Saturday 21st January, 2012: (Tour Day 1)
After another disturbed night at the hotel (due to internal and external noise) I checked out and took a taxi to meet the Buddhist Circuit Special Train, also called the Maha Parinirvan Express, which is operated by IRCTC (the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation). The driver had never heard of the station (Safdurjung) before (it was only used for specialised, private trips, not local ones), so he stopped four times to ask for directions before finally arriving on the wrong side of the tracks. Fortunately there was a pedestrian overpass to cross, so I made it in good time.
At 14:00 I was met by some of my fellow passengers (mostly from the US, Canada, Thailand, India and other Asian countries), a 3-piece traditional band of musicians (playing drums and horns) and officials from the tour company. The latter gave me a red bindhi on my forehead and a fragrant, orange floral wreath around my neck.
The waiting train seemed quite pleasant, though aging somewhat. It was air-conditioned, with good food and snacks. Best of all, it was less than half full, meaning I wasn't limited to my small bed. So I could put my baggage on the top bunk and sit/sleep on the lower one.
We set off at 15:00 on schedule. I enjoyed seeing the countryside (after two days in the city). I saw many contrasts between rich and poor, many green fields under cultivation, and the quieter and simpler lifestyle of the villages. There was no sightseeing as the night was spent travelling some 990 kms to Gaya, which was the furthest most point of the trip.