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 October until March. Departure dates for 2017-18 are October 21, November 25, December 9, December 23, January 6, January 27, February 17, and March 10.
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 - Delhi (afternoon departure from Safdarjang Railway Station)
- Day Two - Gaya (visit Bodhgaya temples)
- Day Three - Rajgir and Nalanda
- Day Four - Varanasi (visit Sarnath, and the holy Ganges river for the evening Ganga aarti). The tallest statue of Lord Buddha in India is in Sarnath.
- Day Five - Gorakhpur (visit Khusinagar)
- Day Six - Gorakhpur (day trip to Lumbini in Nepal)
- Day Seven - Gonda (visit Sravasti)
- Day Eight - Agra (visit the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri) and return to Delhi by 6 p.m.
Cost and Classes of Travel
Two classes of travel are offered: air-conditioned first class (1AC) and air-conditioned two-tier (2AC). 1AC has four beds in an enclosed compartment with lockable door, while 2AC has four beds in an open compartment with no door. There is also a 1AC Coupe, bookable at an additional cost, with only two beds for two passengers traveling together. 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 $945 for the full trip. 2AC costs $135 per person, per night, or $1,155 for the full trip. A $150 surcharge, per person, is applicable for the 1AC Coupe bringing the total cost for the trip to $1,305.
A 25% discount is available for Indian citizens.
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.
All in all, the Mahaparinirvan Express provides a convenient way to visit India's Buddist 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 Orissa (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.