Tailor-made Tour 11 days from £3915 per person
Places Visited: Mumbai, Nasik, Ellora Caves, Ajanta Caves, Tadoba tiger reserve, Pench tiger reserve
A luxury rail journey of Maharashtra, India's magnificent west coast
Experience the unique landscapes, wildlife and wondrous historic sites of northern Maharashtra in regal style, travelling on one of the world’s most opulent rail journeys. The undisputed highlights of our ‘Deccan Odyssey’ tour are the great cave temples of Ellora and Ajanta, but the trip also offers the chance of sighting tigers in the wild, and experiencing the unique atmosphere of an authentic Hindu pilgrimage site – all in the space of a week.
The tour begins with a two-night stay at the legendary Taj Mahal Hotel overlooking Mumbai harbour and the Gateway of India. Thereafter, you’ll sleep and eat on a specially constructed luxury train, with your own cabin and gourmet meals served by liveried staff in a restaurant car, as the rugged scenery of the Deccan slips past outside your window.
Fit for a Prince (or Princess)
The intention of this tour is to re-create the romantic feel of a royal ‘shikhar’ expedition, as undertaken by the rulers of the region’s princely states in British times. Today’s rolling stock incorporates more mod cons and comforts, including air-conditioning, a gym and spa, but the landscape of the northern Deccan remains as epic as it did a century ago, and a vivid sense of remoteness endures in the forests of Pench and Tadoba, where tiger and leopard roam free.
Fly overnight from the UK to Mumbai.
On arrival in Mumbai, you’ll be met and transferred to your hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, in the south of the city. Spend the rest of the day recovering from your journey, perhaps venturing out in the evening for a stroll around the nearby Gateway of India.
Enjoy a full day’s sightseeing in Mumbai today, beginning with a visit to the Prince of Wales Museum, followed by a tour of the city’s principal source of fresh produce, Crawford Market. A guided heritage walk around the bustling streets of Kalagodha and Fort districts takes up most of the afternoon.
The ideal primer for the ancient wonders you’ll be seeing later in this tour, the collection of Mumbai’s ‘Prince of Wales Museum’ (now officially known as the ‘Chhatrapathi Shivaji Museum’) includes numerous Buddhist stucco figures and pieces of sculpture from the period when Ajanta and Ellora Caves were at their height. On the first floor is a superb assemblage of miniature Indian paintings.
Crawford Market, a covered bazaar dating from British times, offers a great taste of authentic local life, with colourful displays of fruit, vegetables, nuts and spices. The whole area of the city between here and your hotel was erected at the peak of the Raj and you’ll be shown some of its most spectacular and interesting buildings on a ‘Heritage Walk’ in the afternoon, which will delve into some of the backstreets of the teeming Fort district. Look out for the street food stalls selling pav bhaji and other quintessential Bombay snacks to hungry commuters.
Spend the morning shopping in the emporia close to your hotel, or relaxing by the pool ahead of your transfer after lunch to Victoria Terminus (now officially known as ‘CST’), where you’ll go through embarkation formalities before beginning your overnight journey to Aurangabad.
Dating from 1887, Victoria Terminus was the largest and most grandiloquent building ever erected by the British in India. It was a flagrant copy of St Pancras, but in the flamboyant, hybred ‘Indo-Sarcenic’ style beloved of the Raj’s architects. Around one million travellers pour through its giant concourses daily, bound for towns and cities across India. Unlike most of them, you’ll be pampered by porters and the smiling staff of the Deccan Odyssey train from the time of your arrival.
Once checked in, guests are treated to a ‘Welcome Aboard’ drink in the restaurant car and shown to their luxury cabins. By sunset time, the train will be clear of Mumbai’s ragged and making its way through the craggy peaks of the Western Ghat range en route to Aurangabad.
After breakfast and arrival in Aurangabad, you’ll transfer to a coach for the 50-minute drive to the spectacular Ellora Cave complex.
Chiselled from a long, steep-sided outcrop of basalt on the northern edge of the Deccan Plateau, the Ellora Caves date from a five-hundred-year period beginning midway through the sixth century AD, when Buddhism was being supplanted by Brahmanical Hinduism as the region’s principal religion. The majority served as temples and monasteries, and were richly painted in their heyday. You’ll get to see all of the highlights on your tour, which culminates with a visit to the magnificent Kailash Temple, Cave 16 – Ellora’s pièce de résistance. The edifice resembles a free-standing structure, but like all the other monuments here was in fact sculpted from solid rock – a process that took over a hundred years to complete. The result – best viewed from the cliff behind – will take your breath away.
Today will be devoted to explorations of the monuments and famous handloom workshops of Aurangabad, northern Maharashtra’s largest city. In the evening, the train will then start its journey northeast to Ramtek, deep in the interior of India.
