News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Bernard Burt
January 2007 - Making weekly roundtrips from Mumbai (better known as
Bombay), the Deccan Odyssey is operated and marketed by the government
tourism development corporation for the state of Maharashtra in collaboration
with Indian Railways. Staffed and catered by Taj Hotels & Resorts,
the itinerary includes lunch stops at beach resorts where a swim in warm
waters of the Indian Ocean revives spirits. Coordinated from a tiny communications
cabin by general manager Rajni Sharma and a professional tour guide, the
daily schedule is nicely balanced but could be edited to suit passenger
Mumbai: Amid the din and heat of Mumbai’s Victorian train station, the elegant Deccan Odyssey
awaits passengers with red carpet welcome. Porters in scarlet tunics, chefs from
Taj Hotels, and a spa car come with this train fit for a maharajah.
Aboard the Deccan Odyssey, we had all the advantages of a cruise ship without wet weather. Our steward served morning tea in the cabin, refreshments on return from excursions to Goan churches and the Ellora cave temples that date back to 500 AD. With comfortable twin beds, full shower and toilet, telephone connections, cabins have ample space and privacy. Want to watch TV? Check out a DVD in the conference car.
Named for the southern state of Maharashtra’s Deccan region, the train has capacity of 48 staterooms and cabins in 11 cars, plus restaurant cars. Decked out in blue and gold livery, the Deccan Odyssey arrives with ceremony for excursions by bus and boat into a regal past.
Steps from my cabin, a masseur from the Mumbai Taj Mahal Palace Hotel & Tower works on weary muscles as the car gently sways on antiquated tracks. Equipped with steam and shower, salon for facials, hair and nail care, even exercise equipment, Spa Plumeria surprises seasoned travelers with a Clarins Parisian facial, ayurvedic treatments with herbal oil based on ancient Indian healing tradition.
The Deccan Odyssey interiors done in plush red silk and mahogany paneling re-create private trains once reserved for Indian royalty. Completely air conditioned, it’s like a palace on wheels. Ever-present staff garbed as royal retainers greet you by name. Passengers gather for tea in the library car, pre-dinner drinks in a cozy saloon. Train buffs to the core, we savor experiences with hotelier Endre Balazs from New York, a former diplomat in Washington, Canadian corporate executives, and marketing VP of Tupperware from Florida. Evenings are casual, but several ladies wore saris.
Two different restaurants offer international and vegetarian options.
Executive chef Rupak Mitra usually works in palatial kitchens of Taj
hotels, but his menu for the train belies cramped quarters. Dinner offered
choices of Continental and Indian fare, served with white-glove fomality.
Starters were poached prawns or stuffed mushroom, minced chicken in philo
dough envelope, and duet of foie gras and chicken; soups changed daily,
always hot; main courses included regional specialties such as Fish Rechead
fillet marinated with Goan vinegar and masalas, and Chana Dal, a lentil
delicacy with coconut. Breakfast includes eggs to order and hot porridge.
Lunch buffets at the beachfront Taj Exotica Resort in Goa, and Taj Residency in Aurangabad add tastes of Indian traditional hospitality. Forget signing checks; the Deccan Odyssey fare covers sightseeing excursions and meals; only drinks, wine, and spa services are extra.
Our seven-day journey packed spiritual experiences as well as body therapy. Daily excursions include Goa’s remarkable 18th-century Catholic churches built by Portugese traders and still in use. Mountain treks to temples carved from stone with statues and murals of Hindi, Buddhist, and Jain gods are awesome. In a real palace at Kolhapur our tour is conducted by a member of the resident family, who introduces a performance of martial arts by women and men. Classical arts come to life at Shilpgram, a lovely open-air cultural and crafts center dramatically illuminated for our visit.
Relieved of checking into hotels, we tour by air conditoned bus, avoid entry lines, and meet local cultural leaders. The Deccan Odyssey is time travel with all the comforts of a five-star hotel.
Scheduled from Mumbai/Bombay every Wednesday through April, the Deccan Odyssey can be booked for three nights or a full week; charters for full or half-week group and incentive packages. The daily passenger tariff begins at $295US per person on a double basis (minimum three nights); full fare is $3,395 single occupancy, $2,450 double. April fares are lower.
Several tour operators feature the Deccan Odyssey with customized hotel packages in Mumbai. Our deluxe program at the JW Marriott Mumbai beachfront resort near Bollywood film studios was coordinated by Greaves Tours, Chicago. A ten-night package by TravelPack includes stays at the Taj President, for £1,932 per person this March. An upgrade to the original wing of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel pleases history buffs with view of the monumental Gateway of India on Mumbai harbor.
New this fall, a northern tour from Mumbai includes Delhi and Agra, visiting the Taj Mahal. The train will be chartered by a British tour operator as The Viceroy. During monsoon season, May through November, the train does not operate.
About the Author: Bernard Burt is co-author of “100 Best Spas of the World,” published by The Globe Pequot Press.
|Also See:||Oneida Indian Nation Woos Weekend Warriors with America's Largest Indian-owned Spa / Bernard Burt / December 2006|
|The Ritz-Carlton Boston Being Sold to Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces for $170 million; Hotel to be Rebranded Taj Boston, David M. Gibbons Named General Manager / November 2006|
|Taj Hotels, Preserving India's Heritage One Hotel at a Time / Nov 2002|
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