This article was first published in March 2018 and updated in December 2019.
Can you think of a better way to explore India than on a Luxury Train? I cannot. Regal train cars, silverware, butlers, red carpets and royal sights. Luxury trains in India are the epitome of travel in the sub-continent and the best way to see the country, much like the Wes Anderson movie about India Darjeeling Limited, but fancier.
Whether you pick the Maharajas Express train or the Palace of Wheels you are definitely in for a real treat. If you are looking to board the world’s most luxurious trains with the highest level of comfort and for the most affordable prices, read on to find out what the best luxury trains in India are.
The history of luxury trains in India
Train travel has a long history in India where the tracks were laid by the British over a century ago. With such vast territory and the trade interest of the global powers in the 18th and 19th century firmly on the East, rail tracks were the most efficient and fastest way to move merchandise and spices onto the ships that would take them back to the West.
The first commercial train journey in India connected Bombay with Thane and took off in 1851 although the first train actually ran two years earlier. At the time, the tracks were owned by the the British overseas government or the regional rulers, like for example the Maharaja of Jodhpur.
Nationalisation began in 1925 and was fully completed after independence, when the government took over all of the remaining lines and re-structured them creating new ones and regrouping or laying new tracks in portions that were then in newly created Pakistan.
Today, as indicated by the Indian Railways knowledge portal, “the Indian Railways manage 65,436 kilometers of tracks, employ 1.3 million people and runs around 19,000 trains daily, of which more than 12,000 are passenger trains, serving 8.4 billion passengers every year”.
So what about luxury trains in India, how did it all start?
The first luxury train to start operations in India was the Palace on Wheels in 1982 which is why most people who have heard of luxury trains in the country will immediately tell you about The Palace on Wheels and may have never heard of any of the others. However, palace on Wheels is not the most luxurious, The Maharajas Express is definitively the most exclusive and highest end luxury train in India although Palace on Wheels was renovated in 1999 and revamped in 2017 again.
Today, there are four luxury trains covering India:
- The Maharajas Express
- The Palace on Wheels
- The Golden Chariot
- The Deccan Odyssey
The best luxury trains in India
Although all the Indian luxury trains are similar in a lot of ways, they are not entirely the same so let’s take a look at each of them first then with a comparison of all the luxury trains in India.
Palace on Wheels
The train was launched in 1982 as a means to promote the state of Rajasthan by putting back to use the carriages of the rulers of princely states of Rajputana, Gujarat, the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Viceroy of British India whose trains were abandoned after Independence.
The train was subsequently renovated in 1996 when ensuite bathrooms were added and revamped again in 2017 with new carriages being added with larger suites.
The Palace on Wheels luxury train is the best known of all the luxury trains in India although not the most luxurious. It has been awarded a lot of accolades and is renowned the world over.
Cabin categories and facilities onboard the Palace on Wheels
Although the original Palace on Wheels has only one category of cabin, the revamped one also includes a second category of Super Deluxe cabins which are larger and have double beds.
These cabins also come with their own driver and guide so guests do not have to join the group bus. This was previously only offered on the Maharajas Express.
Onboard, there are two restaurants and one lounge car, a spa and a small gym. Food served is thali style with six small bowls filled with protein of vegetables served with pickles, rice, poppadoms and breads.
Routes and itineraries on the Palace on Wheels
Routes of the Palace on Wheels are usually 7 nights long, departing and returning to Delhi, but you can also buy tickets from Delhi to Jodhpur only for 5 nights. The traditional route covers most of Rajasthan, as it did from its launch.
The itinerary of the Palace on Wheels starts in Delhm, Jaipur, Ranthambhore (which is where people come for an Asian safari to see the endangered Bengal Tiger), Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatphur, Agra, Delhi.
Check out this review of the Palace on Wheels by Love and Road.
The Maharajas Express is the epitome of luxury train travel in India. It is the most exclusive and luxurious of all the four luxury trains and offers real comfort in its premium cabins, especially the Presidential Suite which includes two bedrooms and occupies an entire car. The premium category cabins are unique to the Maharajas Express although the newly revamped Palace on Wheels also has a higher category room.
