INDIA, May 4, 2018 (The Guardian by Richard Eilers): On an epic rail journey, the writer joins 800 Hindu devotees and, thanks to their kindness and friendship, enjoys life on board as much as visits to spectacular temples. Indian Railways’ tourism arm runs dozens of Bharat Darshan tours across India each year – lasting from a few days to a couple of weeks – aimed at the country’s hundreds of millions of devout Hindus, taking them to the most important religious sites. Transport, accommodation on the train or in basic hostels, vegetarian food and endless cups of chai are all included. And the cost? About 1,000 rupees a day, around US$15. A bargain for a Westerner, just-about-affordable for a retired Indian teacher and a once-in-a-lifetime act of devotion for a farmer. My seven-day trip started near Hyderabad and would take me south to Tamil Nadu and its famously colorful temples. Hopefully I would also get a glimpse of India and Hinduism through locals’ eyes.
I’d got the impression that we were on a bit of a holiday jaunt, but I was wrong. Darshan was taken very seriously. A fleet of very tired buses took us a few miles to the river island of Srirangam and its vast temple complex devoted to Ranganatha, a form of Vishnu. My neighbors raced to join the darshan queue but as a non-Hindu I was not allowed in the inner sanctum (some temples allow non-Hindus, some don’t) so explored the complex’s many courtyards, towers and shrines. The most extraordinary was further south at Ramanathaswamy on Rameswaram island where darshan started with a bathe in the sea, then continued into the temple itself for pilgrims to visit 22 separate theerthams (tanks and wells) where buckets of water were thrown over them. Thousands of people crowded, dripping wet, through the dark complex. It was an incredibly moving scene. I had a great time, met some wonderful people, learned about Hinduism and came away with a bit more understanding of Indian life.
More of this travelogue at “source”.