Kolkata: Railways is planning to introduce a special train from Kolkata to offer tourists a spiritual tour of key Buddhist circuit cities spread across the region where the religion originated thousands of years ago.
The train will benefit tourists looking to visit Kolkata as also the states popular for their Buddhist pilgrimages, a senior Railway official said.
Among the Buddhist tour circuit cities are Bodh Gaya, Dungeshwari Caves, Kesariya, Vaishali, Rajgir, Nalanda, Kushinagar, Sarnath and Varanasi.
In fact, a proposed separate AC gallery at Indian Museum here to showcase the urn said to contain the ashes of Lord Buddha and other relics associated with his life is further going to aid the initiative for the introduction of the special train, the official said.
"We are waiting for the Indian Museum to take a decision regarding the setting up of the gallery displaying the urn containing the ashes. Not many people know about it and we are very sure that it will draw a huge crowd," he said.
The Bharhut Gallery at the museum showcases several Buddhist artefacts, among them the gateway of a Buddhist stupa complete with sculptures and carvings depicting scenes from Lord Buddha's life.
Besides, a railway survey among pilgrims visiting Buddhist tour circuit cities suggested that the train, if it originates from the city, would be more popular than the Mahaparinirvan Express, which starts from New Delhi.
"There are several international tourists who want to visit eastern India and there from take the tour of the Buddhist circuit cities. The survey suggested that tourists prefer the shorter route to the circuit rather than starting on it from New Delhi," he said.
If the tour could be initiated from Kolkata, pilgrims would be able to visit Odisha, Sikkim and other northeastern states popular for the Buddhist monasteries there.
"Pilgrims are keen on visiting Odisha, Sikkim and other states in the northeastern region which are famous for their Buddhist monasteries. And, it will be quite logical and economical for the tourists too. Bihar is closer to Kolkata and Kolkata has the shortest route to Nalanda University. Also, going to Odisha from Kolkata is easy... We expect that the proposed tour would also be quite profitable for Railways," he said.
According to Railways' plan, the duration of the proposed train tour from Kolkata covering the Buddhist tour circuit cities would be seven nights/eight days, the official said.
"It will be a Kolkata-to-Kolkata tour. After returning from the tour of the Buddhist Circuit cities, tourists the next day will be taken to Indian Museum to see the urn and other relics connected with Lord Buddha," he added.
As to when the proposed train could be made operational, the IRCTC official said, "No dates have been finalised for it but we want it to be operational some time in the second half of this year. We are working on it. First, we are planning to run it on an experimental basis."
In Sikkim, there are about 200 monasteries notable among which are Pemayangtse Monastery, Rumtek Monastery, Enchey Monastery, Phensang Monastery and Dubdi Monastery.
Odisha with Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udaygiri Hills and innumerable Buddhist stupas and monasteries, too, attracts many Buddhist tourists every year.
The Mahaparinirvan Express, also popular as the Buddhist Circuit Train, was launched in 2007. Quite popular among pilgrims from Southeast Asian countries, the train covers important Buddhist pilgrimage sites as part of a 7-night-and-8 day tour. It is a fully air-conditioned train with three classes of travel and is operated by the railways using carriages from the Rajdhani Express.