I traveled on the Maharajas Express journey from Mumbai to Delhi a few years ago and it was one of the most fabulous trips I have ever undertaken. You can read some of the things which surprised me with these facts about the Maharajas Express and these extravagant Maharajas Express experiences.
That itinerary is highly recommended as it provides the main highlights of what is India’s most beautiful state all while enjoying true regal hospitality that only a luxury train in India can provide.
The Maharajas Express may not have been the first luxury train in India but it certainly is the most awarded. It has received several accolades and been covered in major publications and for good reason, as it is an exclusive way to explore the country.
The Maharajas Express is owned and managed by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC), the tourist arm of the Indian railway company, a government owned entity.
Cabin categories and facilities onboard the Maharajas Express
The Maharajas Express has four cabin categories. The Deluxe cabins have double beds and are 120 square feet. They can also be set as twin share.
The Junior Suites are 150 square feet and can also be set as twin or double. They are larger than the deluxe cabins.
Suites are 220 square feet and have their own minibars, lounges with desk tables and sofas and a bathtub, that’s right, a bathtub onboard a luxury train! Suites have their own private transport and guides when on tour.
Lastly, the largest of all the cabins in any luxury train in the world. The Presidential Suite onboard The Maharajas Express is real decadence. They are 440 square feet and come with two rooms and bathrooms, so they are perfect for families. The Presidential Suite also has a lounge area, a personal butler and dedicated any language private guide and car for the daily tours.
The train has two restaurant cars, two bars, a shop, a gym and a spa. Prices start at $3,850 for the shorter 3 night trips and $5,850 for the 7 night trips per person sharing and can go all the way up to $27,000 for the Presidential Suite accommodating 4 people.
Routes and itineraries on the Maharajas Express
The Maharajas Express offers several itineraries and has recently launched two itineraries in the southern part of the country. These are all of the routes:
- Mumbai – Ajanta – Udaipur – Jodhpur – Bikaner – Jaipur – Ranthambore – Agra – Delhi
- Delhi – Agra – Ranthambore – Jaipur – Delhi
- Delhi – Jaipur – Ranthambore – Fatehpur Sikri – Agra – Gwalior – Khajuraho – Varanasi – Lucknow – Delhi
- Delhi – Agra – Ranthambore – Jaipur – Delhi
- Delhi – Agra – Ranthambore – Jaipur – Bikaner – Jodhpur – Udaipur – Balasinor – Mumbai
- Mumbai – Ratnagiri – Goa – Hampi – Mysore – Ernakulam – Kumarakom – Trivandrum
- Trivandrum – Chettinad –Mahabalipuram – Mysore – Hampi – Goa – Ratnagiri -Mumbai
The itineraries from Mumbai to Delhi or viceversa are some of the best ways to see Rajasthan and they are exactly what I experienced on that first trip to India. I loved visiting the Tipu Sultan Summer Palace in Mysore as well as the extravagant Mysore Palace.
How to book the Maharajas Express: This is the official Maharajas Express website, do not be fooled by all the others who impersonate the official site, this is the only official site so book direct http://www.the-maharajas.com/.
The Deccan Odyssey train is focused mostly on the Maharashtra State of India of which Mumbai is the capital and is managed by a joint venture between Cox & Kings and the Indian Railway Corporation, IRTC.
As mentioned before, the first ever train departed from Mumbai and that is also where the central railway authority of India is based, so it is an historic part of India. The Deccan Odyssey offers a different route to some of the other trains with interesting stops like the vineyards of Nashik or the beaches of Goa.
Cabin categories and facilities onboard the Deccan Odyssey
The Deccan Odyssey has 21 coaches and 11 of them are dedicated to the guest cabins. There are two restaurants, a bar car, a spa and a gym and there is even a conference cabin for your business needs.
