Balaji from Cox & Kings rides the rails in style on a trip aboard the Maharajas’ Express. An edited version of Balaji’s interview appeared in the 20th May edition of the Travel Trade Gazette (TTG).
Job title: India product manager
Works for: Cox & Kings Travel Limited, London
How long in the job: Eight years
How long in travel: 11 years
Hobbies: Tennis, cricket, spending time with my little daughter.
Best thing about your job: Knowing that clients have had an amazing trip and that all the hard work has paid off.
Worst thing about your job: Disembarking the Maharajas’ Express.
I head to the opulent Mayur Mahal restaurant carriage for breakfast – fresh watermelon juice, pastries, mango and Masala Dosa – with some of my new friends from the trade. The train passes through many little villages set against the rugged Aravalli hills. During the day, the train travels at a comfortable speed so you can take in the sites without any trouble – I see men working in the fields, children getting ready to go to school, women preparing food using wood-fired stoves, cattle grazing in open fields and village temples – one of them even has a small crowd, gathered to either offer prayers or perhaps celebrate a special occasion.
As we disembark, I realise I am getting used to the red carpet experience. Yes, not for the first-time, they have been rolled out on this journey. It was most certainly one of the most memorable receptions that I have experienced during many visits to Udaipur. Musicians play drums, shehnais (an oboe-like instrument) and a host of other things; women in colourful costumes dab the tilak on our foreheads; and I must not forget the garlands…
A short drive in an air-conditioned coach through the old city of Udaipur takes us to the City Palace. One of the largest palace complexes in Rajasthan, it has a charming setting on the banks of Lake Pichola and is a great place to explore for a few hours.
Lunch has an Italian flavour. The imported scallops seem to be the favourite among many on my table. I choose a vegetarian option and am equally delighted with the risotto. I don’t know if they have a wine cellar attached to the Maharajas’ Express, but I do know that several bottles of Grovers, an Indian wine, were consumed this afternoon.
Just as we finish lunch, I wish I had planned my day differently. I should have chosen the option of lazing by the pool at either the iconic Lake Palace or the palatial Leela Kempinski with a short session at one of the spas. Instead, I have chosen to check the rooms and suites at the Leela Kempinski. One of the newest luxury hotels, its views of Lake Pichola and the city are simply stunning.
It’s time to head to the streets of the old Udaipur, famous for its miniature paintings and, like the rest of Rajasthan, exquisite hand-made fabrics and jewellery. A few of us believe that we know Udaipur like the back of our hands and decide to venture out on our own.
Back on the train we head straight to the Safari bar. The fruit cocktail and the cooler environs of the Maharajas’ Express are just perfect.
For dinner, I choose the Indian vegetarian thali and when I say the food is divine, honestly, I am not exaggerating. I learn later that on board they use only imported meat and that the vegetables are bought, wherever possible, from a local supplier to ensure they’re fresh.
Many of us return to the Safari bar and stay there until late, chatting about today and becoming excited about visiting Jodhpur tomorrow, knowing that in the morning there will be someone to wake us up with a pot of coffee, attend to all our little whims and, despite all our tall demands, show us around Jodhpur with a smile. As I return to my spacious Junior Suite I regret not signing up to do the entire journey…
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