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Last updated : Nov 2009
Palace On Wheels - The Dream Journey
Pros: magical land with marvellous Havelis, delicious food, entertaining
Cons: none

Want to feel like royalty for a week? Then step into the regal splendour of the palace on wheels and cruise along in majestic style like the maharajas of yesterday You are a king or a queen in your own right for seven days while exploring the wonders of colourful Rajasthan – a magical land set amidst miles of golden sand, ornamented with a kaleidoscope of magnificent forts, opulent palaces and marvellous Havelis brimming with legends of romance and chivalry. And it is a unique experience indeed.

The elegant interior of the train with its delectable cuisine (traditional Indian, Continental and Chinese) and personalised service transports you to a totally enchanting world. Each saloon has its own personal attendants to ensure that the journey is comfortable. Fully air-conditioned, the 14 saloons are named after the princely states of Rajasthan and have excellent amenities.

Each saloon is a combination of twin-bedded and double-bedded chambers with attached toilets, running hot and cold water garlanded us in traditional welcome before we entered an air-conditioned coach. The city built in 1727 AD by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh was colour washed in pink- the colour associated with hospitality in Rajput culture.

Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) is a five storey building in pink splendour with carved trelliswork and lies on the main street of the city. It was originally conceived to enable ladies of the royal household to watch everyday life on the streets and royal processions. Amer Fort, 8-kms away, is a beautiful complex of palaces, halls, pavilions, gardens and temples built over a period of two centuries. From the base one can either walk up or ride a caparisoned elephant. We were completely overawed by the magnificence of the grand fort.

Shopping In The Bazaars Of Jaipur
A shopping trip in the colourful bazaars of Jaipur, famous for its jewellery, handicrafts, carpets, handlooms and blue pottery was an exhilarating experience. After a delicious lunch at Hotel Ram Bagh Palace, we set off for the city palace, home of the erstwhile royal family. It is a fabulous structure built in a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal styles.

Jantar Mantar
The Jantar Mantar, the largest of Maharaja Jai Singh’s five remarkable observatories, is right across the road from the palace. Back on board the train, we had tea and got ready for dinner, which was a colourful affair at the palace hotel. There was a feast laid out and folk dancers of Rajasthan provided the entertainment and created a romantic ambience. After this eventful and interesting day, we retired to our chambers on board.

Chittorgarh & Padmini’s Palace

The Palace on Wheels chugged along lulling us to sleep. The morning brought us to Chittorgarh, which echoes with tales of romance and valour. We explored the ruins of the citadel with awe and reverence. Chittor was ravaged thrice. It was here that the women of the royal house jumped into the sacred fire to protect their Honour. The victory tower is an exquisite structure.

The legendary queen Padmini’s Palace beside a pool is magnificent. It was here that Alauddin Khilji had a glimpse of the beautiful Padmini’s reflection. Padmini stood in a pavilion in the centre and her reflection was visible to Alauddin khilji in a mirror placed in the main hall. The queen’s beauty fanned Khilji’s desire resulting in the ravage of Chittor. But the queen preferred death to dishonour and committed Jauhar (jumping into the fire).

Udaipur
From here, the air-conditioned coach took us to Udaipur founded by Maharana Udai Singh of Mewar in 1550. Known as the city of dawn, it lies around five lakes hemmed in by lush hills of the Aravalis. The Jag Niwas and Jag Mandir, two fascinating island palaces in the middle of Lake Pichola, enchant you with their breathtaking beauty.

The boat ride to the Lake Palace Hotel was delightful, invigorating our appetite so we could do full justice to the lavish lunch at the hotel. Later in the day, after sightseeing at the city palace and crystal gallery, we had tea at the durbar hall. With the sightseeing over, we returned to Chittorgarh. After dinner on board, we hit the pillow.

Spotting The Wilds Of Ranthambore National Park
As the train rolled to a stop at Sawai Madhopur, the entry point to Ranthambore, we were excited. At 7.00 a.m. we set out in an open vehicle to Ranthambore National Park, located amidst the imposing ruins of 10th century fort. It is an ideal place to see the Indian Tiger in its natural habitat, provided luck favours your. Spread over an area of 392-sq-kms of thick dry deciduous forest over an undulating terrain of the Aravalli and Vindhya ranges, the reserve is the haunt of more than 300 species of birds.

Artificial lakes enhance scenic beauty while providing water. We saw Hyena, Wild Boar, a number of peacocks and other birds and crocodiles basking in the winter sun. Unfortunately, the majestic Tiger eluded us. Though it dimmed our excitement a little, the drive through the forest was a thrilling experience. The Ranthambore Fort, once a place of heroism, lies mostly in ruins.

Jaisalmer

By afternoon, we were back on the palace on wheels, ready to set off to the desert city, Jaisalmer. After an afternoon siesta, we relaxed in the lounge watching TV, reading or chatting with the other guests. A few of them made use of the gym while some sought the help of the beautician to bring back the glow that a whole day’s sightseeing might have dulled.

The bright sun woke us up at Jaisalmer. The sheer magic and brilliance of this desert city held us spellbound. The golden hued fort that seems to rise out of the desert haze etched in yellow sandstone stands with all its awesome splendour dominating the amber-hued city. It has enchanting cobbled narrow lanes dotted with intricately latticed Havelis (mansions), beautifully sculptured Jain temples dating back to the 12th- 15th century.

We were back for lunch on board the train. After some rest in the afternoon, we departed by coach for Sam Sand Dunes where we had exhilarating camel rides. The evening- relaxing with a cup of tea, enjoying the beautiful sunset, surrounded by camels- was indeed memorable. Dinner that night was in the desert under the stars with rajasthani folk singers and dancers.

Next morning the train arrived at jodhpur set at the edge of the thar desert. Thecity, one of the largest in rajasthan, still maintains it medieval character. Founded in 1459 AD by Rao Jodha, the city is famous for the impregnable mehrangarh fort with magnificent palaces within. Shopping in jodhpur bazaars is a heady experience with its colourful display of handicrafts, tie and dye fabrics, embroidered slippers, silks, marble souvenirs and much more. After lunch at umaid bhavan palace, an opulent edifice in stone, we were taken on a tour of the palace and the museum.

The palace on wheel’s next destination is bharatpur, popular for its bird sanctuary. The keoladeo ghana national park is a bird’s paradise and nesting ground of exotic migratory birds from afghanistan, central asia and tibet. Siberian cranes and bareheaded geese from china come here to escape the severe winter and breed till October – November. We had breakfast at the forest lodge and then proceeded to fatehpur sikri, the sandstone fort built by emperor akbar. Within the area is a beautiful mosque built by akbar as a tribute to the memory of sheikh salim chishti, the muslim saint who blessed him with a son. From fatehpur sikri, the coach left for Agra. After lunch at the mughal sheraton hotel, we toured the fort and then moved on to visit the marvellous taj mahal, a monument of eternal love built by shah jahan in memory of his wife, mumtaz mahal.

Back on the palace on wheels, we had dinner on board. It was time for the last leg of the journey back to Delhi. We thanked the manager and staff. Always enthusiastic and hospitable, the trip would not have been so enjoyable but for their cordial service.

As we got down at Delhi cantonment, the next morning, I wondered whether it was all a dream.