It may be surprising but my first visit to India was to take the Maharajas Express. Why did I wait so long?
India has been on my to-visit for so long. But I was always afraid. Afraid to hate it. I heard India was a love or hate country and many experienced travelers struggled with it. It’s sensory overload, and not everyone can handle that.
And it’s not that I’m afraid of challenging travel. Without a doubt my heart is in Latin America, which isn’t the easiest to travel. But I’ve explored so much now it’s familiar and comforting.
Yet India seemed so exotic. Unknown. I wanted to love it.
But Mariellen from Breathe Dream Go told me she believed that you don’t choose India,
India chooses you.
I shot video because I don’t have the words to properly express the experience. It’s just a feeling deep inside. It’s so hard to explain, even in video.
She knows some people thought that was a hippy dippy sentiment but I immediately understood what she meant.
I kept waiting to go to India. I knew better to travel it alone and wanted to take a tour. But I always thought I needed to be more refreshed.
Then I saw a call for the India Blog Train, Incredible India was accepting applications to host 60 bloggers across 4 trains explore India.
At that moment I knew I was as ready as I could be for India. This was an opportunity of a lifetime to travel on the Maharajas’ Express, a luxury train in India
India was calling. Ready or not, I wanted to go.
The Maharajas Express has been voted The Worlds Leading Luxury Train many times and is considered the best luxury train in the world.
But the real question is, is it worth it?
Maharajas Express Route
The eight days I spent on the Maharajas’ Express were nothing short of magical. So many people describe India with superlatives like magical, mystical, incredible and I now finally understand.
I love Latin America because of its heart and tend to explore more of it than venturing to Asia because I’ve never gotten the same feeling from countries in South East Asia.
Maybe it’s the language barrier. Somehow I always feel a distance. Always a stranger. But in India there is an energy here that I’ve never experienced anywhere.
But let’s get down to the specifics first.
The Maharajas Express Train Route: 7 nights/8 days
Day 1: Delhi
Day 2: Jaipur – Amber Fort, lunch at Jai Mahal Palace
Day 3: Ranthambore and Fatehpur Sikri – Ranthambore National Park, Fatehpur Sikri deserted Mughal City
Day 4: Agra and Gwalior – Taj Mahal, Champagne Breakfast at Taj Khema, Gwalior Fort, Saas Bahu Temple, Jain Cave Sculptures
Day 5: Khajuraho – Khajuraho temples
Day 6: Varanasi – Silk Weaving Centre, Sarnath Ruins and Museum, Evening Boat Ride on the Ganges
Day 7: Lucknow – Bara Imambara, Chota Imambara, Rumi Darwaza and Residency, “Indian Evening”
Day 8: Breakfast on board then departure
Maharaja Express Interior
A Maharaja is the sanskrit title for a ruler, similar to what we would know as a king or prince. And the experience on the train is meant to represent the luxury and service a Maharaja would enjoy.
It was introduced in 2010 as the luxury train in India to rule them all. Although there are other luxury trains in India (I list them at the bottom of this post with links) this is the most modern train in India and considered to have the best food.
And let’s face it, I’m all about the food.
The Maharajas Express Luxury Train by the Numbers
There are seven routes that visit 12 destinations in northwest and central India. There are 23 train cars including 14 guest cars, 2 restaurant cars, 2 bars and the train can host a maximum 88 guests.
Two lavishly decorated restaurants are at the centre of the train with two lounges on each side and then the rooms. The windows aren’t completely shaded so during the day people can see inside and many are curious.
But a smile and a wave goes a long way.
There are four cabin classes to choose from, each more expensive than the next:
- deluxe cabin
- junior suite
- presidential suite
Space is at a premium but I had a junior suite to myself and it was plenty of room. My room was two twin beds but there is an option for a double bed for couples.
The biggest surprise was that the washroom is reallly spacious. Normally I’m not fussed about washrooms but I was surprised just how much space we had. The junior suite is similar to the deluxe cabin but includes a seating area and desk, perfect for working.
As no one booked the presidential suite on my trip there were only 22 cars on my trip as the presidential suite is an entire car and comes with a luxurious price tag of more than $20,000 USD.
It’s a memorable experience from the beginning. A warm welcome to music, flowers and dancers and staff lined up waiting to take you aboard. Someone places a bindi on your forehead and gives you a silk scarf to begin the trip as you walk the flower petal lined red carpet.
This first class treatment continues at each station as we were treated to more gifts and more performances. Getting off the train is an event in itself.
The Maharajas Express Butler
Every room has its own butler. I shared mine with Terrence and Victoria from Follow Me Away who were next door.
