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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 AS 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 give 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 the 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 mesmerise 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. (IANS, Somrita Ghosh), (image courtesy: newsforindia.com)
The Indian ships will spend more than two months in the region, the navy said in a statement.
Commander Vivek Madhwal, the Indian navy spokesman, said four ships will take part.
The UK government also announced that arrivals from France to England will no longer need to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated. The step aligns France with the rest of the amber list now that the proportion of beta variant cases has fallen, where those who are fully vaccinated with a vaccine authorised and administered in the UK, the US or Europe do not need to quarantine when arriving in England.
This move also simplifies the system to three categories, as well as the green watch list to give travellers notice where green status is at risk.
To continue cautiously reopening international travel, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Romania and Norway will be added to the government's green list, having demonstrated they posed a low risk to UK public health.
Besides India, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE will also be moved from the red to the amber list, as the situation in these countries has improved.
The data for all countries will be kept under review and the government will not hesitate to take action where a country's epidemiological picture changes, a statement by the UK government said.
Following an assessment of the latest data, Georgia, La Reunion, Mayotte and Mexico will be added to the red list as they present a high public health risk to the UK from known variants of concern, known high-risk variants under investigation or as a result of very high in-country or territory prevalence of Covid-19.
Arrivals from Spain and all its islands are advised to use a PCR test as their pre-departure test wherever possible, as a precaution against the increased prevalence of the virus and variants in the country.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "We are committed to opening up international travel safely, taking advantage of the gains we've made through our successful vaccination programme, helping connect families, friends and businesses around the world.
"While we must continue to be cautious, today's changes reopen a range of different holiday destinations across the globe, which is good news for both the sector and travelling public."
Since February, anyone who arrives in the UK from a red list country has been required by law to book a stay in a managed quarantine facility for 10 days.
In order to ensure taxpayers are not subsidising the costs of staying in these facilities, which have gone up, the cost will increase from August 12. Alternative payment arrangements remain available to those who genuinely cannot afford to pay and rates remain the same for children up to 12.(IANS/HP)
According to the Dawn news report, the incident took place on Wednesday in Bhong town, about 60 km from Rahim Yar Khan city.
Besides the vandalization, the mob also blocked the Sukkur-Multan Motorway (M-5), the report added.
Citing sources, Dawn news said that a case was registered against the minor on July 24 based on a complaint filed by a cleric, Hafiz Muhammad Ibrahim, of the Darul Uloom Arabia Taleemul Quran.
The sources said that "some Hindu elders did tender an apology to the seminary administration saying the accused was a minor and mentally challenged".
But, when a lower court granted him bail a few days ago, some people incited the public in the town on Wednesday and got all shops there closed in protest, the report quoted the sources as further saying.
A video clip showing people wielding clubs and rods storming the temple and smashing its glass doors, windows, lights, and damaging the ceiling fans went viral on social media.
Another said: "Yesterday, the mob ran amok at Temple over minor boy issue who allegedly urinated, the boy said to be mentally handicapped. Hindu community made an apology for the boy — a case registered against the nine-year-old boy. Those vandalized temples, no FIR registered against them."
District police spokesman Ahmed Nawaz Cheema said Rangers had been deployed in the troubled area and the situation was under control.
A small town close to the River Indus and Sindh-Punjab border, Bhong houses a number of gold traders who originally hail from Ghotki and Dehrki (Sindh), according to the Dawn news report.
A ruling PTI member representing the minority said he had been in touch with the local Hindu community and influential Rais family of Bhong since the issue surfaced.