By Sophie McGregor
I have never been as intrigued or as fascinated by a destination as India. This being my first time visiting the country, I had spent years of travelling all over the world, from Borneo to Belgium, Sweden to Singapore, still wondering about this particular corner of the globe. When conversations were raised about sought-after travel destinations and bucket lists my mind would unfailingly land on India. I would find myself picturing colours, spices, faces, cities, towns, landscapes… things I had never experienced first-hand, but felt such a strong yearning to discover. When Railway Adventures extended an invitation to experience the country from the window of a special train, I leapt at the opportunity.
An introduction to Mumbai culminated in the sight of a glamourous train gleaming in all its rich livery on a dedicated platform at the iconic Victoria Terminus. I boarded the ‘Deccan Odyssey’ from red-carpet laid out on the platform, feeling more out of place than I had felt in a long time, with my backpack on my back (having landed in India after backpacking in Malaysia, Laos and Thailand,) and adorned in my dirty overalls. Dancers in bright green, orange, pink and yellow, who had not long ago welcomed me with a traditional necklace and a teeka on my forehead, were playing drums and dancing on the platform. I couldn’t help smiling at the richness and sheer celebration of the culture and ancient traditions in this country. These people are proud of the place they call home.
The place I would call home for the next seven nights was a cosy cabin on board the Deccan Odyssey luxury train. I dumped my backpack on the second twin bed as my valet explained information about the train: what time all the meals were, how to contact him, how to use the television and the shower… I found my mind wandering, I wanted to get out and explore! People went about their days on the platform in Mumbai and I watched them through my panoramic window. ‘Better than television’, I thought.
As the train rolled out of the platform and we said farewell to the incredible city of Mumbai, I enjoyed a cold Kingfisher with some friends I had made. Dinner was an opulent affair, with a four-course menu of a variety of cuisines. Unmatched, delicious Indian meals, as well as western dishes for the homesick traveller. Let’s say I never went hungry on the Deccan Odyssey, and the staff never failed to look after us.
For the next seven days I soaked-up this life of luxury. I enjoyed a superb massage in the spa, I spent some time at the on-board gym, I played cards and board games with my fellow travellers, I drank Kingfishers, I listened to local talks about Indian life and even enjoyed a small cooking demonstration from our lovely on-board chefs. All while the train was rolling through the Indian landscape. Life was good!
Off the train, I ticked an item off my bucket list and saw a beautiful tiger and her two cubs playing in a lake in the Pench Tiger Reserve! We explored this wildlife park, as well as Tadoba National Park, and spotted a Sloth Bear, Jackals, many different types of deer and antelope, wild boars, plenty of monkeys, a bison and a vast array of rare and colourful birds. As an animal lover, my heart was absolutely content, even though these days included a dawn wake-up call! Worth it, I say.
We explored ancient man-made caves, once used as temples and monasteries and set in dramatic and incredible scenery. I listened to the stories our guide spun and was lost in the complex and rich history this part of the world held. The different cultural influences were overwhelming, from Chinese dragons and faces, to Greek patterns, to Egyptian architecture. It was a melting pot of motifs and styles.
We even visited a winery and enjoyed an Indian wine-tasting- the last thing I expected to experience on my first trip to India. This winery showcased globally award- winning wines and was very affordable- so that was presents for my family sorted!
As my adventure came to a close, I found myself overwhelmed and exhausted, but absolutely addicted. I had managed to experience and learn more in a week than I would in months at home. India is a destination that shows and teaches you so much about life, spirituality, food, fashion and people, that you return home with a completely different state of mind. I can honestly say I am in love, and I can’t wait to dig deeper into this enthralling country, perhaps from the window of a train once again.
Sophie was a guest of Railway Adventures and Secrets Of India on the Deccan Odyssey.
Our next fully escorted Railway Adventure on the Deccan Odyssey departs January 2019. See our tours page for details.