A Journey on Royal Orient
Chandra Kanta Gariyali, IAS Royal Orient is the luxury train run by the Government of Gujarat. It is indeed the good old ‘palace on wheels’, which used to take us to the golden sands of Rajasthan, till it was replaced by the new broad gauge palace on wheels. It still retains its charm and beauty and maintains the same excellence in hospitality and quality of food. It starts from Delhi Cantonment station on Wednesday morning, for taking its most privileged passengers through the Sun and Sand, flora and fauna, and rugged and charming landscape of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
On 15.1.1997, at 2.30 p.m. we arrived at Delhi cantonment station to a royal welcome, by Mr. Gupte, the charming and amiable manager of the train. Our party consisted of me, my husband and my niece Natasha. I was there on the invitation of the Government of Gujarat to make some suggestions about the tour. On arrival we were garlanded with marigolds, and offered a welcome drink. We were also handed over a beautiful information folder about Gujarat. As we were browsing through it we were introduced to, Sukh-Dev and Mohan – Singh, our friends philosophers and guides and the attendants in our saloon, for next seven days. They carried our belongings to our saloon. Each saloon had a name and our was named Narayan – Sarovar, after a fabled lake of Gujarat.
Before we embarked, we viewed the engine and train. The engine is the vintage royal engine, which belonged to Maharaja of ‘Rewari’, and carries the royal insignia of the state of Rewari. It is an antique steam engine with sparkling fittings of brass, copper and iron. The train was painted royal blue with fine Gujarati floral motives running through the middle. Each saloon has been named after a famous destination of Gujarat like Sasangir, Palitana, Dwaraka, Saputara, Jalawad, Somnath etc.,
The bar is called ‘Narmada Lounge’ named after the famous river Narmada. It is well stocked with Indian and foreign liquor. The decor is typically Indian, with seats covered in red velvet and stools with legs carved as elephants. The counter is covered with decorative brass plating. It is a place fit for the relaxation of royalty. Lounge consists of a library stocked with good books and videos. There are enough books about India’s culture and people, its art, architecture and folklore. There are plenty of movies to be seen on your own TV – V.C.R that is kept in every saloon. The latest video films are picked up from Udaipur and Ahmedabad, during the journey.
The first day’s journey was between Delhi and Chittor-Garh. We spent time in the train relaxing, chatting, seeing video films, getting to know everybody in the bar- lounge and enjoying the welcome drink. Dinner was served in the restaurant, which is beautifully decorated in the traditional Gujarati manner. The walls of the restaurant car have been decorated with folk patterns depicting people, animals, flowers and leaves, made in traditional mud wall – mural painting style. Furniture is also inlayed with folk motifs of rural Gujarat.
Cuisine on the 1st day was mixed – Indian and continental. In fact best thing on the train is its food. The quality and taste as well as the principles of hygiene and cleanliness are maintained to the highest degree. Service is gentle, homely, caring and hospitable. At least ten varieties of chickens were served on board on different days. It ranged from chicken princess (which was round cutlets of chicken marinated in an excellent sauce.) to roast chicken, butter chicken, garlic chicken, chicken tikka etc. to name a few. Mutton was also served in different ways as mutton with spinach (excellent) mutton masala, lamb cutlets and so on. The Chinese cuisine consisting of haka noodles, fried rice and garlic chicken with vegetable Manchurian was served on another occasion. There were also continental dishes like fish Florentine and pasta. Even though we ate in number of different hotels en route like holiday inn in Ahmedabad (just so) Hotel Fateh Prakash in Udaipur (very good) and Sheraton in Jaipur (excellent); train food was something everybody looked forward to.
Breakfast was served either in the lounge of the saloon or in the bed. It was always fruit juice, hot toast with bread and jam, eggs to taste, fruits, and corn flakes with cutlets and potato bondas to boot. Tea and coffee was at your disposal at any time of night and day. It always gave a royal feeling in the morning to be served a feast in your bed by two wonderful butlers in a most affectionate manner.
