The Great Indian Adventure
Sponsored by Indian Railways
Anyone who has ever watched a Bollywood movie will tell you that Indians have an affinity for extravagance and bravado. The country’s ancient love affair with opulence and style is reflected in the intricate architecture and aromatic cuisines across the country.
Between the 2nd and 12th centuries AD, Nagara architecture in the North and Dravidian in the South were the dominant styles. As Persian conquerors settled in modern-day Delhi, they brought Islamic influences with them. Minarets, spires, and domes rose all over North India during 16th century AD. The Hindu empires of the South built sprawling granite and soapstone temple complexes. European colonialists eventually usurped the Hindu and Muslim rulers and brought with them Gothic and Romanesque styles. Cities grew around imposing forts, churches, and libraries from mid-18th century to mid-20th century. Today, the Indian landscape is dotted with a heady mix of global architectural feats.
These monuments of bygone eras are connected by a network of railway tracks. Let’s hop on the Golden Quadrilateral, a 3,600-mile long track connecting the four biggest cities of the subcontinent, and visit some of them.
We start our journey in the ancient capital city of Delhi. The rich cultural heritage of the city is woven into the 12,000 heritage sites recognized by the Archaeological Survey of India. Walk through Khari Baoli, an open-air spice market, one of the largest of its kind in the world. Nestled in the old Delhi neighborhood, the market has been in operation since the 17th century. Many of the stores are still being run by the families that founded them in the early days of the market.
The Qutb Complex was built on the ruins of the ancient city of Lal Kot in southern Delhi. It features a unique blend of Indo-Islamic architecture.The most famous structure within the complex is the Qutb Minar, built in 1199, the world’s tallest brick minaret. Made of dark red sandstone and iron, it is decorated with intricately carved balconies and shafts.
Built in 1648, the Red Fort symbolizes the wealth and influence of the Mughal Empire in its prime. The fort’s aesthetics was influenced by the architectural styles of the Persian Empire. Built on the banks of the Yamuna River, the fort served as the seat of Mughal power until 1857. Even today, it is a nationalistic symbol: Every year on India’s Independence Day (August 15th), the Prime Minister hoists the national flag at the Red Fort and delivers a nationally broadcasted speech from its ramparts.
India Gate is a war memorial dedicated to the 82,000 soldiers who died during the First World War. Its architectural style was influenced by the Arch of Constantine (Rome) and the Arc de Triomphe (Paris). After India’s independence from colonial rule, a torch was added to the base of the structure that burns perpetually to commemorate the Indian soldiers that lost their lives during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971.
The Cuisine of Delhi: Influenced by Persian and Afghan Settlers
Known as the City of Joy after a book by the same name about this sprawling metropolis, Kolkata was the first capital of British India. It was the birthplace of the Hindu Renaissance, a social reform movement, during the nineteenth century. As our train slowly pulls into Calcutta’s Howrah station, the lines between old world charm and modern traffic begin to blur…
The Dakhineswar Kali Temple was built in the mid-19th century by Rani Rashmoni after she was visited by the Goddess Kali in a dream. Sri Ramakrishna, a famous and enigmatic mystic, spent many years at the temple.The main temple is built in a traditional Bengali style with nine spires. Situated on the eastern bank of the Hooghly river, the complex also hosts several smaller shrines.
Eden Gardens is the world’s second largest and perhaps most iconic cricket stadium. Established in 1864, records have been set and broken on the grounds.
In 1904, King George V laid the foundation stone of the Victoria Memorial in honor of Queen Victoria after her death in 1901. Often described as a cross between the Taj Mahal and the US Capitol, the Victoria Memorial is surrounded by spacious green lawns. The central dome is topped with a statue of the Angel of Victory. Within the marble halls are exhibits that outline the city’s colonial history.
Bengali Cuisine: Born on the fertile plains of the Ganges
Chennai is the gateway to South India. Here, the food, languages and architecture are very different from those of the North. Chennai is known for its diversity, modernity and excellent healthcare services that attract ‘health tourists’ from all over the world.
The Parthasarathy Temple is one of the many examples of ancient Dravidian architecture. It was built in the 8th century in dedication to Krishna. Dravidian architecture was prominent in South India between the 3rd and 15th centuries. Characterized by intricate porches and pyramid shaped roofs, the influence of Dravidian architecture can be seen as far away as Cambodia.
In 1644, the British East India Company built its first fort on Marina Beach facing the Bay of Bengal. Over time, fueled by merchant activity, the city of Georgetown grew around Fort St. George. The building hosts a museum of arms, uniforms, historic documents and artwork. Today, the fort is used by the state’s legislative assembly.
Built in Gothic and Romanesque styles, the 142-year-old Chennai Central Railway Station serves almost half a million local and national passengers every day. The station serves as a gateway to all the major cities in South India — its clock tower and impressive facade a symbolic landmark that greets more than five hundred trains that pass through its platforms daily —ours included!
South Indian Cusine: Coconuts and Curry Leaves from the Carnatic region
Our final destination is the beautiful coastal city of Mumbai. Mumbai is home to one of the largest film industries in the world. It has served as a muse to many Bollywood directors and artists through the last century. In November 2008, Leopold’s Cafe, a historically significant eatery, was attacked by terrorists. Bullet holes in the walls serve as a chilling reminder of the devastating attack. It reopened its doors a mere four days after the attack — a testament to the city’s resilience.
The Taj Mahal Palace is an 113-year-old five-star hotel in the upscale Colaba region of Mumbai. The hotel is a mix of Indo-Saracen, Florentine, and Gothic styles. From presidents to celebrities, many prominent figures have stayed at the Taj. With eleven restaurants, two bars, and two lounges, the hotel has a fine balance of old world charm and modern sensibilities.
Six miles from the Mumbai Harbor in the Sea of Oman is a tiny island. Some time between the 2nd and 8th centuries, a group of highly skilled artisans carved intricate stone sculptures along the walls of a network of caves on the island. However, there is no consensus among archeologists as to who actually undertook this massive project. Today, this UNESCO Heritage site is known as the Elephanta Caves.
Known as the ‘Necklace of Lights’, Mumbai’s Marine Drive is a picturesque boulevard along the coast. It lined with palm trees, art-deco inspired buildings and trendy restaurants. The Marine Drive skyline is often framed by beautiful, vibrant sunsets.
Mumbai Cuisine: The home of India’s most delicious street food
Experience the beauty of India in its rawest, most authentic form: By rail. The Indian Railways has connected the vast country through a network of railroads that transport over 8 billion travelers annually: Zipping past green fields, tall mountains, and quaint villages. The Indian Railways luxury carriages recreate the romance of the days of the traveling elite.
Book your tickets here today and embark on an adventure like no other with The Indian Railways.