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Mahaparinirvana Express

The itinerary of Mahaparinirvana Express is Delhi - Gaya - Bodhgaya (by bus)- Nalanda(by bus)- Rajgir (by bus) - Gaya - Varanasi– Sarnath (by bus) – Gorakhpur – Kushinagar (by bus)– Lumbini(by bus) - Gorakhpur - Gonda - Sravasti (by bus)- Gonda (by bus)- Agra - Delhi.

The name of the train is derived from the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, one of the important scriptures of Buddhism. In this final Surta , Buddha tells his disciples of the merits of pilgrimage. Being a Buddhist pilgrimage circuit train, it is aptly named as Mahaparinirvana Express.

This is one of the few special Indian trains that operate on a package basis. Mahaparinirvana Express follows a circular route starting from Delhi and returns after 8 days of tour. Travel is mostly by train. However many trips to the sites are by bus from the nearest railway stations as the base point.

The train leaves ( Day -1) from by 4 PM from Delhi's Safdarjung Railway station, that is located roughly towards the southern part of New Delhi. As shown in the itinerary , the first lap of the journey is to Gaya (Day -2). This is practically an overnight journey covering some 1000 km (620 miles). From Delhi the train travels towards east through the heartland Uttar Pradesh (UP) and finally entering Bihar where Gaya is located.

Gaya itself is an old city with its history as old as Buddhism or even beyond. Apart from its historic and mythic associations, Gaya is an important from a Buddhist circuit travel point. Another daily train that operates from New Delhi to Gaya is the Mahabodhi Express.

Bodhgaya is located about 11km (7 miles) north of Gaya. A coach takes you to Bodhgaya from Gaya railway station.

The prime attraction of Bodhgaya is the Mahabodhi Temple. This is an important place for all sects of Budhists all around the world. It is in Bodh Gaya Gautama Buddha's attained nirvana (enlightenment) sitting under a Bodhi tree. Mahabodhi Temple is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India.

Apart from the Mahabodhi Temple there are many temples built by followers of different sects of Buddhism from all around the world, especially from the east.

For example the Buddhist temples and monasteries built by the people of Bhutan, China, Japan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sikkim, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tibet and Vietnam in Bodh Gaya. These are built in their own regional styles and of varying age.

Another attraction in Bodhgaya is the Falgu River ( Niranjana River ) . According to Hindu Mythology this river was cursed by Sita and hence ran out of water.

Buddhist traditions mentions of Prince Gautama Siddhartha , wandering as an ascetic, reaches the banks of Falgu in 500 BC.

The Mahaparinirvana Express stays overnight at Gaya. The travelers are accommodated in hotel located in Bodhgaya.

The next day (Day -3) is for another set of sightseeing to Rajgir and Nalanda by bus.

Rajgir , literally means the 'home of kings' was the original capital of the Magadha kingdom. One of the main attractions is the ruins of Bimbisara's prison ( about 500 BC) , where this Magadha king was imprisoned by his son Ajatashatru.

Tradition tells us that Bimbisara was imprisoned by his son Ajatashatru who is said to have starved him to death. This is reported to have taken place around 491 BC.

Venuvan is another attraction in Rajgir. According to some traditions this place (a garden) was given to Buddha by the king Bimbisara. It's a large pool surrounded by baboos. Rajgir is sarrounded by many hills. Scattered around the region are many caves used by the spiritual teachers of the times.

After Buddha, this is the palace (Saptaparni caves ) where the first Buddhist council meeting was held . Griddhkuta Hill is where Buddha spend many months meditating and preaching.

From Rajgir travel further north for Nalanda.

Nalanda is often considered as the world oldest residential university. During its prime time (427 CE and 1197 CE) nalanda had more than 10,000 students and 2000 plus teachers. Anything from spirituality to medicine where taught here. With students and teachers coming from places as far as Persia and Turkey, Nalanda was truly a universal seat of learning and teaching. Presently this is a protected monument spreading over a large area.

By the evening , after the visit to Nalanda, you are on your way to Gaya to board the Mahaparinirvana Express again.

The train leaves Gaya by midnight and the next stop (Day-4) for Mahaparinirvana Express is Varanasi, one of the oldest living cities on earth!

