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Hotel shortage? Start more luxury trains
Ravi Teja Sharma in New Delhi | September 29, 2006
The Palace on Wheels is a legend in itself (it's booked till 2009), and the opportunity being offered is to deliver similar levels of luxury on other rail tours.
Rajasthan Tourism, which runs the PoW, has started another train this year called Heritage on Wheels - a three-day trip of Jaipur, Bikaner, Tal Chhapar and Shekhawati, and then back to Jaipur.
"This train is for the mid-level segment, corporates and domestic travellers," says Vinod Zutshi, chairman, Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, which also expects to launch another slightly higher-end PoW in September 2007.
Then, there is the Fairy Queen offering a two-day trip between Delhi and Alwar, aimed at the domestic tourist who wants a weekend getaway.
Just about a month ago, the UK-based GW Travel hired the Deccan Odyssey from Maharashtra Tourism for a single 14-day trip starting from Mumbai and covering Jaipur, Agra, Delhi, Varanasi and Kolkata, and then finally taking passengers on the toy train to Darjeeling.
With ground logistics handled by Cox & Kings, Taj catering, a bar car, a spa car and a business centre, it is quite luxurious.
"We've been planning this train for four years now and we finally got the permissions after a lot of negotiations with the Indian Railways and Maharashtra Tourism to run the train across the country," says Tim Littler, managing director, GW Travel.
The plan is to run six trips next year, of which four are already sold out. The Viceroy Class on the train is priced at �5,695 and the suites at �9,995 (twin-sharing, both).
The target: 30 tours by 2009, with other routes planned. By then, the company hopes to have its own coaches too. "Trans-India tours are the most exciting for the international travel market," he explains.
Responding to the ministry's invitation to private operators, East India Hotels - better known as the Oberoi Group - has put forward a proposal for a high-end train which has already got a nod from Rajasthan Tourism and is awaiting clearance from the Railway Board.
"The train will be built by a joint venture between the EIH Limited (57.5 per cent), government of Rajasthan (16.5 per cent) and the Indian Railways (26 per cent)," says Ketaki Narain, a spokesperson for group.
With a seven-day itinerary, the train will ply on a route from Delhi to Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Ranthambhore and Agra, before returning to Delhi. It will have eight sleeper coaches with 32 cabins (four cabins in each coach) and will accommodate 64 passengers.
According to P K Goel, managing director of Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Cooperation, the Oberoi train should be cleared in a week.
For those keener on south India, there will soon be the equivalent of the PoW in Karnataka, covering heritage sites in the state and touching upon some sites in Kerala and Goa as well.
This train should be operational by September 2007. There is a plan for a PoW in Punjab as well. So the hotel industry can breathe easy - at least until these new luxury trains get fully booked.