PM flags off Kashi Mahakal Express, Railways big push on religious tourism this year

Avishek G Dastidar

The commercial run of the thrice-a-week train will start from February 20. (Express photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday flagged off the latest religion-themed train, the Kashi Mahakal Express that connects, for the first time, places related to three jyotirlingas—Omkareshwar near Indore, Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain, and Kashi Vishwanath in Varanasi, the PM’s constituency.

This was part of a slew of new projects the PM launched from his constituency along with UP CM Yogi Adityanath.

The commercial run of the thrice-a-week train will start from February 20. Railway PSU Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) will be running this as the third “corporate” train after two Tejas Express trains.

This Lord Shiva-themed train will be followed by a Ramayan-themed train to be launched next month from across India in a big way, marking Indian Railways’ major push in the religious tourism segment. The Ramayan Express will touch places related to the mythology of Ram, including Ayodhya.

Cashing in on the religious tourism of Varanasi, IRCTC is in talks with the authorities at the iconic Kashi Vishwanath temple so that devotees arriving in the city by trains can book various packages of puja offerings at the temple from the IRCTC website. “The talks are at a final stage. Our officers are working out the modalities,” said Rajni Hasija, Director, Tourism and Catering, IRCTC.

With a side-upper berth converted into a permanent puja place or “temple” complete with pictures of Lord Shiva, incense sticks, flowers et al, waiters dressed in traditional UP-style attire and a vegetarian menu, the train leaves virtually no stone unturned to play to the theme. Bhajan artists and flute and shenai players performed live on the platform and a group of 11 priests blessed the train at the Varanasi Cantonment station as giant screens showed PM Modi flagging off the train in remote from a different location.

The train will cover 1131 km between Varanasi and Indore via Lucknow and a distance of 1102 km between Varanasi and Indore via Prayagraj (Allahabad) in approximately 19 hours. The route of the train will be via Sultanpur - Lucknow/Prayagraj – Kanpur – Jhansi - Bina - Sant Hiradnagar – Ujjain - Indore and back.

Railways says that there has been demands from devotees for a train like this. The overnight train, which is a collection of 15 upgraded 3-AC Humsafar type coaches, is also IRCTC’s first overnight, long-distance train to run on a regular basis.

Apart from selling tickets to the train, IRCTC has also worked out packages that involve taking pilgrims on all-inclusive tours of Kashi Dharshan, Ayodhya, Prayag visit, trips to the jyotirlingas (temples) including hotel stays and the like. There will be packages for cities and religious sites covered by the train such as Kashi, Omkareshwar, Mahakaleshwar, Bhopal, Sanchi, Ujjain, Bhimbetka, Ayodhya and Prayag. The packages, designed into various durations, cost between Rs 4950 and Rs 12450 per person.


Railway push for religious tourism

The Kashi Mahakal Express and a couple of other projects in the pipeline mark a major push by Railways in religious tourism. After Kashi Mahakal Express, themed on Lord Shiva, a Ramayan-themed train is to be launched next month that will touch places related to Lord Ram, including Ayodhya. According to sources, a Krishna circuit train is also in the works.

The train’s fare is Rs 1951 between Varanasi and Indore. After 70 per cent of the seats are booked, there will be an increase of 10 per cent for the next 20 per cent of the tickets and a further increase of 10 per cent for the last 10 per cent of the tickets in the dynamic fare scheme. Each ticket comes with a Rs 10 lakh life insurance cover free of cost and every coach is fitted with six CCTV cameras for security along with two guards.

Like its other two Tejas trains, this train will also not entertain any of the concessions on fare offered by Indian Railways.