Routes and itineraries on the Deccan Odyssey
The Deccan Odyssey has a few varied routes covering very different parts of the country, some of which start and end in Mumbai while others end on Delhi. This is the list of journeys:
- Treasures of Gujarat: Mumbai, Vadodara, Palitana, Sasan Gir, Little Rann of Kutch, Modhera, Patan, Nashik, Mumbai
- Maharashtra Splendour: Mumbai, Nashik, Ellora Caves, Ajanta Caves, Kolhapur, Goa, Sindhudurg, Mumbai
- Indian Sojour: Mumbai, Vadodara, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Agra, Sawai Madhopur, Jaipur, Delhi
- Jewels of the Deccan: Mumbai, Bijapur, Aihole and Pattadakal, Hampi, Hyderabad, Ellora Caves, Ajanta Caves, Mumbai
- Indian Odyssey: Delhi, Sawai Madhopur, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Vadodara, Ellora Caves, Mumbai
- Maharashtra Wild Trail: Mumbai, Aurangabad, Ramtek-Pench, Tadoba, Ajanta Caves, Nashik, Mumbai
As you can see, the Deccan Odyssey is a good option if you want to visit some of the remote parts of India which receive few tourists, like Gujarat, or combined some of the most diverse historical trails onboard the Jewels of the Deccan which visits parts as old as Ajanta Caves with Hindu UNESCO listed sites like Hampi or Pattadakal and Mughal strongholds like Hyderabad. This would be an itinerary that would provide very different insights into several historical times in India’s history.
Deccan Odyssey’s wild trail itinerary focuses on wildlife and visits a few of the country’s best wildlife reserves.
Check out this review of the Deccan Odyssey by Journey Wonders.
How to book the Deccan Odyssey: This is the official website of the Deccan Odyssey, make sure to book direct to secure the best prices https://www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com/trains/deccan-odyssey/.
The Golden Chariot train is owned by a joint-venture between the Karnataka Tourism Authority and the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC) and managed by Maple Hotels and Resorts. I loved visiting the gorgeous Temples of Pattadakal in Karnataka.
The train is touted as the only luxury train in the south of India but actually the Maharajas Express also launched two routes in the south in 2017 and the Deccan Odyssey also runs some journeys through some of the southern states. It is true that the Golden Chariot is indeed focused on the south and has the more comprehensive itineraries, plus the teams are firmly anchored in Karnataka.
The train is perhaps the least luxurious of the four luxury trains in India, although it still is perfectly comfortable and luxurious but there are some small details that make it a small notch below the rest. Alcohol is not included in the rates, every deboarding happens independently without the red carpet performances of the Maharajas Express and there are no premium cabins or private car + driver options. These are all elements which do not deter from the experience but provide a slightly more affordable choice.
Cabin categories and facilities onboard the Golden Chariot
The Golden Chariot only has two cabin types, double or twin, both of which are of the same size and are only different in their bedding. The twin cabins can also accommodate three people although given how tight the cabins are they would have to be children not to feel extremely crammed.
The train has a total of 19 coaches, two restaurants that look almost the same, two kitchens, one cooking Indian food and one cooking Western/International food, a spa, a small gym and one bar.
Routes and itineraries on the Golden Chariot
The Golden Chariot train offers two routes, The Pride of the South covering Karnataka with a day in Goa and the Southern Splendour covering Tamil Nadu (but doesn’t include its capital of Chennai) and Kerala.
Both routes depart and return on Mondays but are very different in nature and have barely any overlap so you could go on both and have completely separate journeys.
These are the two routes on Golden Chariot.
- Pride of the South: Bangalore – Mysore – Hassan – Hampi – Badami – Goa – Bangalore
- Southern Splendour: Bangalore – Puducherry – Mahabalipuram – Tanjavur – Kanyakumari – Kovalam – Alappuzha – Kochi – Bangalore
Rates start at $4,300 for triple sharing and $5,000 per person in double sharing.
Comparison between the best luxury trains in India – which one is the right for you?
Although the four trains are different in some ways and cover various routes, it may be difficult to decide the right one. So let me help you by simplifying the choice with a comparison table between the best luxury trains in India.
