The Golden Chariot – Karnataka’s luxury train
We flew down by Indigo from Delhi to Bengaloru in January 2010; the flight was excellent and arrived a little early. A car had been sent to collect us and after a while we arrived at The Leela Palace Kempinski Hotel in Bengaloru. The Leela Palace gave us a wonderful warm welcome and showed us to a sumptuous suite. This hotel has partnered with The Golden Chariot management to provide guests with a venue from which to join the train. The hotel is very lovely and we so enjoyed sitting outside eating delicious food from the buffet after which I strolled around and took photos of the hotel and its charming gardens and pool. Our car then took us to Yeshwantpur Railway Station outside Bengaloru to join the train.
A luxury train
The railway station has been improved and the welcome arranged was amusing; there is a special waiting room for the Golden Chariot guests to use with facilities. Very soon we were all assembled which took time as passengers arrived individually and en bloc for this wonderful journey; the train then drew into the station and the musicians went mad with their frenetic music and sandalwood garlands were bestowed on everyone. Finally we were invited to board the train at our specific coaches.
Passengers have a luxurious, private suite with an en suite toilet and hand basin and vanity unit plus very good heated shower. We had a queen size bed and the soft furnishings are in Indian silk with good quality bed clothes of fine cotton. There is a safe and a hair dryer in each cabin. The toiletries provided were good quality with white quality towels. Every cabin has a Plasma TV and there are 6 satellite channels and 6 DVD channels. Kumar our Personal Attendant was very attentive and looked to our needs – mine invariably dictate a good tray of tea with separate milk every morning at 06.45! Kumar provided this unfailingly for me with a lovely smile. He provided an iron and iron board for me to iron my clothes and was always there to greet us as we returned to the train after an excursion with a clean fragrant cool hand towel and soft drink. The air conditioning is good in the cabins and there is a telephone. One is very comfortable!
There are 11 passenger coaches on The Golden Chariot. Each of these coaches has been named after dynasties that ruled the State of Karnataka such has the Hoysalas or the Chalukyias. Nalapaka and Ruchi are the two restaurants on board the train. The cuisine is both Indian and Continental with an emphasis on Karnataka cuisine. The Bar is named Madira and is well stocked and an attractive place in which to meet. There is a Gym, a Spa and a Business Centre. We used the business centre ourselves and I know others enjoyed the Spa.
The journey begins
On the first night the train finally left Yeshwantpur with a long whistle which amused me as I had heard a good too many of them when staying in Nizamuddin East in Delhi. We were off and dinner called! The executive chef was a nice man who tried to provide his guests with excellent fare despite the confines of a train’s galley. No-one could consider themselves underfed on that luxury train!
The train normally was stationary at night and only travelled through one full night in the whole week, but that first night nothing prevented me from going to sleep after a long day and an early start in Delhi – years of memories of sleeping on Indian trains just clicked into place and I was out. The first day found us going round Mysore Palace after which we drove on the luxury air conditioned coach that accompanies the train to Kabini.
We had lunch at Jungle Lodges and then embarked on jeep rides. The majority of passengers stayed at Jungle Lodges but we went across the silent lake late in the evening and stayed at The Orange County Kabini which we love. I had written in the book of an earlier couple of visits to Orange County at Coorg and since then they opened their wonderful resort at Kabini. It was a pleasure to return just a year later and indeed in 2012 we were able to return to Orange County for a precious four days and also to their Coorg property which has also been substantially extended and carefully improved; these two resorts are now firm favourites with us both. Orange County and The Golden Chariot are working out an itinerary that gives a passenger days at the former to enjoy wildlife and then days on the train to enjoy the heritage sites.
