficient space and a nice shower. After freshening up and donning my 'smart clothes' I headed to the bar for a well earned G+T. Under normal circumstances, it would be a nice area to break the ice with fellow passengers, but as we had a film crew recording our every sip, it was a little disconcerting!!

The train departed from Bangalore at nine, and shortly after we set off I headed to the restaurant car. The meal was lovely, another multi-course event. The head chef visited us to check that everything was satisfactory, and advised that there is always a Continental alternative. The food is all cooked on board and the dishes are never repeated on the journey. By the time I finished my last mouthful of cheesecake it was not far off eleven, and my heavy eyelids prompted me to head back to my cabin! Shortly after, the rocking sensation stopped as the train arrived at Mysore, and at that point my head hit the pillow...


Day two started with a tannoy announcement at 8am of the day's itinerary shortly followed by a knock on the door by Satish with my newspaper and tea – could get used to this!!

After breakfast we met on the platform at 09:50. I thought I was going to be an extra in a Bollywood movie as there were lots of cameras on the platform; alas they were only shooting a promotional video for the Golden Chariot and didn't require my services!

We travelled the short distance to Mysore Palace. I have to say the Indians have no idea about queuing - unlike us well-behaved tourists who merrily stood in line at the camera counter (as cameras are not allowed into the palace), the Indians just push to the front. Right! From now on, “when in India.....” The palace is beautiful, with many stunning rooms and historic artefacts.

After battling through the throngs of locals selling bracelets, fans and musical instruments, we got back on the coach for our trip to Kabini. The two hour scenic drive takes in farmers ploughing the fields, banana plantations, paddy fields and colourful villages. On arrival at Kabini River Lodge we were shown to our rooms, which were a nice size. The property was a former hunting lodge belonging to the Maharaja of Mysore, and has retained the feeling of a bygone era. A buffet lunch was served in the open air restaurant, and you cannot believe my excitement when I spotted chips! Don't get me wrong I love South Indian food, but some good old chips are a welcome sight (and they tasted sooooo good!)

Then it was time for tiger spotting. When it comes to spotting the elusive king of the Indian jungle, I feel I am a jinx – if you see me coming towards your jeep refuse to let me on or change vehicles! I have been on six game drives with exactly nil sightings, and also whenever I am in a sanctuary it starts to rain! So yes you have guessed the outcome of the safari – no tigers but we did have some refreshing rain. In all honesty the safari was great and we were lucky enough to spot elephants, gaur, monkeys, spotted and sambar deer, peacocks, wild boar and a mongoose. On our return we were greeted by a friendly chap who served up a welcome cup of chai out on our terrace; however this had to be drunk quickly as we were soon joined by mosquitoes in the twilight!

Before dinner we had the option of watching a documentary about Kabini. This turned out to be very informative, but was not easy to hear with the domestic tourists’ children squawking and running around the film room with the camera flash going off....honestly! Spent a lovely evening at the Ghol Ghar restaurant getting to know my fellow Charioteers, who varied from a couple from Kent, two couples from Canada, a French family and a really interesting lady who is travelling around India on 80 trains ( Early to bed ready for a six o'clock start for a boat safari.


I awoke at six with the sensation of moving, and then realised that we had started our journey to Hassan. My huge amount of mosquito spray must have repulsed my cabin companion, as I had no irritating bites, thankfully!

At seven Satish brought my paper and morning tea. What a great way to start the day, sitting in bed with tea watching the Karnataka countryside whiz past the window. My start to the day could have been extremely embarrassing as in my sleepy state (not a morning person at all) I had not closed my sliding door properly. As I was happily laying on my bed the door slid open just as an Indian family walked past, thankfully I had put on the complimentary Golden Chariot dressing gown – phew, or I would have not been able to show my face at breakfast!

After what seemed a very hectic breakfast, we left the train and headed through the incredibly busy train station – a fantastic opportunity to be right in the centre of the hustle and bustle of people travelling.

Today's first stop was Shravanabelagola, after a forty five minute drive through farmland and villages. It is a colossal monolith at the top of over six hundred steps. It is a steep climb but well worth the effort (palanquins are available for those that need assistance, that's if the carriers are not on strike as they were today!). At the summit it is fascinating watching the colourfully dressed pilgrims coming here for blessings and worshiping the statues’ feet.

I always find coming down worse, don't you? After reclaiming our shoes, which I had removed according to the local custom (make sure you have socks as the rocks are hot!) and battling through the persistent postcard sellers we headed back to the coach which took us to the train for lunch. I have to say, every meal on the train has been excellent.

The turnaround time was limited and soon we were off for our afternoon session. We visited the temples of Belur & Halebid. These temples have amazing carvings and it is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the craftsmanship. At Halebid I decided to take some time out from ‘templing’ and wandered into the market town. It was fascinating to watch the jewellery sellers with their children. The thing about India I love is the people – so many smiling faces – and as they didn't hassle me here to buy anything, I bought some necklaces from the smiley lady!

Before dinner the ladies could get some Henna done, some went a bit overboard on their hands and had to wait for it to dry for a few hours which made eating dinner interesting! The train departed Hassan at eight, so we had our first experience of travelling through the night! I have to say this bit of track seems a bit bumpy, let’s see how sleep goes - or not as the case may be!


