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.
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 BahÃ¡'Ã 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!"