People saw a good spectrum of wildlife that afternoon and we ourselves were fortunate to see wild elephants, gaur, chital, boar, Giant Malabar Squirrel, sambar. Others were lucky enough to see leopard which really excited them. In 2012 we returned to Karnataka and stayed with The Windflower Group resorts and hotels and had the excitement of seeing tiger at Bandipur whilst staying at their resort. That was a very special experience for us which I captured on digital photography. Windflower have lovely properties with good food and service in beautiful gardens and their Spas are also excellent.
Upon our return to Mysore after a morning boat ride the next day we had lunch on the train met by a smiling Kumar and then went to Seringapatam to see the heritage places that belonged to Tipu Sultan. I first visited these sites as a very small child so it was good to see them in relatively good condition. We then returned to Mysore for some potential shopping and then returned to the Mysore Palace and waited for the Light Up which was charming. People were enchanted with that and we were the only visitors at that late hour, after which we went to the Leela Mahal Palace for dinner and some Bharatnatyam dancing. This was a really good day and so back to the train. At 0600 hours the train departed the next day for Hassan and Gra and I lay in bed with our tea watching the Karnataka countryside disappearing before us. It is extremely pleasant to follow that with a hot shower and then a delicious breakfast.
Shravanabelagola is the heritage site that has close to 700 steps to experience the architectural marvel. There are palanquins available for those who cannot take the climb by themselves. I went only half way up but Gra went the whole way. Then we returned to the train for lunch and after that we departed in the coach for Belur and Halebidu. The two Hoysala temples were greatly appreciated by everyone and that made for a very pleasant afternoon’s sightseeing.
On Day 5 we arrived at Hospet at 0600 hours and after breakfast we departed for Hampi sightseeing. Hampi has been well written up by me in my book on southern India. It is the most amazing ruined site of the last great Hindu Empire – the Vijaynagara Empire. There is so much to see that frankly one day cannot do it justice, but hopefully travellers will have been given a taste of what is one of the world’s three largest world heritage sites. We first visited in March 2006 and loved it and I do recommend a visit to people who have a respect for ancient archaeological gems and early engineering. The train was a comfortable luxurious way of visiting whereas previously we had endured long hot hours in a car and a very indifferent local hotel. Orange County Resorts are planning to build a wonderful new resort with the building starting very soon – that will make this a destination to rival Khajuraho in my estimation.
Day 6 saw us depart from Hospet railway station for Badami. We arrived by 0830 hours and after breakfast were taken to see Pattadakal and then Badami. I would say that these two sites were highlights of this trip and we thoroughly enjoyed them because they are well maintained and clean which has a strong appeal to Western travellers. Moreover the Guide on this particular occasion was excellent and I told him so at the end much to his shyness!
All too soon the train was making its way to Goa and people used that part of the journey for relaxation and spa treatments and catching up with emails. On the Sunday morning the majority of passengers said their farewells but some stayed with the party for a tour of Goa and Old Goa. We did this and then ended up at The Majorda Beach Resort for an excellent lunch and lazing by the pool in the exotic gardens and a walk in the sunset on the lovely long beach – this is a hotel with which we have connections and it was lovely to be back. We took our farewells as we then went on to spend a week in a catered villa in North Goa. Others returned to the train and travelled overnight back to Bengaloru.
I hear there are plans afoot to provide the Train with a choice of routes that also encompass Tamil Nadu and Kerala; this is a good thing as it helps promote the whole of southern India. One couple who had flown in from Dubai so enjoyed their first visit to India that they intend to return and explore independently and that is what I like to hear!
I would strongly recommend this train for those who might look for comfort, travelling as a single person and a general feeling of friendship and security. Single women would be in good care and there was a good cross section of nationalities with quite a few Indians but the majority were Westerners from the UK, US, Italy and Canada. In my opinion it is sensible to finish the trip with a few days on the beaches of Goa before travelling to an onward destination.
The Golden Chariot of Hampi, that iconic amazing stone monolith is the icon for this memorable railway journey which I can honestly recommend and I feel very fortunate to have had this experience. My gallery of the trip would show you the whole six days comprehensively.