I'm so tired, got some sleep but woken by so many jolts and rattling. Not ideal preparation for a full on day of sightseeing in Hampi. Lots of coffee consumed this morning, but didn't loiter too long in the restaurant as the piped Richard Clayderman music was driving me mad.

The journey to Hampi took forty five minutes. This seems to be the average transfer time to all the sites we visit. I was surprised how green this area is. I later discovered that it is due to a dam and there are also quite a few canals in the region. Hampi really needs a few days to explore due to its size and amount of historical interest. Our condensed taster started with a small exploration of the slopes of Hemakuta Hill before we descended the rocky hillside to the Virupaksha temple. By this time a few of us decided to go AWOL and explore the vibrant and colourful market outside the archway. It was full of incense and trinket sellers and it was a great place to people watch.

Next came the lovely area which included the Lotus Palace and Elephant Stables. The heat was intense today and many members of the group began to wilt, eventually taking shelter under the purple Golden Chariot umbrellas!

The 'proper' Golden Chariot guests headed back for lunch and four hours of free time. Unfortunately, this wasn't an option for me and I had to go and look at hotels. All I will say about my four hour adventure is gridlock traffic hell, three hours in a taxi with no air-con, my water running out and finally having to walk forty five minutes in the searing heat. Like water off a duck's back for a tour operator....

….my taxi finally arrived back at Hospet station, where the afternoon sightseeing coach full of guests was ready to depart. Dehydrated, hot and probably not smelling my best I jumped on the coach.

We headed to the stunning Vittala temple which at dusk was atmospheric and a lovely place to spend time. When the sun goes down the temple is illuminated, but not before a guard makes music by banging the pillars!!

Back to the train where there was a cookery demonstration on the platform and then live music in the bar. After an interesting and exhausting day I did not last very long...


My sleep was ended by a jolt and a loud hoot at 04:15. At seven my cuppa arrived and I took my first malaria tablet ready for Goa; I am hoping that I do not get the side effects that are explained on the packet. Start to feel a bit groggy straight away! I am hoping that is due to the combination of lack of food and water yesterday and a tad too much sun (apparently it reached nearly 40 degrees.)

I am such a creature of habit; the waiting staff delivered my breakfast order - muesli and fruit - without me saying a word.

Monkeys were on the platform at Badami to greet us, they look so sweet and inquisitive – but the waiters at breakfast had forewarned us that they are monsters!

After giving the monkeys a wide berth our first visit was the fantastic Pattadakal complex. The carvings were once again amazing, and we were followed around the whole temple by two local children who were constantly smiling and enjoying the attention and photograph taking. Other things that made this complex so interesting were a bat colony in one of the dark temple alcoves, and the villagers getting their water from the local well.

We then drove through cultivated farmland and fascinating villages to Badami Caves. The caves are amazing, and the resident monkeys are great entertainment but take heed of the brilliant sign “Beware of Monkey Menace” - I saw one steal a bottle of water from a visitor and take it up the cliff face and open it! The view from the tiered cave complex is stunning, overlooking a lake where the locals are washing clothes and bathing.

We headed back to the train for one o'clock, where all the coach assistants were dressed in traditional Karnataka dress. The rest of the afternoon was at leisure. You can take advantage of the free time to get a massage, use the gym or just relax in your room watching the sunflower fields, bullock carts and small stations pass by outside. It was a lovely evening spent with many of the new friends made on the trip, and for some it was their last supper as they were getting off the Chariot at Goa.

Day 7

A leisurely start to the day with a ten o'clock departure, but as soon as we left the train's air conditioning, we could feel Goa's humidity. There was a slight delay with our coaches’ arrival, but this gave us some time to explore the nearby fish and vegetable market. Today's itinerary consisted of visiting two of Old Goa’s churches, the obligatory shop trip before getting to Majorda Beach Resort for our lunch and afternoon stop. We had several hours to relax by the pool or head to the beach, and my few hours consisted of a refreshing swim followed by some hammock time. By this stage our group had diminished as around eighty percent of the passengers got off in Goa.

We headed back to the train and it seemed strangely quiet in the restaurant car for our last meal – more than made up for by the chef’s delicious king prawns. However, today's extreme heat and malaria tablet side effects seemed to be getting the better of everyone and it was more muted than usual. The trip back to Bangalore is overnight, so I am hoping the train’s motion and rattling combined with the strange Malaria-tablet-induced dreams do not interrupt my sleep...

Day 8

...sleep was quite good actually! Had my last cuppa in bed, and then joined the other guests in the breakfast car for our final breakfast and goodbyes with the waiting staff. We arrived back in Bangalore at 11.00 and Satish collected my bags and escorted me to where my driver was waiting. All of the staff lined up next to the train for a lovely send off and after exchanging addresses and cards with my fellow Charioteers my wonderful week’s adventure came to end.

I loved my time on the Golden Chariot. The combination of great food, immaculate and friendly service, comfortable surroundings and awe inspiring sights made this a memorable experience. If you’re short of time and want to visit the highlights of Karnataka, this is the perfect way to do it!


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