(Xinhua) — Turkey’s tourist-only Eastern Express made its maiden journey from capital Ankara to the eastern province of Kars on Wednesday and Thursday, the trips of which were sold out months in advance.
Operated by the Turkish State Railways (TCDD), Eastern Express was launched to promote railway tourism in the country. It is expected to increase the number of tourists visiting Kars by 30 percent, according to tourism professionals.
The train was inaugurated by Transport and Infrastructure Minister Cahit Turhan and Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy.
The new train, which offers a journey through the heart of Anatalia, the cradle of many civilizations, has a capacity of 120 passengers and stops at many stations along its way, paving the way for discoveries along the long route.
“The demand to be on the Eastern Express, which operates on one of the most beautiful train routes of the world, has been steadily on the rise, by especially young people,” the transport minister told reporters in Ankara ahead of the train’s first trip.
This 1,250-km-long line has been active for many years, but it acquired a big popularity on social media recently with passengers, in particular the university students who have journeys to the eastern frontier of Kars, where is famous for its golden beaches of the Mediterranean.
The new Eastern Express has become an entirely touristic experience with a 30-hour journey aboard with a sleeper service for Turks and foreigners.
In recent years, Turkish tourism authorities have launched a diversified program of touristic riches, including eastern Anatolia.
The fare costs around 65 U.S. dollars per person while a discount is offered to young people and students for the journey in summer and winter.
“It was very interesting because I never saw eastern part of Turkey,” said Kaan Yigit, a student from Ankara who took the voyage last year, adding that “discovering the entire itinerary until the city of Kars was truly an adventure for me, it was thrilling and fun.”
He said that they were planning a new journey with the new train to the “underrated part of the country” located at the border between Armenia and Georgia.
Turkey is launching the second train due to rising demand for the traditional express train. The Culture and Tourism Ministry is aiming to boost the popularity of “travel-by-train” tourism and spread it across other cities in the country.
The tourist-only train, which is more comfortable and more expensive than the regular Eastern Express, is expected to increase the quality of tourism.
The influx of tourists to Kars has also brought investors to the region. With three new boutique hotels this year, Kars will also see the opening of two Hiltons in 2021.
Having hosted 135,000 people in 2018, Kars is gearing up to welcome 250,000 visitors this year with the increase of both current acceleration and the contribution of the new train.
Kars Provincial Director of Culture and Tourism Hakan Doganay said that 70 percent of the hotels in the city were already booked despite the month of Ramadan, adding this rate would reach 90 percent after the Eid al-fitr holidays, marking the end of the fasting period.
Kars hosts some landmark features as its fortress was built when Imperial Russia occupied the city in the 19th century and the eerie ruins of medieval Armenian city of Ani next to the closed border with Armenia, recognized as a world heritage site by the UNESCO.