The Mahaparinirvan Express is a special tourist train that takes passengers on a spiritual tour through Buddhist India, where Buddhism originated more than 2,500 years ago.
The train gets its name from the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which contains the Buddha's final explanation of his teachings. Its sacred journey includes visits to the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites of Lumbini (where the Buddha was born), Bodhgaya (where he became enlightened), Varanasi (where he first preached), and Kushinagar (where he passed away and achieved nirvana).
The Mahaparinirvan Express is operated by Indian Railways using carriages from a Rajdhani Express train. It has a dedicated dining carriage, hygienic kitchen that prepares passenger meals, and bathroom cubicles with showers. The train is comfortable but far from opulent, unlike India's luxury tourist trains, but then again pilgrimages aren't normally associated with luxury! Passengers are greeted with garlands, provided with luggage assistance, and given a welcome gift of a Buddhist guidebook. Security guards are present on the train, and tours are fully guided.
The train departs from Delhi, one or two Saturdays per month from September until March. Departure dates for 2019-20 are January 19, February 2, February 16, March 2, March 23, September 21, October 5, October 19, November 2, November 16, November 30, December 14, December 28, January 11, January 25, February 8, February 22, March 14, March 28.
The tour runs for seven nights/eight days. However, it's possible to travel only on selected parts of the route as long as your reservation is for a minimum three nights.
Route and Itinerary
The itinerary is as follows:
- Day One - Afternoon departure from Safdarjang Railway Station in Delhi to Gaya.
- Day Two - Visit Bodhgaya temples by bus and stay the night at a hotel in Bodhgaya.
- Day Three - Visit Rajgir and Nalanda by bus, and then board to the train to Varanasi at Gaya.
- Day Four - Arrive at Varanasi, visit Sarnath (the tallest statue of Lord Buddha in India is in Sarnath), and attend the evening Ganga aarti ceremony alongside the Ganges River in Varanasi. Board the train to Nautanwa at Varanasi.
- Day Five - Visit Lumbini in Nepal by bus, and stay the night at a hotel there.
Cost and Classes of Travel
Three classes of travel are offered: air-conditioned first class (1AC), air-conditioned first class coupe, and air-conditioned two-tier (2AC). 1AC has four beds (two upper and two lower) in an enclosed compartment with lockable door, while there are only two beds (one upper and one lower) in the coupe. 2AC has four beds (two upper and two lower) in an open compartment with no door. If you're unsure about what the different classes of travel mean, this guide to accommodations on Indian Railways trains provides an explanation.
The fare in 1AC is $165 per person, per night, or $1,155 for the full tour. 2AC costs $135 per person, per night, or $945 for the full tour. The 1AC Coupe is $165 per person, per night, or $1,305 for the full tour.
A 10% discount is available for Indian citizens. A 50% discount on companion fare is also offered on certain departure dates for foreigners and Indians.
The cost includes the train journey, food, road transfers by air-conditioned vehicle, sightseeing, monument entrance fees, tour escort, insurance, and hotel stay in air-conditioned rooms where required.
Positives and Negatives
The tour is well-organized to international standards. However, something to be aware of is that there are a couple of long journeys by road. Passengers may find this uncomfortable due to lack of proper facilities, such as toilets, along the way. However, effort will be made to provide breaks at appropriate places. Rooms are also made available during the day at decent hotels, for passengers to freshen up and have breakfast.
On board, the train is kept very clean and the staff are courteous. Bed linen is changed every day, and the diverse dinner menu includes Asian and western cuisine. Special dietary requirements are catered for.
Overall, the Mahaparinirvan Express provides a convenient way to visit India's Buddhist sites. It attracts spiritual-seekers and pilgrims from all around the world.
Bookings and More Information
You can get more information or make reservations for travel on the Mahaparinirvan Express by visiting the Indian Railways Catering & Tourism Corporation's Buddhist Circuit Tourist Train website.
Visas for Nepal
As the journey includes a day trip to Nepal, those who aren't Indian nationals will need a Nepali visa. This can easily be obtained at the border. Two passport-sized photographs are required. Foreign tourists with Indian visas must make sure that these are double or multiple entry visas, so that return to India will be allowed.
Mahaparinirvan Express Odisha Special
Indian Railways added a new service, the Mahaparinirvan Express Odisha Special, in 2012. It included pilgrimage sites in Odisha, as well as important sites in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. However, it has unfortunately been canceled due to lack of interest and poor advertising.