India has launched its most luxurious and expensive train service yet, seeking to attract well-heeled foreign rail enthusiasts prepared to pay the minimum 800-dollars-a-night price tag.
For most visitors, rail travel in India is an indispensable part of any holiday, although an ability to overlook the often filthy toilets and deal with basic comfort and crowded carriages is required.
The backers of the new service, which began its maiden journey from Kolkata to New Delhi on Saturday, have made every effort to ensure passengers get to see the country glide past the window with a minimum of inconvenience.
The specially built new train accommodates just 84 passengers, has suites with private bathrooms and plasma televisions, two restaurants serving Indian and Western food, a bar, card tables and an observation lounge.
"It's travel like royalty. You get treated like a king that's the whole idea," promoter Thomas Thottathil told AFP.
Even the suspension has been designed to ensure a smooth ride on the sometimes rickety Indian lines and the 23 carriages have all been fitted with air conditioning and carpet throughout.
Prices start at 800 dollars for the most basic deluxe cabin and rise up to 2,500 dollars a night for the presidential suite - which occupies an entire carriage and includes two cabins with double beds and a toilet with a bathtub.
The new Express joins a fleet of other luxury trains plying India's railway network, including the Deccan Odyssey in western Maharashtra, the Palace on Wheels in Rajasthan and the Golden Chariot in southern Karnataka.
India's vast railway system, a legacy of British colonial rule, carries 18.5 million passengers every day in varying degrees of comfort - a basic ticket on a 24-hour journey from Kolkata to Delhi can cost as little as 10 US dollars.
The advantage of the new service, say its promoters, is that the Maharajas' Express will travel throughout India, whereas the other services are restricted to individual states.
Its first journey will be a week-long trip from Kolkata to New Delhi, via stops including the holy city of Varanasi and the Taj Mahal in Agra, but another itinerary will take it to the southwestern city of Mumbai.
One of its first passengers was Frederik Vermenlen, from the Netherlands, who has travelled across much of the world by train.
"It's a wonderful venture to show India in a such a romantic fashion and with such modern comforts," he told AFP.
Other guests on the only partially booked maiden journey were mostly from Britain, but included others from the United States, Russia and China.
The venture is a public-private partnership between the state-run Indian railways and Indian travel group Cox & Kings, with total investment estimated at 600 million rupees (13 million dollars).Reuse content