Varanasi is approximately 220 km (336 miles) north west of Gaya. You reach Varanasi early in the morning. Varanasi is holy place for the Hindus.This city is located on the banks of River Ganges, again a Holy river associated with Hindu mythology and mysticism.

About 10 km (6 miles) north of Varanasi is Sarnath. This place is significant in may ways. This is the first place where Buddha delivered sermon, had his first disciples and introduced to the world the doctrine of what is later called Buddhism. Attractions include the commemorative stupas , ruins of monasteries and the Archeological Survey of India Museum.

The fifth century Dhamek Stupa marks the place where Buddha delivered his first sermon dominates the area. A much older ( 250 BC) Dharmarajika Stupa, located west of Dhamek Stupa is believed to be erected by Emperor Ashoka.

The capital of this pillar (the Lion Capital of Ashoka) is now stored in the Archeological Survey of India Museum . The National Emblem of India has it origin as this capital. The Ashoka Chakra (the wheel at the base of the capital) of the Indian National Flag too is adapted from this capital.

Mulagandha Kuti Vihar that dominates the skyline is a modern and beautifully made Buddhist temple. Apart from its deviations from the typical Buddhist architecture , the frescos and murals are its added attractions.

Back to Varanasi city again. You can visit various Ghats along the banks of Ganges, taka a boat ride and see the evening Arti (worshiping River Ganges).

Similar to the earlier day , leaves Varanasi by midnight for Gorakhpur , which is a major city located 225km (140 miles) north of Varanasi.

Next day early morning you'll reach Gorakhpur. The place of visit for the day ( Day -5) is Kushinagar. That is about 55km ( 34 miles) east of Gorakhpur. Kushinagar is the place where Buddha died. Also it is one of the four places mentioned in Mahaparinirvana Surta as one of the four fit place for pilgrimage by the pious. The other three are Lumbini, Bodhgaya, and Sarnath.

Mahaparinirvan Temple (where Buddha died), Ramabhar Stupa (where Buddha's relics were cremated) are important sites of Buddhist pilgrimage located in Kushinagar .

Kushinagar is in fact a border town with Nepal. This is your base point for traveling onward to Lumbini . Indian citizens do not require a visa to enter Nepal. Other foreign travelers are advised to have a visa already obtained (though visa can be obtained at India-Nepal border crossing) to make the border crossing easier. Visa cost around USD 30, carry 2 passport photos. It is best obtained from a Nepalese embassy in advance to save delays in crossing.

Day 6 is for the Lumbini visit in Nepal. The bus takes you from hotel in Kushinagar to Lumbini. This is the birth place of Buddha. As a prince he lived here till the age of 29. Important places in Lumbini includes Maya Devi Temple, Ashoka Pillar , Pushkarni lake, Lumbini Garden. Lumbini is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thus this is the second World Heritage site in your tour.

On the same day you will travel back to Gorakhpur from Lumbini to board the Mahaparinirvana Express. The next destination of the train is Gonda.

Gonda ( Day 7) is about 170 km west of Gorahkpur. This is the base point for the onward bus journey to Sravasti (65km/40 miles).

Sravasti is an ancient Indian town with immense religious significance. According to Buddhist traditions it is here the 'Twin Miracle' happened. It is often referred to as the Miracle of Sravasti. The sites to be visited are Jetavana Vihara, Pakki Kuti and Sehat Mahet. Apart from these there are a host of Montessories established by various sects of Buddhism form many countries.

After the Sravasti tour, you reach Gonda to catch the train to Agra. Now you are practically approaching the last laps of your tour. In other words, the Mahaparinirvana Express is heading towards the direction of Delhi.

On day 8 morning you will arrive at Agra, the hometown of Taj Mahal. That make the third UNESCO World Heritage Site visit in your tour. This is not a Buddhist site, rather it is a monument associated with the Mughal Empire that ruled India. By lunch time you get back to the train to head towards Delhi. Agra to Delhi distance is about 220 kms.

Mahaparinirvana Express completes to tour at Safdarjung Railway Station by about 6.30 in the evening.

<b>Departure Schedules:</b> 13 February 2010 , 9 March 2010 and 20 March 2010.

<b>Classes:</b> First Class AC, First Class coupe, 2 AC and 3 AC.
See also Indian Train.

For official details and booking visit the official website of Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd. at www.railtourismindia.com

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