We agreed that our butler, Raju was likely the best as we adored him. The butler is there to ensure that you have a great time. He also sleeps at the end of the car so he’s never far away.
He gave me a wake up call and brought chai masala tea to my room each morning, mailed a postcard for me, ensured I knew when and where I was supposed to be. I felt likely uncomfortable having a butler, and one that called me ma’am so I insisted he called me by name.
But he was sweet, friendly and worked hard to ensure we were happy – even offering to call IT when my wifi wasn’t working well. But hey we’re traveling on a train in rural India, I don’t need IT, I’ll take it as a sign to just write in my journal and look out the window.
Food and Drink on the Maharajas Express
Lunch is often eaten off the train at one of the Taj Hotels after an excursion with most of the dinners on the train while it is moving. There are two dining rooms, the Mayur Mahal or the Peacock Palace and the Rang Mahal known as the Palace of Colours with gold edged plates.
Food and all drinks, including alcohol are included in the Maharajas Express fare. Many guests have a cocktail before or after dinner in one of the lounges and and it’s a great place to socialize.
Although many people were on romantic holidays I found after day 4 they were keen to meet others.
I spoke to Chef John Stone and he said the worst thing to happen is for someone to get sick and miss out on the activities. Everything is washed in purified water, the meat is imported and the vegetables are organic.
The menu changes daily and has a nice balance of familiar “western food” like fish and chips and a daily Thali for people like me who come to India to eat local food. Although the default spice is mild, it’s possible to ask for spicier.
Keeping in mind that many of the passengers are often retirees and often have a conservative palate I appreciate the challenges. Although I don’t want to eat chicken in red wine sauce in India, I saw many of the passengers order simple, non-spicy food.
I also appreciated that they offered typical street food dishes for dinner at the Jai Vilas Palace Compound. I know many passengers wouldn’t even think of dream of taking my Old Delhi street food tour and this gives them a more comfortable opportunity.
Health on the Maharajas Express
There is a doctor that travel with the Maharajas Express who is available 24/7 at no additional cost.
While I didn’t get sick there were a few other guests who did not feel well. I recommend coming a few days early to deal with jet lag, acclimate to the heat and eating in a different time zone.
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Staff were very concerned about guests health and the chef would make special broths and simple meals for those who were still adapting to travel in India.
Sleeping on the Maharajas Express
Most of the time the train moves in the evening, including when you sleep. I loved the rolling movement and found it helped me sleep. A few found it noisy and uncomfortable. A good set or ear plugs or noise canceling headphones would help with that, as well as some melatonin.
Is there Internet on the Maharajas Express?
There is wifi on the Maharajas Express. Each car has its own router and the password for all cars are the same so it’s easy to connect.
However, as it’s a moving train wifi can be spotty or non-existent at times, especially traveling through rural areas. But overall it was much better than I expected and although I couldn’t upload video I could do everything else.
Highlights on the Maharajas Express Train Schedule
The Maharajas Express train route hits many of the major tourist sites in northern India and was perfect for me to get acquainted with the country.
The crew and tour guides were so kind. I felt safe to explore and get my bearings in a culture I had no experience with. I learned so much and feel much more comfortable about visiting India again.
The Taj Mahal
Although I did not see the Taj Mahaj until the fourth day I share it first because it was nothing short of amazing. I’ve written about managing expectations for world sites, I know people are disappointed that Machu Picchu didn’t change their life and the pyramids can be underwhelming.
But the Taj Mahal is everything you want it to be.
It’s massive. It’s beautiful. And the story is epic. My only disappointment is that we only spent a few hours there and I needed much more time to appreciate all of it.
Jaipur and The Amber Fort
This day made me realize that the Maharajas’ Express isn’t just a tour where you’re removed from spontaneous moments that make traveling so special.
Jaipur is known as the Pink City. Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales visited the city in 1876. In preparation Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur painted the entire city pink as it is the colour of hospitality and there was no better way to welcome his guests. To this day it remains pink,
On the way to the Amber Fort there was traffic congestion from a Lord Krishna procession and our guides allowed us to jump out to check it out. It was one of the most special moments as we were in the height of it all and people there were full of smiles to see us too.
Then on the way to the Amber Fort there was more congestion and so we decided to walk up the hill through the villages to the fort. We met people along the way, along with more than a few goats.
Most famously known for its small tiger reserve, we set out just before dawn to try to spot these nocturnal animals.
We did not see any.
But I still loved the morning. We saw antelopes, wild boars, deer, peacocks and monkeys. The landscape went from dry to jungle-like. And it was so exciting when our guide saw a tiger footprint and heard the birds sending a warning call that a tiger was close and we went flying through the park trying to find it.
