There are trips and there are trips. The latter are the kind you never ever forget. Like seeing orangutans in the wild in Borneo, my first Maldives live-aboard, and yeah, probably my first business class flight too. What can I say? I like adventure as much as I like luxury.

With that sentiment, I was stoked to be invited to be part of the Great India Blog Train with my own blog, The Midnight Blue Elephant. I think I tugged at their heartstrings when I told the organizers in my application video that I had only ever seen the Taj Mahal freshly heartbroken and really wanted a do-over.

The premise of the whole trip was to see some highlights of India while traveling on one of the country’s premier luxury trains, the Maharajas Express. I couldn’t have been more excited until I found out that I would be sharing cabins with former Travelette and power girl behind The Pin the Map Project – Nikki. We swiftly decided that the only way to do such a trip was to sneak a cat onboard (we are definitely two cat ladies!), bring eyemasks, and lots of pretty dresses. After all, traveling in style was in order for the week.

Day 1 – Delhi

Image by Ashwin Koushan

The trip started in Delhi and while our city tour of the old and new city was exciting, nothing will ever beat the excitement when we finally got to the train station in the evening. A huge elephant made out of marigolds awaited our arrival, as did a red carpet in front of the train and the entire staff. I realized quickly that the only train better than this would be the Hogwarts Express. After some formalities, we were shown to our cabins by our very own butler, Raju. Yes, indeed Nikki and I had a butler for the week, something I had to get used, to I’ll admit. Maybe I am not a butler kind of girl?!
Cabins were spacious and pretty with a wardrobe, a TV, and a proper bathroom. Best of it all? Nikki didn’t mind me taking the window bed!
Our first evening commenced in the Safari Bar (as so many nights that followed) – local drinks on board the Maharajas Express are free – followed by a lovely dinner.

For those tempted by Indian food but too scared to try it, this provided the perfect opportunity to ease the taste buds into the local cuisine. Three-course meals are served and you can choose either a western dish or a thali, showcasing the best of whichever region you are traveling through and available for vegetarians or with meat.

After dinner, our train left the station and left us to be rocked to sleep (and not too gently I should add) – adventures awaited.

Day 2 – Jaipur

First stop was Jaipur, the beautiful pink city in Rajasthan.

On the itinerary for the day was also an elephant interaction including riding or painting the elephant. After a swift discussion amongst ourselves, we vetoed the activity and were put on our own bus to go separate ways from the rest of the travelers. I really appreciate that the Maharajas Express listened to our concerns and would hope that more travelers speak up against activities like this – hopefully, they will disappear from itineraries in general.


It was just our luck that we encountered a parade on the way to the Amber Fort and found ourselves surrounded by colors, music and smiling faces a few minutes later.
The Amber Fort is an impressive sight, outside of Jaipur and one of the top tourist attractions. Make sure to stop at the Jal Mahal, the Water Palace on the way.
In Jaipur itself don’t miss the iconic Hawa Mahal and some shopping at one of the many bazaars. If haggling isn’t your cup of tea, head to Anokhi for some beautiful set-price cotton dresses and indigo fabrics.

Day 3 Ranthambore & Fatehpur Sikri

The only day we had to get up early was for our stop in Ranthambore and that for good reasons: a tiger safari was on the agenda.
And while chances to spot one are generally quite good at Ranthambore we, unfortunately, didn’t get lucky. We did, however, see a lot of deer, monkeys, peacocks and even some crocodiles. Not quite a tiger but enough to make for an exciting morning!

In the afternoon we went to see Fatehpur Sikri, the former city of the Mughal emperor Akbar. Here you definitely want a guide who can tell you about the emporer’s three wives and their palaces and how he managed to get up on his impossibly high bed!

Day 4 Agra & Gwalior


The next day had us take out our best dresses and recharge the cameras – the Taj Mahal was waiting for us. Having seen it twice now – this time without a broken heart and surrounded by friends instead – I can still say that it is absolutely worth a visit and unlike many other overhyped sights, definitely lives up to any expectations you may have.
Even better was the champagne breakfast that came afterward, with eggs cooked to order, a fortune teller, and the most beautiful views of the Taj in the distance.

In the afternoon we went to explore Gwalior, its fort, temple and Jain sculptures followed by a visit of the Jai Vilas Palace Museum (a really cool place to learn more about royal Indian life in the last century) and high tea in the palace gardens.
If it wasn’t for the band playing Jingle Bells, it would have been the perfect place for me to feel like royalty myself.

Day 5 Khajuraho

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we made it to Khajuraho and its temple full of erotic sculptures. Since our guide was incredibly descriptive (anybody care to guess where the term ‘monkey business’ comes from?) we turned back into a group full of giggling school girls, blushing and all.

The temple complex closes at 6 pm so come just before for the most beautiful sunset shots – there are some temples that are not too R-rated.

Day 6 Varanasi

Image by Ashwin Koushan

We rolled into Varanasi while having breakfast and luckily our waiter told us just in time to get our cameras ready – we were traveling over the Ganges.
Varanasi is an incredibly holy place for devout Hindus, the Ganges being the center of the activities. People come here to wash, to pray and give thanks, and yes, to cremate their loved ones.

As a visitor, it is a hard place to grasp or at least it was for me. After visiting the Sarnath ruins and a silk weaving center (make sure to bring your credit card!), we boarded a small boat for sunset on the Ganges.

What followed were incredible sights of cremation fires followed by the festivities of the Ganga Aarti, the daily ritual when worshippers say goodnight to the river and give thanks. To make the whole trip even more special, we too got to put our own little offerings in the river and make a wish. I am hoping for Mother Ganges to work some magic.

Day 7 Lucknow

On the last day, we explored Lucknow with its interesting history of English colonialism. At this point, we were a little too distracted to pay 100% attention to our guide while exploring the Bara Imambara and Residency because for our last night onboard the theme was “Indian Night” and of course, we all needed the proper attire and to prepare accordingly. For us girls, that included wearing saris.

Back on the train, we found our saris waiting in our cabins as well as some helpful hands to dress us. Hair curled, makeup done, sari folds securely tucked, we met on the Lucknow train station platform for an impromptu photo shoot before we quite literally rocked the train. Image by the wonderful Jayne from Girl Tweets World

 

Let’s just say dancing on a moving train is a skill not to be underestimated. I personally think that I have some more lessons – and will need to take another ride on the Maharajas Express very soon.

I was a guest of Incredible India & the Maharajas Express!