It was more aastha (spiritual immersion) than an acquaintance with Gandhian ethics and values that spurred several of the 623 people to take the inaugural journey of the ‘Aastha Special Tourist Train (Gandhi Darshan)’ on Saturday morning from Sabarmati station here. Besides places related to Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom struggle like Sevagram Ashram (Wardha), Champaran Satyagraha Memorial at Bettiah and Motihari, the train will connect cities such as Varanasi, Gaya and Allahabad — popular pilgrimage destinations.
The special train was flagged off by Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in the morning with Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu, who joined in via video conferencing from Bandra. Ahmedabad based businessman Ramesh Dhanwani (58), said that his keenness to visit the places on the itinerary made him book his tickets. “I am particularly interested in visiting places like Sangam in Allahabad and Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi and Buddhist temples in Bodhgaya,” he said.
Another Ahmedabad resident, Preeti Patel (65), said she paid Rs 7,320 per person for the tour and is travelling with a group of 11. “I am keen to visit the Kashi-Vishwanath temple at Varanasi located on the ghats of the river Ganga where the last rites among Hindus are usually done and the Hanuman temple at Triveni Sangam. I am told that the river that merges here travels all the way to the holy spot of Kailash Mansarover, which is good for me to visit at my age. We will also be taken to places of religious importance like Vishwanath temple in Allahabad and few places relating to Gandhiji in Wardha. This train has good facilities.”
The train is being operated by the IRCTC (Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation), a PSU of the Indian Railways. The Gujarat tourism department and Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara and Ahmedabad collectorates came together to bring in 300 passengers for the inaugural journey. The train is carrying tourists from Gujarat in 10 sleeper coaches, arranged solely to commemorate the centenary day of the Sabarmati Ashram and to mark 100 years of the Champaran Movement. After travelling through major landmarks of the Champaran movement, the train in the last leg of its tour will move to spiritual places like the Bodhgaya Mahabodhi temple in Gaya, Sarnath and Vishwanath temple in Varanasi and Triveni Sangam in Allahabad.
The train, with the last of its passengers boarding from Surat on Saturday evening, has 19 students on board from an orphanage in Anand and senior citizens from an old age home in Surat rushed in through collector offices. The tour package for nine nights and 10 days costs around Rs 8,720 including tickets, vegetarian meals, stay at dharamshalas, transfers to tourist spots, travel managers and an unarmed security guard in each coach, with IRCTC also offering 20% discount on bulk bookings.
According to Gujarat tourism officials, the train received 252 bookings from Ahmedabad, 40 from Anand, 111 from Vadodara, 20 from Bharuch, 111 from Surat and more than 70 through the IRCTC portal. Brushing aside claims that the marketing and planning of the train was rushed, Dr A K Manocha, CMD of IRCTC, said it was delayed due to weather. “The Gandhi Darshan tourist train was organised to make people aware about Gandhiji’s values and ethics and to commemorate the Champaran Satagraha and 100 years of Sabarmati Ashram.”