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Journey with 800 Hindu devotees on Train Through the eyes of a non-Hindu

The tourism arm of Indian Railways runs dozens of Bharat Darshan tours across India each year – lasting from a few days to a couple of weeks. The tours are designed to cater to the hundreds of millions of devout Hindus. Guardian writer, Richard Eilers, writes about his experience on journey with 800 Hindu devotees on train to visit important temples in Kerala, Tirupati, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

The trip included visit to the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple, Unesco-listed Brihadeeswarar temple, Rameswaram: Ramanathaswamy temple,  Madurai: Meenakshi Amman temple, Kanyakumari: Kumari Amman temple, Thiruvananthapuram Padmanabhaswamy temple Kanchipuram Kamakshi Amman and Kailasanathar temple and Tirupati.

The pattern was set for the next few days: pretty comfortable nights, food cooked in the “pantry car” and pepped up with homemade pickles produced by my neighbours, washing in buckets of cold water in the surprisingly clean bathrooms (although many men took advantage of lengthy stops to strip to their undies on the tracks and wash) and some amazing temples.
The most extraordinary was a further 230 KM 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, small children shivering, through the dark complex. It was an incredibly moving scene. The mood on the train that night was particularly high, at least once clothes hung out of carriage windows had finally dried.
I would not have shared the article as it did not contain anything imaginative or neither did it explore the world of a Hindu pilgrim accept for this below paragraph. Pilgrimage in Hinduism has different layers. There are several meanings to it. It is a journey of self discovery. There are pilgrims today who begin like a normal tourist but on course of the journey they become serious spiritual seekers. 
Meeting an earnest young student, Yakanna, forcefully illustrated the importance of darshan. His parents were farmers and had taken out a bank loan so he could go on this trip. “It’s a lot of money for them,” he explained, “but they know it’s something that means so much to me and are happy for me.”