Golden Chariot 2.0 back on track from March 22

A file photo of the Golden Chariot.

A file photo of the Golden Chariot.  

Three-nights short duration trips will be added to the itinerary

After a two-year break, the Golden Chariot, which completed a decade’s run in 2018, will be back on track from March.

The Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC) and Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) officials said the train’s first run will be on March 22.

The marketing and operations of the luxury train was handed over to the IRCTC in November 2019 after the KSTDC signed an agreement with it. Before that, south India’s only luxury train was not operated during its usual October to March season as the KSTDC was looking for a new agency to take over certain aspects of operations. Last year, the new BJP government which came to power took note of the ₹41 crore losses the train had incurred and decided to temporarily suspend operations.

Through its 10-year run, the Golden Chariot was plagued by low occupancy rates, which was only around 35% on an average. The tourism corporation had also repeatedly raised the issue of high haulage charges by the Indian Railways, that had refused to come on board for a revenue sharing model, causing a huge burden to the Golden Chariot’s finances. The Railways ultimately agreed to a revenue-sharing ratio of 56:44.

Three tours

Speaking to The Hindu, Mahendra Pratap Mall, CMD, IRCTC, said the train would run three tours – two existing routes, and a third one – a short trip of three nights.

The train’s two tours were: Pride of South, which traversed through Bengaluru, Kabini, Mysuru, Hassan, Hampi, Badami and Goa, and Southern Splendour, through Bengaluru, Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Puducherry, Thanjavur, Madurai, Thiruvananthapuram, Kovalam, and Kochi.

Kumar Pushkar, MD, KSTDC, added that the March-April operation will run three trips of one tour – Pride of Karnataka (earlier Pride of South).

“The next season onwards from October, we will start running all three – Pride of Karnataka, Southern Splendour, and a third new one of four days and three nights that covers Bengaluru, Mysuru, Bandpur, Chikkamagaluru, Hampi and back. Badami and Goa have been excluded. This tour is aimed at giving the chariot experience to more people at a reduced cost,” he said.

Off-season from May to July, that also sees lower foreign tourist footfalls, will see some overhauling of the train, including a change in the vestibule (passage between the two coaches), which will be more on the lines of the seamless vestibules on modern trains such as the Shatabdi, and replacement of the air suspension, which the Railways will carry out at a cost. This will improve the ride quality, Mr. Pushkar said.

The train’s iconic purple exterior will remain the same. However, Mr. Pushkar said the motif decoration will be made more meaningful by including the yakshagana kirita (headgear) now, while the yellow band running across the train will explain tourist monuments.

Passengers can also expect to see a lot of physical changes in the interiors. “We have undertaken refurbishment of all the coaches and common areas such as the restaurant and kitchen. The interiors are more plush. They had to be changed as they were 10 years old,” Mr. Mall added.

Asked if there would be similarities between the southern luxury train and the IRCTC’s Maharaja Express which covers the north, Mr. Mall said the latter was in a much higher segment, but added that the refurbished Golden Chariot will also be superior quality-wise.

‘Marginally lower’ tickets

The IRCTC, which had earlier mentioned that there were plans to reduce the ticket prices, has stuck to its promise. The 2018-19 season tariffs ranged from ₹3.85 lakh to ₹6.8 lakh for foreign passport holders and between ₹2.45 lakh to ₹3.78 lakh for Indian nationals.

The IRCTC CMD Mahendra Pratap Mall said the ticket prices would be slightly lower than before due to various factors. “Haulage charges need to be paid to the Railways, which will have to be shared by passengers. This is a huge input and there is limited manoeuvrability in ticket prices due to this,” he explained.

As for improving occupancy rates, he said there is a special scheme for Indians, while the train will be launching publicity in the upcoming ITB Berlin, which is said to be one of the world’s leading travel trade shows.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 9:43:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/golden-chariot-20-back-on-track-from-march-22/article30795700.ece

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