The Delhi government’s first pilgrimage train to Ayodhya was flagged off on Friday with around 1,000 people on board, amidst a flurry of activity at the Safdarjung railway station.
Some passengers arrived well in advance and sat outside till they were allowed to board the train. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was at the station to see off the pilgrims around 7 pm.
Harish Manocha (74) from Hari Nagar said he is visiting Ayodhya for the third time. “The first time was before the demolition. Then I went after the demolition, and now I want to see what the temple that’s being built will be like. This organised pilgrimage was a good idea,” said Manocha, a businessman, who is travelling with his wife Neelam.
The pilgrimage is part of the Delhi government’s scheme to take the elderly free of charge to select sites.
People were posted outside the station wearing masks of the CM and saffron shirts with the phrase “Dilli ka Shravan Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal” on them, referring to the character from the Ramayana who carries his parents for a pilgrimage in baskets slung from his shoulder. Like the character, they were carrying baskets, with images of elderly people on them.
Buses were arranged to pick up passengers from their localities and drop them off at the station. “We were taken care of well so far. We were told we’ll be provided with everything and don’t have to carry anything,” said a woman from Bhajanpura, who asked not to be named. She’s a homemaker, traveling with elderly family members, she said.
“This is free for people over 60 years and one person who might want to accompany an elderly person. We will return on December 6,” said Rajbir Singh from Bhajanpura, who saw an advertisement and decided to apply. Singh is not sure of what is on the agenda once they reach Ayodhya.
Manocha said he had applied to go for the pilgrimage along with a medical fitness certificate and Covid vaccination certificate.
Atul Kumar from Rohini is also visiting Ayodhya for the first time: “My father used to talk about the temple there, many years ago.” Kumar used to have a business dealing in pulses, but stays home with his family now, having lost his wife to illness earlier this year.
“Since the temple is being built, we wanted to see it. There will be darshan at Ayodhya,” said Vijay Kumar Talwar (61) who owns a shop in Hari Nagar. “If the trip turns out to be good, I can ask my children to visit,” he added.
Passengers, mostly elderly, were garlanded and presented with orange sashes and prayer beads outside the station, where cut-outs of Ram and Sita were placed. As entry to the platform was allowed, civil defence volunteers reminded passengers to keep their masks on, amid chants of Jai Shri Ram.
Addressing the media outside the station, Kejriwal said, “The passengers are all very happy. In their old age, if somebody is given the opportunity of going on a pilgrimage… they are happy. They will bring ashirwad for Delhi from Ayodhya. Due to corona, the Tirthyatra Yojana had stopped. Now that corona has reduced, we’ve started sending trains again. Trains will head to other places too… Rameswaram, Rishikesh, Ajmer Sharif, Haridwar, Puri.”
Asked about the pilgrimage in the midst of a new Covid variant, Kejriwal said, “Should the yatras not happen? All across the country, trains are running.”
Before arriving at the venue, Kejriwal had tweeted that the government had organised a programme inside the station, and the Union government refused to give permission for the event. “… Now the media is also not being allowed to talk to the pilgrims. I would like to tell the Union government that this sort of behaviour is not correct,” he tweeted.
AAP MLA Atishi and Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot were also at the station.