But maybe the best part was getting out into an open area where tigers don’t go and seeing all the other animals on the open plain. We didn’t see a tiger but I don’t think it’s necessary.
I had never heard of this city before but I immediately knew one day was not enough.
With a population that is 60% Hindu and 35% Muslim population, they’ve always lived in harmony and have never had conflict.
This is one of 30 imambaras in the city built by Shia Muslims. It’s not a mosque but a hall for gatherings. Not only will Muslims attend but Hindus are welcome as well.
Covering your hair isn’t mandatory but it is a sign of respect. However, you must take your shoes off.
Visiting the most holy of regions in India, the Ganges of Varanasi was an experience I’ll never forget. At dusk tourists flock to different sized boats to witness the cremations along the banks. But funerals, no matter how exotic, as a tourist experience, leaves me feeling uncomfortable.
I really appreciated that we viewed from a distance and our guide asked us to respect the families and the ceremony as we were closer and not take photos.
We then moved onto the Ganga Arti ceremony held nightly where monks say thank you and goodnight to Mother Ganga.
This sounds like it could get hokey quite easily but was one of my favourite parts of the Maharajas Express train.
The last evening you return and there is an Indian sari on your bed (men also have traditional dress). Staff come by and help you assemble the sari which isn’t so easy as it’s only one piece of material! I cannot imagine how women dress themselves in this every day.
With just a bit of daylight left we ran outside to take photos with the train before dinner. Afterwards, we all went to the Safari bar car to dance. However, as it was a bunch of firangis we only knew a few moves like twist the lightbulb and pet the dog.
Somehow we cajoled the staff who had worked all week to also give us a dance lesson and it was one of the most memorable. Luxury service is formal and it was a brief moment when everyone let their guard down a bit. The men showed us their best moves and at one point I thought we were going to have a dance off.
Maharaja Express Fare
Maharahas Express prices in 2018 and 2019 for the week long tour begin at $6840 USD per person for a deluxe cabin and climb to $23,700 for the presidential suite.
However, there are also shorter 3 day/4 night trips on the train that begin at $3850 USD per person.
It’s worth shopping around with a great travel agency as prices vary per tour operator and there are many deals, for example some are offering 50% off the companion fare. Friends can also take advantage of this too as the room can have two smaller beds instead of one.
The price includes accommodation with a private butler, all food and drink, including a well stocked bar. Transportation to locations and local guides and entrance fees.
Many of the people on our train were older as this is a luxury train in India and not suited for backpackers. However, considering the price of a regular package tour to India the Maharajas Express fare is great value for what you get.
There are several itinerary options and if you’re hesitant to take the full eight tour there are also 4 day options:
- Indian Panorama: 8 days
Delhi, Jaipur, Ranthambore, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Gwalior, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Lucknow, Delhi.
- Indian Splendor: 8 days
Delhi, Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Balasinor, Mumbai.
- Heritage of India: 8 days
Mumbai, Ajanta, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Jaipur, Ranthambore, Agra, Delhi
- Southern Sojourn: 8 days
Mumbai, Ratnagiri, Goa, Hampi, Mysore, Ernakulam, Kumarakom, Trivandrum
- Southern Jewels: 8 days
Trivandrum, Chettinad, Mahabalipuram, Mysore, Hampi, Goa, Ratnagiri, Mumbai
- Treasures of India: 4 days
Delhi, Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur, Delhi
- Gems of India: 4 days
Delhi, Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur, Delhi
Other Luxury Trains in India
The Maharajas Express is considered the best luxury train in India but it is not the only one. There are several others that are less expensive and travel different routes throughout India.
What to Know Before You Visit India
How to get a Visa in India
Most countries are eligible for India’s E-Tourist Visa, which can be completely online relatively quickly. Make sure you go through the government site or you’ll be unnecessarily charged additional fees.
How to Get Indian Currency
Although I usually get money out from the ATM at the airport, India is often flagged with ATM transactions. The first time I tried it was rejected and I had to call my bank to confirm that I was in India – even though I had called in advance to let them know so this wouldn’t happen.
If you can get enough rupees to get from the airport to your hotel wile you’re at home it’s worthwhile. If you don’t have access you rupees bring a bit of money to exchange at the airport but not too much as it’s a horrific exchange rate.
Is the Maharahas Express Price Worth It?
The colours, the flavours, the people. India seems exotic but at times you realize you are the one who is exotic in a land that warmly welcomes you as a guest.
It was such an incredible time I feel foolish for not coming sooner. I would absolutely recommend the Maharajas Express for anyone who also had the same hesitations.
As for India?
I do know one thing. Now that I’ve experienced once, I will be back. There’s so much to see.