NEW DELHI, OCTOBER 1 : Punjab today scripted a new chapter in the history of travel tourism and cultural heritage of the state by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to start a luxury tourist train in Punjab between the Ministry of Railways and Government of Punjab in the presence of Punjab Chief Minister Mr.Parkash Singh Badal, Union Minister of Railways, Mr.Lalu Prasad Yadav, Union Minister of Tourism and Culture, Smt. Ambika Soni and Minister for Tourism and Culture, Punjab Mr. Hira Singh Gabria.
The MoU was signed by Principal Secretary Tourism and Chief Executive Officer of the Punjab Heritage &Tourism Promotion Board Mrs.Geetika Kalha and Executive Director (Tourism & Catering) of Railway Board, Ministry of Railways Mr.Ashok Kumar on behalf of the Punjab Government and Government of India here at Rail Bhawan.
Speaking on the occasion, Punjab Chief Minister, Mr.Parkash Singh Badal said that with the start of this luxury train, the un exploited tourism and travel potential in the state would get a further boost on one hand and the success of this venture would certainly encourage such other projects, offering world class tourist packages and making travel in India a truly incredible experience on the other.
The Chief Minister urged Mr. Yadav to defer the Punjab’s share of Rs.20 lac per trip of the luxury train for at least three years till the entire project becomes economically viable. He said this venture would not only help in promoting the potential of tourism but also strengthen the bonds of brotherhood, national integration and communal harmony in line with the ethos of ‘Unity in diversity.’
In her address Union Minister of Tourism and Culture Mrs.Ambika Soni also pointed out that with the magnificent cultural heritage, palaces, gurudwaras and natural beauty, Punjab offered a virtual kaleidoscope of India’s passage through history. Its sizable NRI population warranted an all-encompassing tourist package that provided a completely hassle-free and comfortable tour across the state and to popular destinations in North India. The Punjab Government, through Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board had taken this unique initiative to undertake the overall management of the project including provision of on board and off board facilities and its marketing in India and abroad. She hoped that Punjab could contribute immensely towards the promotion of tourism being the most preferred destination as India was committed to attract 10 millions tourists by 2010 and this new venture would be instrumental in achieving the goal.
It may be recalled that the Indian Railways would share the capital cost of the rake and undertake its operation and maintenance. This joint endeavor is supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India with generous assistance and the project is being promoted as part of the ‘Incredible India’ campaign.
Appreciating the efforts of Punjab Government for launching this prestigious project in collaboration with Ministry of Railways to promote travel tourism in the North India on a large scale, the Union Railways Minister Mr.Lalu Prasad Yadav aptly described the Indian Railways as the life line of the nation. He said that Rail travel in India offered a fascinating glimpse of its culture and heritage. The rich cultural heritage coupled with diversity makes India an attractive tourist destination with the object of opening up the incredible diversity of India to tourists, the Incredible India campaign had been launched by the Ministry of Tourism Govt. of India. Promotion of rail tourism by Indian Railways has been given a major boost by the growth and popularization of luxury tourist trains. He assured Mr.Badal that the state government’s share towards this project would be deferred for next three years and also promised to start the train within a year saying that the train would be manufactured in Rail Coach factory Kapurthala.
Giving the details, CEO of Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board Mrs.Geetika Kalha said that the proposed train would cover popular destinations in North India including Amritsar, Anandpur Sahib, Chandigarh, Dharamshala, Patiala and Kurukshetra including Agra, Delhi and Jaipur in its 7 day itinerary. The train was targeted at the premium end clientele and the coaches were equipped with 5 star facilities. The rake comprised saloons, restaurant cars, and multiple cuisines, and lounge bars, observation cars with a viewing gallery, gym, spa, beauty saloon, library, games room and a computer centre. The project was expected to be ready for operation with in 2 years.
Sharing his views on this significant project aimed at promoting travel tourism in a big way, the Chairman of the Railway Board Mr.K.C.Jena said that these trains were the most comprehensive tourist package the industry had to offer today. A shining example was the Palace of Wheels operated by Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) in association with Indian Railways way back in 1982. The success of this venture had inspired the Governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka to promote rail based tourism through their luxury trains Deecan Odyssey and Golden Chariot respectively. He also mentioned that two more trains namely Royal Rajasthan on Wheels by RTDC and new luxury train by Indian Railways Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) were in the pipeline. All these ventures have been undertaken in partnership with the respective State Governments or under a PPP model involving IRCTC and reputed names in the industry. “It is in this context that Indian Railway and Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board are introducing a luxury tourist train”, added Mr.Jena.
Prominent amongst others who were present on the occasion included Special Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Mr.K.J.S Cheema, Principal Resident Commissioner Punjab Bhawan New Delhi, Mrs.Anjuly Chib Duggal and Secretary cum Director Tourism Mr.D.P.Reddy.