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Monday, July 23, 2007

A journey of a lifetime

This man has a heritage souvenir sitting on his property. It's not a statue or even a restored home. He does have 18 beautifully restored vintage cars but more than that, what catches a visitor's eye is the train in the green shed.

A train with wonderfully cared for coaches nestles in Tarun Thakral's garden, on his property in the outskirts of Delhi. He's maintained the interiors the way it used to be when the Jodhpur royal family used to travel and entertain in it. He got started when he went abroad for two years to do his MBA and he saw people spending a lot of time pursuing their passions.

He told CNBC-TV18, "When I came back, I met a guy who took me through Rajasthan and I started collecting old gramaphones and record players and suddenly I came across a car - a 1932 Chevy. That's triggered off my collection of cars."

But with vintage cars being collected by most car lovers with money and taste, Thakral decided to buy a saloon. The train is 75 feet long and weighs 30 tonnes and made of Burma teak. This 1930s train belonged to the the Maharaja of Jodhpur and was built in England. The train has ferried royalty and their privileged guests in luxurious comfort.

A train is hardly your ordinary garden ornament, so how did Thakral find it and restore it? Thakral says, "I read in a magazine that in the UK and the US, people have converted old railway carriages into weekend retreats and even hotels. So I wrote to the Indian Railways asking if there was a provision of selling a old rail saloon."

"Initially, the railways were very surprised. They still couldn't figure out why I was buying it. So there was a bond which I was supposed to fill and give it to the authorities, which said that it was going to be restored and used as a personal saloon only. I can proudly say that I'm the first person the Indian Railways has sold a train to an indiviual per se. They have earlier discarded them all as scrap."

That was the easy part, but then came the difficult proposition. He recalls, "The second big task was getting the wagon from Ajmer to Delhi. It costed me a fortune and yet it was some king of a mechanical or engineering feat to move a full carriage made out of wood, which could be damaged at any time. To transport it, we needed a huge Volvo trailer and two huge cranes were needed to lift the entire saloon and park it in my place."

The furnishing and the intricate work on the ceiling and the inlaid panels on the saloon's walls have been restored to its original glory. The Princess of Bikaner helped in the project by picking the artisans herself. There is room on the train to live and party in.

A stylish living room to party the nights away and a comfortable master bedroom ensures peaceful sleep. A spanking new kitchen makes this a self-sustained home away from home. Thakral's children and their friends can have camp nights out in an unusual style. After all, not even the Ambani kids can boast of inviting friends to spend a night on a private train.

That's called living life maharaja-style, in these modern times.

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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