"I accidentally stumbled upon the Maha Parinirvan Express on the IRCTC portal. A few more clicks to find out more and I was hooked. My wife and I took the journey last year and I was impressed by the punctuality and sheer organisation of the Maha Parinirvan Express. I would never have been able to plan such a journey on my own." SK Aggrawal, Director, Vimal Organics
Indian tourists are rediscovering the joy of train travel. And the Indian Railways is going all out to make this rediscovery a pleasant one. Starting off with easy online booking of train tickets and cabs, the Railways has gone on to beef up its tour offerings. From heritage to wildlife... there’s a tour for everyone.
And to make the whole experience better, the Railways is already in the process of revamping the dirty, crowded railway stations into more modern, passenger-friendly places. Here are the five types of tour packages on offer:
Let the Railways act as travel agent and take care of all your holiday needs. For a fixed fare, you get AC-3 tickets, transfers, accommodation, all meals, sightseeing and the like. Train holidays include an eight-day Uttarakhand tour for Rs 12,500 per person. This tour leaves New Delhi on April 20 and 27 and May 18 and 25. If you prefer the backwaters, try the eightday Mumbai-Kerala deluxe package, for Rs 23,140 per head, which departs every Friday. If the summer sun does not scare you off, there are the various packages to Goa, for instance from Bengaluru to Goa every Friday for four nights for Rs 6,800. There are also several seven- and eight-day packages on offer, such as Exotic Assam or Glimpses of Gujarat and Rajasthan, which cost Rs 12,000 and Rs 16,440 per person respectively.
It’s sad that most people might have seen more of the world than of their own country. To them we introduce the Railways’ Bharat Darshan. From an eight-day quickie to a more leisurely 17-day trip, this train takes you all over the country—literally. And for something like Rs 500 a day, you get the train ride, board and lodging, sightseeing with guide, and taxes. The only problem is that there’s only one departure every month, and the trains only leave from the West and South for now. Only sleeper-class coaches are available and the offtrain accommodation is also budget class. And no, you cannot use the train as a convenient means of transport from point A to point B—the rules are quite clear: no disembarkation till the end of the journey. The departure dates and more details can be had at www.railtourismindia. com.
Recognising that not everybody can make time for a leisurely train holiday, there are several two and threenight rail trips on offer. For instance, there’s the Gandhi circuit from Ahmedabad, taking you to Rajkot, Porbandar, Sabarmati Ashram and even a 14th century stepwell, for Rs 4,100 per person. Or there’s the Satpura Queen package, covering Bhopal, Sanchi, Bhimbetka and Pachmarhi for just Rs 6,000 per person. Or the Mysore-Coorg two-night package for less than Rs 7,000 per person or the Puri-Chilka-Bhubaneshwar package at Rs 9,580 per couple. In each case, the cost includes all meals, transfer by air-conditioned car and accommodation. Many of these packages also have an economy version available, which means travel by non-AC coach and stay in budget hotels.
Making a flying visit to Delhi, Jaipur or Guwahati? These are just some cities where the Railways offers a special day tour to catch the sights. For instance, the Jaipur Darshan tour covering Amber Fort, Jal Mahal, Gaitore, Hawa Mahal, City Palace, Jantar Mantar and the Birla Temple costs Rs 854 per person. In some places, depending on the strength of the group, you might even bag free guide services.
In a country where every street boasts a temple and every temple at least two divinities, it’s natural that pilgrimages are so big. And since most pilgrimages happen in large groups, what better way to do it than by rail? The Railways offers the Maha Parinirvan Express, a special train covering the Buddhist circuit in India and Nepal in eight days. The tariff per person is under Rs 6,000 in AC first class, around Rs 4,000 in AC 2 tier and Rs 3,300 in AC 3 tier; there are two fixed departures from Delhi every month. If your family deity is the one in Tirupati, there’s a one-day trip from Secunderabad to Tirupati from Sunday to Thursday every week for Rs 3,500. There’s a similar trip from Delhi to Ajmer every Saturday for under Rs 3,500. There are longer trips for around Rs 10,000—a seven-day pilgrimage from Guwahati to Vaishnodevi every Monday, or a similar one from Jaipur to Puri every Saturday. The cost of these packages includes to and fro train tickets in AC 3 tier or AC chair car as available, all meals, road transport by air-conditioned car or deluxe bus, sightseeing, accommodation in a twostar hotel or a higher category and all applicable taxes. The economy packages are cheaper. For instance, travel sleeper class and you will pay only Rs 7,000 for the Guwahati to Vaishnodevi package.
Having consolidated the budget travel sphere, IRCTC is now all set to tap the opposite end of the leisure market. Coming soon is a super luxury train, slated to be launched next year. Tentatively called Luxury on Wheels, this train will have a 12-13 day itinerary encompassing as many must-visit sites across the country as possible. A competitor to the likes of Palace on Wheels and the Golden Chariot, this is expected to be one of the most advanced trains India has seen to date. Railway tourism is certainly taking us places.