Aurangabad takes its name from the last great Mughal, Aurangzeb, who made this his capital at the end of the 18th century. The latter years of Aurangzeb’s rule were dominated by conflict with the Maratha warlords further south, and the town, which he expanded and fortified with imposing battlements, made a better forward base from which to command his armies. Aurangzeb’s son, Prince Azam Shah, was responsible for the grand tomb on the outskirts, the Bibi-ka-Makbara – dedicated to his mother, Begum Rabi’a Daurani. Originally intended to rival the Taj Mahal but lacking the graceful proportions of its predecessor, the mausoleum ended up becoming a poor cousin. For all that, its Persian-style gardens offer a glorious place for a stroll in the late afternoon light. Other sights you’ll cover in today’s guided tour include an ancient cave complex, on a hill overlooking the city, a Mughal-era water mill and Sufi tomb, and a workshop where traditional, Persian-inspired ‘Himroo’ fabric is woven. The technique, which blends silk and cotton to sublime effect, was originally brought to the region when Mohammed Tuqluq, Sultan of Delhi, moved his capital here in the 13th century.
Pench National Park
Ramtek, where you’ll arrive in the morning of day five of your tour, serves as the jumping-off place for Pench National Park, just across the border in neighbouring Madya Pradesh state, where you’ll embark on tiger safaris by Jeep in the morning and afternoon.
With its miles of teak and bamboo forests, and open meadows of tall, bleached grass, the landscape of Pench National Park is straight off the pages of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. The reserve flanks the southern border of Madhya Pradesh and northern border of Maharashtra, encompassing a wild, uninhabited zone bisected by the Pench River.
The tiger population is stable and sightings occur daily here. Touring the park’s pot-holed roads in Jeeps, you’re also likely to come across packs of wild dogs and striped hyena, and herds of deer and antelope as well as the odd gaur (bison) or two lumbering through the forest.
Tadoba National Park
Today features a morning safari in Tadoba National Park, followed by lunch in a forest lodge before returning to the train in the afternoon.
The Taboba Tiger Reserve is the largest and oldest national park in Maharashtra, and sufficiently off-the-beaten track to have escaped the attention of the hordes, despite boasting one of the highest tiger density figures in the country. Nearly 87% of the reserve is covered in beautiful dry deciduous forest – a renowned storehouse of rare trees and medicinal plants. Over 60 tigers live within and around the park borders, along with leopard, wild dog, striped hyena, gaur, nilgai, sambar, chital, civet cats, marsh crocodiles and nearly 200 species of birds.
After another overnight journey, the Deccan Odyssey will arrive at the rail hub of Jalgoan, where you’ll transfer to a luxury coach for the 1hr-45-min journey to the Ajanta Caves – the cultural highpoint of your tour. At the end of the day the train will continue overnight to Nasik.
Ajanta’s wonders are a more modest in scale than those of Ellora, but no less thrilling. Cut from the flanks of a horseshoe-shaped ravine, its caves are renowned above all for their ancient murals. The tempura paintings, created between 150 BC and 650 AD, depict a rich cross-section of life in the ancient world, from court scenes to processions, markets, great rituals, battles and boudoirs.
A guided tour of Nasik’s sacred Hindu sites, on the banks of the Godavari River takes up the morning. After lunch, you’ll visit a beautiful vineyard in the countryside outside the city, and have the chance to taste some of India’s top wines.
As one of the four sites of the Kumbh Mela bathing festival, Nasik ranks among India’s most visited pilgrimage sites. Even outside festival times, however, its sacred ghats on the banks of the Godavari River attract a steady stream of worshippers. You’ll be guided on a walk around the temples and markets surrounding Ram Kund, where Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were immersed, and visit sites associated with famous episodes from the Ramayana.
Arrive back in Mumbai in the morning, where you’ll disembark from the Deccan Odyssey ahead of your transfer to the airport for your flight back to the UK.
Tailor-made Tour 11 days from £3915 per person
✓ 8 nights’ luxury accommodation, including 7 nights aboard the Deccan Odyssey and one night at the Taj
Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides throughout
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments featured
Places and Experiences in this tour
Mumbai has been India’s busiest port and industrial centre since the opening of the Suez Canal in 1969. As famous today for its traffic jams as its record-breaking movie industry,...
Ajanta & Ellora
Nowhere else in India does the distant past feel closer to the surface than the rock-cut complexes of Ellora and Ajanta, a day’s journey northeast of Mumbai. Carved from the mount...
Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve
The Taboba-Andhari Tiger Reserve is the largest and oldest national park in Maharashtra, and sufficiently off the beaten track to have escaped the attention of the hordes, despite...
Pench National Park
With its miles of teak and bamboo forests, and open meadows of tall, bleached grass, the landscape of Pench National Park is straight off the pages of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Boo...
Luxury trains in India
Before Independence in 1947, the rulers of Rajputana, Gujarat and Hyderabad states, along with the British viceroy and vicereine, used to travel around India in a specially conver...
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