After years of waiting Odisha has finally been included in the Buddhist tourism circuit of Indian Railways. If things go as per plan, the state may soon find a place in the itinerary of the inter-state special Buddhist train Mahaparinirvan Express run by IRCTC (Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd), a subsidiary of the Indian Railways.
In a recent meeting, convened by IRCTC with the Buddhist sector travel agents in New Delhi, two trial runs of Mahaparinirvan Express have been planned to different Buddhist destinations in the state.
“During the first trial run in December, the Buddhist train will stay in Odisha for two days and will cover the entire Buddhist circuit apart from Konark and Puri. Similarly, in January, the train will have a day’s halt in the state covering only the Buddhist sites,” said MR Patnaik, General Manager, Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC), who represented the state in the meeting.
On the first occasion, the train will start from Delhi on December 20, 2012 on a sojourn of eight nights and nine days while the second time, the train will leave Delhi on January 20, 2013 with a total journey time of seven nights and eight days.
Apart from the newly included destinations in Odisha, the train will have its usual halts at Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Nalanda, Rajgir, Kushinagar and Lumbini on both the occasions. The Buddhists sites to be covered in the state include Dhauligiri, Lalitgiri, Udaigiri, Ratnagiri etc.
To attract the tourists, it was suggested at the meeting that the state should organize road shows for the launch of the package in Thailand, Korea and Japan during September and October. In addition, Odisha in association with Union ministry of Tourism should promote the product at ITB Asia-Singapore in October next year.
However, the travel agents strongly recommended that the price of package should not be more than the existing rates of the Mahaparinirvan express. The existing rates per night per head for AC-1, AC-2 and AC-3 are $160, $130 and $110 respectively.
The tour operators, in the meeting, proposed that the tourists should be offered Odisha package with the same price of Mahaparinirvan and the extra price gap (within 60 per occupancy) be borne by the state tourism department as a subsidy to promote the destinations as there is hardly any possibility of achieving 60 per cent occupancy level initially.
The OTDC official said, the outcome of the meeting will be placed before the government for approval.
It may be noted, Chief minister Naveen Patnaik had urged the Centre in May to extend the route of the special Buddhist train to Odisha.