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When it’s time to rest, slip into the private cabins decked with pure Belmond hospitality

Romance on the Railways: Slow Travel in Asia

Slowing down is a leisure, and much more, a luxury, in these five railway trains covering well-loved routes in Asia.

At Leisure: It is straightforward to get hooked to train journeys, we cover five trains where indulgences come easy.

Slowing down is a leisure, and much more, a luxury, in these five railway trains covering well-loved routes in Asia. Sit down, lay back, and indulge in a journey of a lifetime without missing a beat of nature’s best landscapes.

Travel like the old-world Rajasthani

With fabled luxury fit for a king, India’s leading luxury train Maharajas’ Express pierces through the royal districts with its crown-printed, ruby-rain body, as it passes along the steel paths. With the cities of Rajasthan and Central India in its map, the train covers more than 10 destinations in its 4-circuit route, immersing guests into the famous Taj Mahal, whimsical Jodhpur, Pink City of Jaipur and the glorious landscapes of Udaipur. Welcome ceremonies are held every stop. Passengers are treated to equally stunning locations in between sites—such as the glowing Thar Desert and the Ajanta Caves.

Mayur Mahal’s refined royalty echoes rich wood, china and flowers
Mayur Mahal’s refined royalty echoes rich wood, china and flowers

Inside the train, the atmosphere resounds the glory of old India, with interiors in rich colours of gold and dark wood. The cordial staff is dressed in old Indian couture, guiding one to walk on the petalled carpets towards the private corners. Carriages are dressed in the luxuries of a swanky hotel, complete with leather couches, fine rugs and gorgeous furniture. When it’s time for slumber, sleeping cabins are decadently cosy, perfect for the night-time break as the train moves on into the next destination. Communal spaces are lively with two restaurants—Rang Mahal and Mayur Mahal—serving a feast while indulging hearty curry enthusiasts with an old-world glamour. www.the-maharajas.com

Art Deco inspired for the modern aristocrats

Warm, temperate Asia is the highlight of Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express, where jewel box carriages become a temporary home to wanderers who desire to submit in a pure state of peace. The Industrial Revolution-themed train reflects the splendour of the past: plush furniture, art nouveau decor and thick drapes, reliving the stories of the old in modern-day panoramas. Built in 1972, the Japan-built E&O boasts of 22 steel tube cars, three of which were exclusive to dining experiences, and an intimate library that holds volumes of books–the perfect past time during long rides. Sleeper cars contain private compartments managed by a cordial steward, promptly attending to guests with fresh morning tea and continental snacks.

During the day, the observation car becomes the venue for the wide-eyed wanderers. Here, large windows allow  generous views of the the quaint towns of Malaysia, and soon, into the whimsical temples of Bangkok. Cruise by the River Kwai or immerse in off-beaten villages surrounded by green rice paddies and the open sky. At night, one is required to dress for dinner, where tables welcome each with a festive mood while indulging in servings of wonton, spiced rack of lamb or beef medallions slathered with savoury sauce. There is no doubt; even on a train, the Belmond hospitality shines through. www.belmond.com

During lunch, bask into the spectacular views from the curtain-draped glass windows of the Belmond E&O
During lunch, bask into the spectacular views from the curtain-draped glass windows of the Belmond E&O

The champagne- coloured Eastern & Orient proposing a perfect riverside view
The champagne- coloured Eastern & Orient proposing a perfect riverside view

Inter-continental glamour for the lavish wanderer

The Great Wall of China soon fades into the window as The Golden Eagle sets off to a new adventure—this time, right into the heart of the mythical Silk Road. The train, whose central motif is surprisingly blue, curtsies with a warm welcome along with its English-speaking staff, dressed congenially in prim black vests, eager to please at every ring of the provodnik—a red button lodged in every one of its spacious cabins, signalling an attendant’s attention whatever time of the day. Just like its facade, the interiors are majestically trimmed in blue and white, offering inter-continental comfort as the train pierces through one of the most important routes in history.

Navigate the silk road inside the blue and white motif of the Golden Eagle
Navigate the silk road inside the blue and white motif of the Golden Eagle

The pace accelerates to Xian before pulling the breaks to Dunhuang, where the sun rises over the golden sand dunes. Crossing the longest railway leads to a path in Almaty, where one is treated to colourful temples and tree-lined streets. Mingling is done in the dining car. At Samarkand, bask in the glorious architecture while wandering across the Registan Square. At dinner, a heaping of Chicken Kieve, borscht, and a seasonal rendition of omul satisfies the picky eaters. The lounge car provides a more social atmosphere, where the furniture is draped in rich red for a change of aesthetic. Here, watch the sceneries change into the bustling metropolitan Moscow, where the train launches into a full stop, and the glorious trip finally ends. www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com

A reflection of nature’s glorious metamorphosis

Soft-spoken staff offer a welcoming bow at the entrance of the champagne-and-gold futuristic train, appearing like a highly prized collector’s item. But Shiki Shima, translated as “The Island of Four Seasons,” is brilliantly real—a 10-coach train boasting an intimate set of 17 guest rooms, each imbibed with the luxury and grace modern Japan has to offer. The entrance itself is impressive, with its warm cedar tone and chic geometric cut accents. At the finest hours, one would hear the piano ringing with sweet serenades, harmonizing with the prime views of the region.

The golden colours of Shiki-shima’s dining carriage instantly fill one’s visual appetite
The golden colours of Shiki-shima’s dining carriage instantly fill one’s visual appetite

Just as its name, the train reflects the beauty and variety of Japan’s four seasons, may it be in its colours, or the menu. The dining car is exquisitely dressed in dark wood and white; window-side tables have their unique treatments. Artisan tableware pay tribute to Japan’s local craftsmen, while food remains to be one of the best highlights, as served by a Michelin-starred chef. Observatory cars are perched at both ends as Shiki-shima leisurely glides through the forested regions past Tokyo. Spacious and soothing, private suites are designated with traditional-style baths soaked with daylight, simmering with the aromas of cypress wood. After the bath, head out into the lounge; by the fireplace is a pair of custom Swarovski-encrusted binoculars, made to capture far-flung views. www.jreast.co.jp

Modern comfort meets sublime nostalgia

Like a train from the future, Twilight Express Mizukaze trudges into a sublime expedition, treating its 30-person crowd with its Art Deco interior that mimics the comfort of a hotel. Private cabins are decked with spacious beds, warm wood storages and a bath. The lounge cabin is comprised of plush upholstery with nostalgic prints, paired with prompt, respectful service from the staff. The glamorous dining space showcases the healing landscape through its large square windows and monochrome motif, displaying the purity of the Japanese landmarks and savoury cuisine.

In Twilight Express Mizukaze, contemporary Art Deco is paired with modern comforts, like a true hotel
In Twilight Express Mizukaze, contemporary Art Deco is paired with modern comforts, like a true hotel

Journeys are short but eventful. From the serene temple-lined city of Kyoto, West Japan Railway’s luxury train pursues a majestic excursion along the Sanyo line, taking stops at the decadent districts of Kurashiki, where Ohara’s Museum of Art becomes one of the highlights. From the San-in line, the windows reflect the azure coast of the Japan Sea before making a pause at the UNESCO Global Geopark Tottori Sand Dunes. Along the way, there are marvellous views of Mt. Daison and the restful city of Osaka, and perhaps even a stop at Itsukushima Shrine, a World Heritage Site, which experience can be capped off with a prayer from a priest and a performance from local dancers. twilightexpress-mizukaze.jp

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© This article was first published in Aug-Sept 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.

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