Tue, 05 Feb 2013 11:23:02 GMT | By Rosamma Thomas/IANS

A train runs where the Buddha walked

How does it feel like travelling through the land of the Buddha? Rosamma Thomas gives an account of her enlightening journey on the Mahaparinirvana Express

A train runs where the Buddha walked (© IANS)

The statue at Kushinagar, representing the Buddha in Mahaparinirvana ( death, which is also the "deathless state").

It's a trip down the Buddha's lane, into antiquity and serenity. Tracking the Buddha's path, the Mahaparinirvana Express is for the historian, the tourist and, of course, the pilgrim seeking salvation in retracing the footsteps of the man who walked this land some 2,400 years ago.

The special train dedicated to Buddhist pilgrims does the circuit twice every month in the cooler months of the year - beginning from New Delhi and taking the traveller to places like Varanasi and Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh before getting into Gaya in Bihar.

Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first sermon, is just 13 km from Varanasi. From Gorakhpur, travellers are taken to Kushinagar, where he died and attained mahaparinirvana (death, and ascent to "deathlessness"), and Lumbini, where he was born. And Gaya is where he attained enlightenment.

The train, which has been running for six years, takes a week to complete the tour. It is named after the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha's sayings in days preceding his death. (The association with death makes some people think Indian Railways should change the train's name!)

It's a train ride to history for some, spirituality for others.

At Sarnath, a solitary man sat chanting in a nook among the ruins. Other visitors peeped into bottomless wells, and wandered looking at the ruins of monasteries and what remains of Emperor Ashoka's famous Sarnath pillar, the capital of which is the four-lion emblem of modern India.

The lone pilgrim sat hidden from sight by what, over 2,000 years ago, was the corner of a room. These days, the brick walls are just high enough to shield a man squatting on the ground from intrusive, photograph-seeking tourists.

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