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Travel luxuriously to India’s heritage destinations (Travelogue)

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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)

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Indian Railways Will Promote Heritage Tourism By Preserving Its Metre-Gauge Tracks

The trains are allowed to run at a maximum speed of 30 km per hour, which reduces to 20 km per hour in accident-prone areas.

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Indian Railways
Indian Railways. Wikimedia Commons

Moving beyond the five hill networks that are major tourist attractions, Indian Railways is planning to also preserve its old five-metre gauge tracks built during its early days in the British era to promote heritage tourism.

“As part of the strategy to preserve the metre-gauge lines, Indian Railways is planning to preserve few metre-gauge lines, which have the potential to attract more tourists,” a senior Railway Ministry official told IANS, requesting anonymity.

Indian railways presented an integrated mobile application to cater to various passenger requirements, including ticket booking, inquiry, on-board cleaning and ordering meal on a single platform.
Indian Railways to promote tourism by preserving its meter gauge tracks.

“The decision to preserve the metre-gauge lines was taken at a meeting on February 3. Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani, stressing on the need to preserve the metre-gauge lines to promote the heritage structures of Indian Railways, asked the officials to identify such railway tracks on which the tourism can be promoted,” the official said.

“Thus we have identified five lines for preservation — the 42.27 km Visavadar-Talala line in Gujarat, the 16 km Mhow-Patalpani-Kalakand line in Madhya Pradesh, the 162 km Mavli Junction-Marwar Junction line in Rajasthan, the 171 km Nanpur-Mailani line in Uttar Pradesh and the 47 km Mahur-Harangjao metre-gauge line in Assam,” he said.

Also Read: Facts about Indian Railways you can’t miss

“Four of the metre-gauge lines are in working condition, while the one line located in Assam is not operational right now,” he added. The official also said that the Railway Ministry has written to the zonal railways to check the operational feasibility of these tracks. “Once the response from zonal railways is received by the third week of April, the ministry will formally launch the project,” he said.

Giving details of some of the five lines, the official said: “The Visavadar-Talala metre-gauge line passes through the Gir forest in Gujarat and there is thus a speed restriction. Currently, only three trains pass through this section in the day.”

The Mhow-Patalpani-Kalakund line, the official said, passes through picturesque mountains, valleys, tunnels, ravines and crosses the Choral and Malendi rivers, which makes the journey very memorable, especially after the rains.

Facts about Indian Railways you shouldn't miss. Wikimedia Common
Indian Railways have many tracks and trains with historic importance. Wikimedia Common

According to the official, this line was laid by the British about 150 years ago and passes through of the Vindhyachal mountain range. The official said that the Nanpur-Mailani metre-gauge railway track in Uttar Pradesh crosses through the Dudhwa Tiger reserve. The Railways currently operates six trains on the section. The trains are allowed to run at a maximum speed of 30 km per hour, which reduces to 20 km per hour in accident-prone areas.

The British laid this track in the 19th century for transporting timber from Nepal’s forests and from the forests on the border. Currently, the five hill trains — Darjeeling Himalayan train, Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Kalka-Shimla Railway, Kangra Valley Railway and Matheran Hill Railway — are a major attraction for tourists in India. IANS