New Delhi: Fancy travelling to two popular Unesco World Heritage Sites and a city of old-world charm and multiple religious faiths on a single journey? Come January 2016 and that's exactly what you can do aboard a new 'semi-luxury heritage circuit tourist train' launched by IRCTC, a subsidiary of Indian Railways.
Departing from the rather languid Safdarjung railway station here, the five-day-four night package first takes you to Varanasi and thence to Khajuraho and Agra, before returning to Delhi.
"Varanasi, Khajuraho and Agra are immensely popular among not only foreign tourists but also for Indians. There are no trains that directly connect these three spots. We, therefore, launched this train to make it easy for tourists to visit these three places in a solo trip," IRCTC Tourism Manager A.S. Pandey told IANS during the inaugural run of the train.
The itinerary has been drawn up taking into account all the needs of travellers. From accommodation to transportation and food, everything is the responsibility of IRCTC.
"We have Maharaja packages and normal trains (aimed specifically at tourists). We wanted to come up with something that fills up the gap between these two extremes.
The package has been made keeping in mind the different economical sections of society," IRCTC Public Relations Officer Sandip Dutta told IANS.
The effort put to maintain the hygiene and cleanliness of the train is appreciable.
"Apart from cutlery, the food provided by IRCTC is same for all the three categories on the train (1st a/c, IInd a/c, three-tier a/c). The travellers are put up in luxury hotels at the three destinations and a/c buses are arranged for ground transportation," Dutta added.
Spending the first night on the train, I and my fellow travellers arrived in Varanasi early in the morning. The air was nippy but that did not take away from the excitement. We soon headed to Sarnath, the place where Gautam Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment in Bodh Gaya. Considered pious by Buddhists, the place attracts many foreign tourists from across the world. The calm and serene atmosphere of this holy place gives solace to the soul.
After spending some leisure time hopping around the city, it was time to witness the quintessential ‘Ganga Aarti’ at Dashashwamedh Ghat, one of the oldest in Varanasi and the boat ride across the holy river. Thousands gather every day to watch this event where the priests offer prayers to Hindu gods and goddesses.
With Day 2 coming to an end, we wrapped up our Varanasi moments and headed towards our next destination, Khajuraho, which greeted us with an early morning wintry chill and misty surroundings, marking the beginning of Day 3.
The Khajuraho set of temples, located in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh, which was built by the Chandela dynasty between the 9th and 11th centuries, is spread across four zones - the western part being the main tourist attraction. The temples, built in Indo-Aryan style, not just represent architectural finesse but are also the amalgamation of two religions - Hinduism and Jainism. This is proof of the acceptance and respect for each other's communities.
The erotic sculptures of the temple are something to be perceived beyond the Kama Sutra. The bold sculptures range from self-pleasing acts to orgies to bestiality - and exotic sexual positions. With sun setting behind the temples, I headed for a musical show that highlighted the diversity of Indian culture, ending the stay at Khajuraho.
On Day 4 we arrived at Agra and, without much delay, were taken to the Taj Mahal. The sun was setting, the fog had gathered and the cold breeze sweeping across the Yamuna made us shiver but nothing could take away from the majestic view and the white beauty of the monument as the sky got enveloped in a pinkish hue.
One of the Seven Wonders of world, Taj Mahal, which is undoubtedly the most popular tourist destination in India that draws crowds in the thousands every day, still holds the power to mesmerize with its beauty, no matter the innumerable times one visits it.
Capturing every moment spent at the Taj, the day ended, making way for the final destination of the trip on last day.
Braving the shivering morning cold of Agra city, we headed towards Fatehpur Sikri. The fort has a rich historical background attached to it. Built by Emperor Akbar, the city was the capital of the Mughal empire during 1571-1585. The structure, a combination of Persian and Hindu architecture, looked glorious as the early rays of sun kissed its red sandstone walls.
It was then time to board the train for one last time for the return journey to Delhi but what will endure are some of the memorable moments spent on those five days.
AC first class : Single Occupancy - Rs.35,900; Double Occupancy - Rs.32,900; Triple Occupancy - Rs.31,900
AC two-tier: Single Occupancy - Rs.26,200; Double Occupancy - Rs.23,200; Triple Occupancy - Rs.22,700
AC three-tier: Single Occupancy - Rs 21,790; Double Occupancy - Rs.18,790; Triple Occupancy - Rs 18,290
Dates of Journey: January 17 and 31; February 21; March 6 and 27; April 10 and 24.