Sunday, October 05, 2008

Golden moments, priceless memories

One of the biggest boons in a nation as big as India is that every state has many stories to tell. And it is based on the same concept that the Department of Tourism, Karnataka, started their own Palace on Wheels, the Golden Chariot. Ruins, greenery, heritage sites and forgotten tales, these are just some of the things that lure one to embark on this special train that pampers one beyond imagination.

The Golden Chariot is a dream train, with interiors based on the Mysore and Hampi style architecture. The rooms are simple yet luxurious, leaving no room for complaints. And the two separate kitchens for vegetarian and non-vegetarian food is quite a thoughtful concept. And for those that want to just stay back and rejoice the luxury in the train, a spa, DVD parlour and Internet facilities.

But the itinerary sounds so vast and exhaustive that not many will opt out of it. The first day starts off with an optional Bengaluru trip. A scrumptious fare at Jamavar, Leela Palace, followed by a trip around Bengaluru, catching a glimpse of Tipu's Summer Palace, the Bull Temple and the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens.

The day ends with all the guests boarding the train from the special platform on Yeshwanthapur Railway Station. This is where the journey begins, as the first glimpse of the train leaves everyone no less than awestruck. Following a welcome drink, the real journey begins.

The second day is a trip to Kabini forest. A boat ride, a wildlife documentary and a jungle safari, with chances of seeing leopards, gaurs, deer and tigers, if lucky – these are the things one does, and leaving the bumpy ride on the jeep through the safari, this makes quite a nice day.

Day three starts off early, with a trip to Srirangapattanam, which hosts Tipu Sultan's fort, Daria Daulat. Following this, it's more royalty in store, with a tour of the world famous Mysore Palace. The best part of the day is the fact that some rooms locked for the usual visitors, like the ammunition room or the room housing the stuffed animals which were killed by the Maharajas are open to the Golden Chariot visitor. And the day is rounded off with a beautiful set of performances ranging from Bharatanatyam to Dollu Kunita in Mysore.

If day three is characterized by fort and palace visits, the next day is filled with temple visits. The beautifully sculpted Belur and Halebid temples make the first half of this day, where guides enlighten the tourists (mostly NRIs and foreign nationals) about Indian myths like Ramayan and Mahabharat. The afternoon is spent trekking up to see the giant monolith of Lord Gomateshwara at Shravanabelagola.

Day five is a fun-filled day, with trekking through the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire at Hampi. Visiting temples, forts and other significant landmarks coupled up with trinket shopping at the Hampi Bazaar, where the nomads (lambanis) sell their exotic ware that include clothing, jewellery and accessories.

My favourite day of the trip has to be the pen-ultimate day, which is visiting the temples at Badami, Aihole and Pattadakallu. These 4th to 7th century temple architecture is probably some of the best you will find in the world. The pleasant orange coloured rocks that go into these rocks make these temples a wondrous sight. And the rock temples at Badami can well take an entire day, as you can trek into the dozens of cave temples across the hills.

From Badami, the final lap of the journey, to Goa, is the most picturesque one. The best sight through this leg is going past the Dudhsagar Falls, just at the border of Goa and Karnataka, where the water fall cascades even over the railway track.

In Goa, you get to visit a typical Portuguese home in Panjim, where cocktails made from fenny and the warm Goan pleasantries make you feel at home, and yes, I even wondered settling down in that same house. A little fenny, some cashewnuts and bottle or two of port wine and tons of memories, this is how this memorable trip ends.

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