New Delhi: The Indian Railways has discovered a real crowd-puller in Gautam Buddha. Launched in 2007, the Mahaparinirvan Express is an air-conditioned tourist train that takes people on an eight-day tour of places that became milestones in the lifetime of Siddharth (who later became Budhha).
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Within a year, the popularity of the route has won the railways a national tourism award for the most innovative tourism product and thousands of domestic and foreign tourists are lining up to book seats. A railway official, who was in charge of the project, says the train gets a regular stream of passengers from Thailand, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, China, Japan, the US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and Sri Lanka.
“We have tied up with Vipassana meditation centres across the globe to promote this route and the train usually runs full,” says the official on condition of anonymity.
Navel of the earth: The Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya. A.P. Dube / Hindustan Times
The railways now plans to focus on China to draw more tourists. “We believe that the potential for this circuit is immense. We are providing a focused trip that goes to almost every significant Buddhist site in India,” the official says.
For Rama Dadeech, who travelled with her three-year-old son Adi Sundaram, it was an unforgettable experience. “The train is as good as the Palace on Wheels. Security was tight and we could safely leave our valuables in the train as the railways had provided at least two security guards per coach. We had to travel through some places in Bihar and Nepal which are not really safe. The trains were also clean and the service world-class,” says Dadeech, who works as a financial analyst. Dadeech opted for this train ride because she was curious about Buddhism and also wanted to see the remote areas of Bihar.
Fifty-eight-year-old Kishore Saigal recently undertook a journey on the Mahaparinirvan Express with his wife. “It was a once in a lifetime experience. The service on the train was very good. We went to some really remote areas but never felt unsafe,” says Saigal, a Mumbai-based import-export consultant.
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The tour provides an all-inclusive package, including rail and road travel, accommodation, sightseeing, insurance, security and medical assistance. Coaches are equipped with modern shower cubicles and environment-friendly toilets; tickets are available in three classes: first class AC, two-tier AC and three-tier AC.
The fare ranges from $95 (around Rs4,800) a night for three-tier AC to $125 for two-tier AC and $150 a night for a berth in first class?AC.?The?railways also runs three Bharat Darshan trains for the benefit of domestic budget travellers. The journeys—all between 10 and 16 days—are part of the railways’ efforts to promote domestic tourism at a reasonable price. The tariffs, which start from Rs5,670, include the cost of food and visits to places of religious, cultural and historical significance.
The Mahaparinirvan Express runs two Saturdays a month from October to March each year. Bharat Darshan trips start from 11 April. For dates, booking details, reservation and other information on any of Indian Railways’ tourist trains, visit www.railtourismindia.com
Graphics by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint