Planet India 2, Sharing the Road & Beach


Cows have the right-of-way in India, everywhere, as this scene on a Southern Indian beach in Goa demonstrates. A new Indian Railways luxury train, the Deccan Odyssey, makes visiting this area in great comfort possible for the first time. The photo above can be clicked upon for a much larger and complete view.

By Walter & Pat Brooks

India has the world's largest train system. It's crowded and hot for most, but we traveled on an luxurious, air conditioned brand new eighteen car train exploring Maharashtra and Goa for a week. The Deccan Odyssey leaves Mumbai (Bombay) every Wednesday afternoon and transports visitors through some of the world's most exotic scenery in comfort and style..

You can not imagine the stratospheric level of service.

 


Wvisited the Ellora & Ajunta Caves

Our car passed thousands of camel carts & elephants on the journey.

In our little Hindustan sedan looked like a 1970 Renault.
We passed processions like this one of the Goddess Lakshmi, but the Taj hotels made our trip

This should be very good news for anyone contemplating a trip to this beautiful and mystical sub-continent, because it is now possible, literally for the first time, for westerners to explore a huge portion of southern India in great comfort aboard this luxury train which surpasses the famous Palace on Wheels for lavishness.

 

We were on the maiden trip of this season (this new train was launched at the close of last year). The Deccan Odyssey is the equal of any train in the world, and the level of service exceeds most if not all others.

The seven day Deccan Odyssey tour includes several exotic destinations covering the vast expanse of Maharashtra and a pinch of Goa. Starting in Mumbai, the train visits Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Goa, Pune, Aurangabad, Ajanta and Ellora.

TravBuzz is the agency to contact for further information about this exotic week long adventure. 

Luxury Unimagined Here

Right from your entry into this special world you experience the attention to detail and extravagance. This train is managed by the incomparable Taj Hotels, and the dining was the equal of any big city restaurant. The menu offered both continental and India choices. We stuck with the latter throughout our journey.

Deccan Odyssey allowed us to range far afield in interior Southern India, areas where there are no western-style hotels or restaurants. The train became our hotel, bistro, spa, beauty shop, movie theater, etc. This train has it all. 

On days when we weren't bused to exotic ruins, we were embarked on local boats for excursion down jungle rivers past small towns and villages where westerners are seldom if ever seen.

The itinerary on-line explains it all better than I can.

Delhi & Roadways

India is different, make no mistake about that. It is crowded. It is the second most populous country on earth, and will be first before long. It's over one billion citizens live in one-third the area of America. The state of Maharashtra alone has nearly half the population of the U.S., and Mumbai has over 17 million people, three times the number in New York City. 

This is also what makes India so exciting. And despite the crush, the people here are among the world's friendliest.

So we decided to see as much more of India as time allowed, and we hopped on Jet Airways, one of two excellent local airlines for the ninety minute flight to Delhi. The carrier operates much like JetBlue in the U.S.  

The nation's capital is where people come to see monuments. It's similar to a hundred other clean, modern and therefore dull cities. We wished afterward that we had used our two days here to see more of the "real" India. That's where we will take you in the final part of this series next time.

Lest you think we damn Delhi with faint praise, there is the strikingly beautiful Lotus Temple at the The Bahá'í House of Worship in New Delhi has been recognized as one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century architecture, and the Red Fort in Old Delhi is as huge as it is spectacular.

But our best memory of New Delhi is the incredible service and style of the Taj Hotel there. There were butlers on our floor, and the concierge lounge was beyond any I have experienced.  

And Delhi was where we began our adventure with Indian highways, to use the term loosely. The drives from New Delhi to Agra, and then to Varanasi and back to Delhi were among the most unnerving of my life. The idea of "one way" on a divided road is not a term which some local residents respect. It would not be an exaggeration to say that several times each hour we saw other cars saving time by scooting along the wrong way toward us, but at least they stayed on the edge of the highway. 

Don't rent a car. We had TravBuzz make all our transportation arrangements. Their drivers were always on time and waiting for us at each leg of our month-long journey. The rates are very low, and these lads are used to this uniquely Indian way of driving. This assurance is so vital when visiting exotic places, and it made for "seamless travel".  

We also urge travelers to Asia to use national carriers like Lufthansa which still offer the kind of service and attention to detail which are only distant memories for those flying American's domestic airlines. In Lufthansa's Business Class the seats become nearly as horizontal as a bed. They made our 24 hour flight a joy.  

The rest of the story:

In the first installment, A Visit to Planet India, we landed in Mumbai (Bombay) with its 17 million people, temples, and more homeless than anyone can count.. Mumbai is an enigmatic city. Originally it was a cluster of seven islands inhabited by Koli fishermen who lived on the shores of the Arabian Sea and worshiped Mumbadevi, which gave the city its name.

Mumbai is a city that never sleeps, the economic capital of India. It's a city of suburban trains, entrepreneurs, Bollywood, skyscrapers, restaurants, clubs and pubs, a city of dreams, of horse races and cricket, and a place full of contradictions. In other words, one of the great cities on this planet.

In the third and final installment we will visit the heart of India, Varanasi, and the row down the River Ganges while the bodies of the dead smolder on their pyres. Then we end our trip at the Taj Mahal and a visit to what may be the most luxurious hotel on earth, the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra followed by a final few days in Jaipur. As the old comic Jimmy Durante said, "you ain't seen nuthin' yet!"

 


India Explained
  • Over one billion people live in this sub-continent which is slightly more than one-third the size of the United States. Click on the small map on the right to see the entire country.
  • English is the most important language for national, political, and commerce and will serve American visitors well, but Hindi is the national language and primary tongue of 30% of the people. There are additionally 14 other official languages - Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese, Kashmiri, Sindhi, and Sanskrit.
  • While 80% are Hindu and worship in the countless local temples, there also 12% Muslim, 2% Christian, 2% Sikh, other groups including Buddhist, Jain, Parsi totaling about 3%.
  • The remarkable tolerance of this society is evidenced by the facts that the current Chief of State is Abdul Kalam, a Muslim. India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world dating back at least 5,000 years. Aryan tribes from the northwest invaded about 1500 B.C.; their merger with the earlier inhabitants created the classical Indian culture. Arab incursions starting in the 8th century and Turkish in the 12th were followed by European traders, beginning in the late 15th century. By the 19th century, Britain had assumed political control of virtually all Indian lands.
  • Nonviolent resistance to British colonialism under Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru led to independence in 1947. The subcontinent was divided into the secular state of India and the smaller Muslim state of Pakistan. A third war between the two countries in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh. Fundamental concerns in India include the ongoing dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, massive overpopulation, environmental degradation, extensive poverty, and ethnic and religious strife, all this despite impressive gains in economic investment and output. 
  • Among India's natural problems are droughts, flash floods, tsunamis, as well as widespread and destructive flooding from monsoonal rains, severe thunderstorms and earthquakes.


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