Early on the morning of second day we arrived in Chitoor-Garh. A deluxe coach accompanied by an excellent Rajput guide took us to see the glories of Chitoor-Garh the hometown of the glorious Maharana Pratap and other Maharanas of Mewar. It is a rugged place and was like a thorn in the flesh of the Mughals who were not succeeding in subjugating Chitoor and Mewar. Present ruler of Chitoor is the 76th incumbent of the oldest ruling family in the world. It is the only royal family known by the title of ‘Maharanas’ (the great warriors) as against ‘Maharaja’, a commonly used title in India. Chitoor is witness to the great wars between Babar and Rana Sangha, Hyumayun and Udai Singh and Akbar and Rana Pratap. The Indian equivalent of 100 years of war.
Chitoor is the storehouse of tales and legends. It stands testimony to the sacrifice of Panna Dai, the wet-nurse to Rana Pratap who sacrificed the life of her own son, to save the life of infant Pratap. Banwari, the cousin of Pratap wanted to kill the young prince to become the heir to the throne. Knowing that Panna Dai sent away the prince to safety while placing her own son on the bed of the prince who was killed by Banwari.
It tells the story of the most beautiful woman of India ‘Maharani Padmini’ and courage of 13000, Rajput women who performed ‘Jauhar’ by jumping into flames. Allaudin Khilzi had waged war against Mewar to obtain the hand of Maharani Padmini. When there was no hope of winning the war against Allaudin Khilzi after months of seize, the Rajputs decided to become martyrs in a final battle while 13000 women committed mass Sati by jumping into a well of fire.
We also see the temple of Meera Bai in Chitoor, still vibrant with the songs she sang in praise of lord Krishna, the Palace of Maharani Padmini, the Victory Tower and the ruins of seven times fortified fort, on the banks of Gambhiri River. From Chitoor Garh we left for the exotic town of Udaipur.
400 years ago, the capital of Mewar was shifted to Udaipur, a new and beautiful place due to repeated attacks on Chittoor-Garh. Maharana Udai Singh laid the foundation of the uniquely beautiful town of Udaipur famous for its lakes and palaces. There are four man made lakes, inter-connected to each other.
The famous lake palace has become one of the best five star hotels in the country and is run by Taj Group. Numbers of other buildings on this lake, belonging to various nobles have also been converted to hotels. Two other palaces belonging to Maharanas, i.e. ‘Fateh-Nivas’ and ‘Shiv-Nivas’ have also been converted to palace hotels. Fateh-Niwas has largest chandeliers next only to the palace of Sindhias in Gwalior, hanging from its ceiling. It has a restaurant overlooking the lake, which serves exquisite foreign and Indian cuisine. You also see an array of old vintage cars standing in the compound. One number plate reads (Rajasthan – 14) It is one of the first fourteen cars purchased and registered in Rajasthan.
The lake also depicts the life of the town in miniature. There is a lot of activity on Ghats. There are separate male and female bathing ghats. The women were all the time washing, bathing and fetching water. The lake also supplies water to the town after it is filtered in a near by filtration plant, which looks like a palace.
The museum and art gallery give the full account of Maharanas of Mewar and contain all the paraphernalia, noble and royal including arms and armament. The town itself is magnificent to walk through. Its narrow roads and streets are a wonderland of handicrafts. There is plenty of fabric, jewelry, stones, paintings, and miniatures to be bought from Udaipur.
The lake is surrounded by a 100-acre Forest Park, which creates a green belt around it. Udaipur also has a unique craft village (Shilpgram) where several Artists and Artisans live, work, sell their products, and also perform. There were beautiful shawls, Daris and local fabrics on sale. There was also terracotta, beads, jewelry, miniature painting and woodwork available at a very reasonable price. Folk singers were singing melodious desert songs and girls from Kalbelia (Snake Charmer) community, dressed as black-cobras were dancing their Ta. Ra. Ra. Ram and going in circles with their hands held like hoods.
The craft village also boasts of authentic rural architecture and a folk museum. The
visit ended in a lovely open air R.T.D.C. Restaurant over a nice cup of tea.
Train started from Udaipur by 6:30. We had dinner on train. After having a couple of drinks in lounge car we got acquainted with the other members of our travel group. There were some very interesting people on board and some of us became very close to each other during this journey. This friendship and fellow feeling which we experienced made our journey even more interesting and memorable.