Friday, October 8, 2010

Tajmahal prime attraction for athletes

The Delhi Games experience is expanding beyond the city for many of the athletes who have come to India. Sources in the organizing committee (OC) say one of the most popular outlets in the Games Village is turning out to be the Games Travel Office, and specifically for the Agra trip conceptualized by the OC.

A senior official said, ‘‘Since Day One, there has been a lot of interest in the Agra trip despite the bad publicity the Games was receiving.’’ The numbers certainly speak for themselves during the past two trips, over 300 athletes have already been on the train. Run by Northern Railways, the trip which takes two-and-a-half hours either way it seems to have caught the fancy of many athletes. Already, a list of over 200 athletes has been drawn up for the trip scheduled for October 9. Admits Manish Tiwari, chief PRO of Northern Railways, which is the operational partner of the OC for the Agra trip, ‘‘The feedback has been extremely positive. The service has been especially appreciated.’’

It’s not surprising to find out why. The trip, lasting through the day, has a full sight-seeing schedule for the athletes, organized by IRCTC. The actual train journey, which has all the works liveried service staff and the specially-crafted menu for the guests. Perhaps the most exciting is a running commentary not only for the special Taj experience, but also through the journey with snippets about the history of various cities the train passes through Delhi, Faridabad, Mathura, Vrindavan and of course, Agra.

The train, which has nine coaches, has been specially wrapped in the Delhi Games colors on the outside while the inside has large panels with photographs of Indian sports persons, mostly from the Railways, besides heritage and culture, historical places such as Red Fort, Victoria Memorial, etc, and a panel on railway heritage — old steam engines, insignia of old princes and the like. Adds Tiwari, ‘‘There are eight trips planned from October 6-16. The train won’t run on only three days October 8, 14 and 15.’’

Elaborate security arrangements have, however, meant that athletes don’t really get off the designated track. Said Niel, an athlete from England, ‘‘I have heard a lot about the country as my mother came here on Christmas. But till now, it seems only Agra will be possible, as security is very strict for us. I’ll wait till after the Games to explore.’’