| The interior of Palace on Wheels. Telegraph picture
New Delhi, Sept. 3: Honeymooners, prepare to romance Rajasthan.
Palace on Wheels — where you live life kingsize on tracks — will be offering a special package to newly-weds with a passion for the shifting sands of the desert and the sagas of blood, blade, bravery and legendary love.
The jewel in the crown of Indian Railways has been primarily catering to foreign tourists out to romance the railway. Now, in partnership with the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, a special package for Indian newly-weds is being unveiled.
“Indians have travelled (on the special train) during the last 20 years, but they account for about 1 per cent of our clientele. The rate of tickets was positioned to cater to the foreign tourists; now we want more local people to travel. Honeymoon couples are our target customers for this season. We will devise special packages that will allow more Indians to travel in this train,” said a senior RTDC official.
Currently, the package offered to Indians is Rs 15,000 per night for a single occupancy, Rs 12,000 for a double occupancy and Rs 9,000 for a triple occupancy during the off-peak season. During the peak season — October to March — it goes up by Rs 5,000 for single occupancy, Rs 3,000 for double occupancy and Rs 1,000 for triple occupancy.
Of the 35,000 tourists who have travelled by this train till date, 75 per cent were Americans, about 15 per cent were from Britain and about 9 per cent Europeans. Indians, mostly from Gujarat, West Bengal and Maharashtra, account for the remaining 1 per cent.
“Most of the Indians are non-resident Indians, but then our film stars like Dilip Kumar, Naseeruddin Shah, Prem Chopra and Kareena Kapoor have also travelled on this train. Many industrialists have also travelled along with the foreigners,” the RTDC official said.
Industry observers say the train, which covers eight tourist locations in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, has decided to offer customised packages for Indians because of the fall in foreign tourists, and it will have to bring down the tariff to attract locals.
Each coach in the train — referred to by its acronym, POW, by railway staff much in contrast to the royal treatment showered on guests aboard — is named after the various districts of Rajasthan, like Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur.
The interiors bear ample testimony to the splendour and style in which the Maharajas and their entourage travelled in their heydays.
RTDC has imparted that fabulously regal touch by installing beautiful, decorated woodwork, classy curtains, majestic beds and other period accessories.
The menu has special courses named after the fabled cities of the country — Dilhi (Delhi) offers cream of almond to start with, butter chicken, paneer kofta, kandhari pulao and much more.
The Jaipur course gives you a taste of Gultana pulao spruced up with cashew and kishmish. The Jodhpur menu has delicacies like palak mutton, besan ghatta (called dhokar dalna closer home) and roasted potato.
Chief cook of Palace on Wheels Subersingh Yadav often goes out of his way to give his guests that royal feeling. “We also cater to special requests from Americans and Europeans for hotdogs and pizzas.
The NRIs also request dalia and dhokla,” he said.
Talk to him, and it comes out that above all, he treasures the appreciation of the Bollywood stars.
“Dilip Kumar sahab would wink and nod in appreciation of our Fish Florentine and Kareena madam smiled and said ‘bahut achha’ when she savoured our cutlet toast. Naseeruddin Shah was very impressed with the chicken shahjahani and almond soup, and said ‘kamaal kar diya’,” Singh narrated.
Machine and man team up for eight months — September to April — to give guests a feel of royalty. During the eight days and seven nights journey, the Palace on Wheels, one of Asia’s most well-known trains, chugs through the rugged terrain of Rajasthan to the plains by the Yamuna, touching “Pink City” Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Sawai Madhopur, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Fatehpur Sikri, the Taj Mahal and Bharatpur. On a single week-long trip, the train carries 104 passengers.
From May till September, the Palace on Wheels takes a well-earned breather in Aligarh. But there is little respite for the crew who plunge into maintenance and refurbishing.