Those of you who are of a certain age will recall a time when Indian trains had three classes of travel: first, second and third. There was no air-conditioning even in the first class coaches but you could sit and sleep four to a cabin. Electric trains were still in the future. At a halt the attendant would get off and get you a mug of hot water from the steam engine in front. That’s how Frank Moraes, the legendary editor of The Times of India, shaved in the morning. Ah! The romance of train travel in those days!
Second class had cushioned seats but one had to sit up throughout the journey if the cabin was full. It was the worst deal of all. In third class there were wooden berths and we were packed like sardines. Once I spent the whole night sitting on my suitcase.
“I TRAVELLED LIKE A MAHARAJA IN ONE OF THE MOST LUXURIOUS TRAINS IN THE WORLD, THE DECCAN ODYSSEY”
But I was partial to third class travel for no other reason except that it was financially viable for me. With a student discount, I could travel from Delhi to Bombay for twenty rupees. By now you probably have a good idea on my age!
That was then. A few months back, I went to the other extreme for a whole new experience. I travelled like a Maharaja, pampered and fussed over, in one of the most luxurious trains in the world, the Deccan Odyssey. It was a five-star hotel in perpetual motion. The seven-night ride on wheels takes you through the major historic spots of the Deccan and sometimes beyond. It costs an arm and a leg but more on that later.
On a balmy Saturday afternoon, we were sent off in style to the sounds of drums beating and boisterous folk dancing from Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Station. (They can call it whatever they want but this magnificent Gothic train station will always be Victoria Terminus for me!). This set the mood for the journey ahead. Almost all the passengers were foreigners, among them Canadians, Europeans, a couple from Hong Kong and a large amiable contingent from Turkey.