The First 'Palace on Wheels' MG Tourist Train

By B M S Bisht, ex-GM NFR, IRTS (retd.); 19 August 2009

This article was previously published on the website of the Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS).

Indian Railways' first vintage train in the tourism sector commenced its commercial operation from from 1st October 1982. It had a very enthusiastic response from overseas tourists. The inaugural run was fully booked by Japanese tourists. The trip was of seven nights' duration starting from Delhi Queen's (Delhi's former M.G.station). Its circuit was Delhi - Jaipur - Udaipur - Jaisalmer - Jodhpur - Bharatpur - Agra - Delhi. This was a meter-gauge (MG) train. Between October 1982 and March 1983 several trips were planned to begin with, and all of these were taken up by the major tour operators of Britain.

The details of running and booking of the first Palace of Wheels for the entire 1982-83 season were finalized during discussions held earlier in April 1982 in London between five major tour operators of the UK and officials of Indian Railways and the Rajasthan government - the two joint owners of the train. The joint Indian team of officials was led by Mr A V Poulose, Financial Commissioner, Indian Railways. The British tour operators as their marketing strategy also decided to offer an optional one-week holiday tour of Goa and Kashmir to trippers of this train. Wide publicity for the Palace on Wheels was done by these operators through their holiday package brochures and other travel literature.

The train was designed to bring regal splendour and nostalgia relating to pre-independence Indian Maharajahs. At its inception it received a fabulous response in foreign media, especially the British media. The train consisted of 12 meter gauge saloons of erstwhile princely states of Rajasthan. There were two types of trips offered to the tourists, a 7-night trip and another a 3-night trip. The 7-night trip cost Rs 8,225 per person and the 3-night trip was for Rs 3,525. The costs included the charges for rail travel, meals on and off the train, sight seeing by a luxury bus at various places, and cultural entertainment programmes, etc.

The saloons, before they were deployed to the train, were luxuriously renovated and refurbished in railway workshops keeping their original heritage aesthetics meticulously intact. Each saloon had two toilets and a maximum of eight cushioned and very comfortable sleeping berths. The full train thus catered to 96 tourists. There was also a bar, a lounge, and a kitchenette in each saloon. The train had an exclusive posh dining car, a separate air-conditioned lounge cum bar car, a library, and a handicrafts shop facilitating purchase of souvenirs and gifts by the tourists on the train itself. An efficient on-board announcing system was also provided.

The earnings by the booking of all 7-night trips of the train by the foreign tour operators as a result of vigorous marketing for the 1982-83 season was around one million American dollars -- a very welcome achievement in those days for the Government by the Railways and, of course, for the Rajasthan tourism department.

Later this MG train was scrapped and was replaced by a more resplendent and modern broad-gauge Palace on Wheels starting from Delhi Cantonment station covering the same tourist circuit. That train runs even today very successfully as the premier instance of Indian Railways' luxury niche in tourism.