food / travel

Traveling Like A Maharaja On India’s Newest Luxury Rail Line

A Die Welt reporter spends a week receiving the royal treatment aboard “The Indian Maharaja,” a five-star train that runs from New Delhi to Mumbai. Stops along the way include Udaipur, city of temples and lakes, the caves at Ellora, and of course the Taj

The Indian Maharaja train (Train Chartering & Private Rail Cars)
The Indian Maharaja train (Train Chartering & Private Rail Cars)
Marko Martin

NEW DELHIAt the Safdarjung Station in New Delhi's diplomatic quarter, we're treated to red carpet, cordoned-off access, and perhaps more amazingly, no crowds. Will the next week onboard "The Indian Maharaja," a new luxury train to Mumbai be spent in a similar bubble of splendid isolation?

The butlers with dark red uniforms and turbans work in the sleeping cars; the others (navy blue uniforms and turbans) service the two restaurants, bar, lounge, and fitness area with spa and massage. I don't want to be called "Sir," so we agree I'll be called "Mr. Marko" instead. Fabulous dinner as the train rumbles through the dark Indian night.

Day 1. Agra. First high point: the 16th century Mogul Red Fort. Huge enclosure, powerful architecture. Swarms of ravens in the early morning mist, monkeys scaling the massive walls, and later --when we move on to the Taj Mahal nearby-- a file of women ("domestic tourists') wearing vivid saris, resplendent in the bright sun.

What to say about the Taj Mahal? A seemingly weightless white structure outlined against the bright blue sky. Built by Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaz. There's nothing to say, except maybe "enjoy." Remember Stefan Zweig's description ("a tear turned to marble") and forget that the same man so stirred by the premature death of a beloved young wife only inherited the Mogul throne because he'd had all his potential competitors murdered.

"Just wonderful," always euphoric Mr. Hamid, our travel guide, murmurs when we find a quiet place in the gardens to get a view of the much-visited monument from the reflecting pool.

The sandstone pagoda fort of Fatehpur Sikri in the afternoon. The Muslim Moguls who dominated the northern part of India from the 16th century combined the tiered roofs of Buddhist architecture with elaborate Hindu decoration and their own penchant for symmetry --under Emperor Akbar (1556–1605), religious tolerance was practiced. In the light of the setting sun, the stone elephant figures seem to echo both the wisdom and bloodshed of times long-gone.

On the train, dinner awaits. There's a choice of western-style contemporary cuisine and something called "Indian Experience:" a thali with portions of different, delicious dishes.

Day 2. Overnight the train travelled to Jaipur, a "pink city" of colored marble buildings that look as if they've been iced. The bus rolls past the Palace of Winds and its 950 windows, stirring memories of the 1980s series "Far Pavilions," a story of forbidden love in 1800s India.

Nine kilometers north and I'm on a wooden platform mounted on an elephant's back for the slow climb uphill to Fort Amber. The sun is just rising on the 12th century fort. It's still misty – I can't see the other elephants behind us although I hear the cries of the mahouts, their drivers. A voice in my head is saying something about tourist baloney, quelled immediately by another: come on, stop with the pseudo-critical thing, it's part of the program and people – including you – love it.

Once at the top we're projected into a labyrinthine maze of inner courts and mirrored halls --a space and time warp. When Mr. Hamid asks ""isn't it terrific?" I actually say "shhh!" so as not to break the spell.

Dinner in the torch-lit inner court of what was the Maharajah of Jaipur's city palace turned luxury hotel. Another highly photogenic setting. "Your cameras are going to start taking pictures all by themselves," gushes Mr. Hamid. Later, however, when I confide that the dancing transvestite entertainment isn't exactly knocking my socks off, he appears speechless. He recovers fast though, and says there's some "amazing food" coming up. He's right: incredible buffet in an incredible setting.

Day 3. After breakfast, we climb into jeeps to check out the tigers in Ranthambhore National Park --but, in keeping with their on-the-verge-of-extinction status, we fail to spot a single one. Plenty of monkeys and crocodiles, however.

That night we get to dance to some Hindi Pop. This was in the train lounge. At first, things were a little flat. But then we talked management into letting in the waiters, butlers and cooks --who were on the other side of the glass door, watching-- and it was like being morphed onto a Bollywood film set. Mr. Hamid had already gone to bed, so it was up to me to provide the commentary: "Unforgettable!"

Day 4. Arrival in Udaipur, city of temples and lakes with shimmering island-palaces. We visit an over-sized palace (the owners need the money tourist entry tickets bring in) and march past the portraits of mustached, turban-wearing male ancestors in a gallery with more crystal chandeliers than I could count.

Day 5. On board things are more laid back. The Canadians have now also managed not to be called "Sir" and "Madam." After lunch the view out the windows over a landscape covered with freshly-picked bright red chili peppers rolls by like a movie. We're descending from Rajasthan into Maharashtra state.

Day 6. Mr. Hamid pronounces the caves at Ellora to be "awesome." And he's right. These are silent Buddhist cathedrals inside a mountain, with sculptures and reliefs dating back to the 6th century. A meditation in stone. Awesome indeed.

Day 7. Overnight the train rolled on, and today we visit the ancient caves at Ajanta painted with scenes from the life of Buddha. More of the by-now familiar game: we take pictures of Indian "domestic tourists," they take pictures of us (to them, we're just as exotic), and on it goes like some kind of mobile phone reincarnation cycle.

Day 8. Mumbai. The final day. Sad to leave. We say our goodbyes; porters wait on the platform to carry our luggage away. It wasn't a sterile bubble after all: the welcome on and off the train was so heartfelt that India's unique contradictory authenticity, its noises and smells, came through loud and clear. "Terrific!" as Mr. Hamid would say.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Train Chartering & Private Rail Cars

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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