|Maharajas Express||Palace on Wheels||The Golden Chariot||Deccan Odyssey|
|Standard room||Twin or double bedding 120 sq feet||Only Twin bedding 140 sq feet||Twin or double bedding||Twin or double bedding|
|Premium rooms||3 types of premium rooms including 1 Presidential Suite 448 sq feet and 2 bedrooms||Super Deluxe cabins 190sq feet double bed||NA||Presidential Room (4 of them) twice as big|
|Private guides w/premium rooms||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Alcohol included||Yes, local Indian brands||No||No||No|
|Number of carriages||24||14||19||21|
|Gift traditional outfit||Yes, Indian dresses according to age and gender||Turban||No||Yes, Indian dresses according to age and gender|
|Departure day||Depending on trip||Wednesdays Sep to Apr||Monday departures||Saturday|
|Rate per person sharing in Standard room||From $3,850 for the 3 nights and $5,900 for the 7 night||$4,550 in high season|
$3,500 in low seasons (Sep and Apr)
|No. of nights||3 to 7||7||7||7|
However, you may not decide to choose the right luxury train in India based on the trains themselves as they are all equally luxurious, especially for the entry-level standard cabins.
So perhaps the best way to pick a train would be to look at the itinerary that you are most interested in and this will also depend on what type of traveler you are and how many times you have been to India before.
Let me give you some guidance on who each luxury train in India is good for.
|Train||Itinerary||Who is it good for|
|Maharajas Express||Mumbai - Ajanta - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Bikaner - Jaipur - Ranthambore - Agra - Delhi||Some of India's most beautiful and well-known sights, this is a great train for a first time visitor, like me|
|Delhi - Agra - Ranthambore - Jaipur - Delhi|
|Delhi - Agra - Ranthambore - Jaipur - Bikaner - Jodhpur - Udaipur - Balasinor - Mumbai|
|Delhi - Agra - Ranthambore - Jaipur - Delhi||Great for first-timers to India with limited time|
|Delhi - Jaipur - Ranthambore - Fatehpur Sikri - Agra - Gwalior - Khajuraho - Varanasi - Lucknow - Delhi|
|Mumbai - Ratnagiri - Goa - Hampi - Mysore - Ernakulam - Kumarakom - Trivandrum||A diverse journey covering very different sites with temples from various styles, palaces, historical ruins, etc|
|Trivandrum - Chettinad - Mahabalipuram - Mysore - Hampi - Goa - Ratnagiri - Mumbai||For a flavour of the south for those who have been mostly to the north|
|Golden Chariot||Pride of the South: Bangalore - Mysore - Hassan - Hampi - Badami - Goa - Bangalore||Good insights into the south for those who have already been to Kerala|
|Southern Splendour: Bangalore - Puducherry - Mahabalipuram - Tanjavur - Kanyakumari - Kovalam - Alappuzha - Kochi - Bangalore||Great way to have a varied experience for those who have explored most of the north and like the coastal areas|
|Palace on Wheels||Delhi - Jaipur - Ranthambhore - Chittorgarh - Udaipur - Jaisalmeer - Jodhpur - Bharatphur - Agra - Delhi||Like the Maharajas Express journey, this is a great taster for someone who has never visited India before|
|Deccan Odyssey||Treasures of Gujarat: Mumbai, Vadodara, Palitana, Sasan Gir, Little Rann of Kutch, Modhera, Patan, Nashik, Mumbai||For those in search of culture beyond just temples, Gujarat is an extraordinary state that receives fewer visitors so this is great for someone who has been to India several times|
|Maharashtra Splendour: Mumbai, Nashik, Ellora Caves, Ajanta Caves, Kolhapur, Goa, Sindhudurg, Mumbai||Great for those not keen on temples as this itinerary includes beaches, wines and other heritage stops|
|Indian Sojour: Mumbai, Vadodara, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Agra, Sawai Madhopur, Jaipur, Delhi||Highlights of Rajasthan with a dash of wildlife, good for first timers|
|Jewels of the Deccan: Mumbai, Bijapur, Aihole and Pattadakal, Hampi, Hyderabad, Ellora Caves, Ajanta Caves, Mumbai||A great combination of some of the southern sights across many dynasties interesting for those keen on historical sights|
|Indian Odyssey: Delhi, Sawai Madhopur, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Vadodara, Ellora Caves, Mumbai||Similar to some of the Maharajas and Palace on Wheels this is also a good trip for first timers|
|Maharashtra Wild Trail: Mumbai, Aurangabad, Ramtek-Pench, Tadoba, Ajanta Caves, Nashik, Mumbai||Great for those looking to track wildlife, and for caves and wines. There are practical no temples, forts or palaces in this itinerary|
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