11 states stand to gain from ‘Buddhist Tourism’ thrust

by ASHOK B SHARMA, Financial Express, January 29, 2007

NEW DELHI, India -- As India gears up to market Lord Buddha to attract global tourists, about 11 states stand to reap major benefits if they make sincere efforts to upgrade the identified circuits.

The Union ministry for tourism and culture has chalked out an action plan to promote “Buddhist tourism” around places having direct association with Lord Buddha’s life and mission. These are Kapilavastu, Sarnath, Kaushambi, Shravasti, Sankisa and Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh and Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Rajgir and Vaishali in Bihar. Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd (IRCTC) is slated to launch a luxury coach—Mahaparinirvan Special Express—in March 2007 from Delhi, which would facilitate tourists to visit all these places. Year 2007 is the 2,550th year of the attainment of mahapariniravan or salvation by Lord Buddha.

The eight-day tour package of Mahaparinirvan Express includes train and road travel, hotel accommodation, meals and incidental expenses like site entry and guide charges. The package also provides flexible options. Apart from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the other states that house icons of Buddhism are Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. States like Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir (Ladakh and Leh) have schools of learning and practices of Buddhism, particularly those relating to the Vajrayana/Lamaism sect and also spots for nature and adventure tourism. Thus, in all, 11 states have sites that are of specific interests to “Buddhist Tourism”.

A study by ICRA Management Consulting Services Ltd (iMaCS) on behalf of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (Ficci) has estimated that if “Buddhist Tourism” is sincerely promoted, it can attract about million tourists by 2012, a rise by 400% over the flow of 200,000 Buddhist tourists in 2004. The increased tourist flow would result in spillover effects, providing employment opportunities and increased local income. The government also plans to launch a website in Chinese and train guides in Chinese to attract tourists from China.

Union minister for tourism and culture, Ambika Soni, has urged all stakeholders, including the state governments concerned, corporate sector and travel and tour operators to make sincere efforts to upgrade infrastructure and restore Buddhists sites. She urged state governments to seek overseas aid, if necessary. Soni lauded the Bihar government for making sincere efforts in this direction. “We have made special efforts jointly with the Bihar government to improve the road from Gaya to Bodhgaya, removed illegal occupants of the land around the Mahabodhi temple by creating two new commercial hubs. We have also planned to restore Sarnath to to its full glory”, she told FE.

Andhra Pradesh tourism minister, J Geeta Reddy, said her state was once the seat of Mahayana Buddhism and had four relevant tourist circuits like Hyderabad-Kondapur-Phanigiri-Anapu-Gajulabanda-Nagarjunakonda-Dulikatta, Guntur-Chandavaram-Amravati-Vaddamanu-Bhattiprolu, Vijayawada-Ghantasala-Nelakondapalle-Jaggayyapeta-Guntupalle and Visakhapatnam-Sankaram-Thotlakonda-Bavikonda-Pavurallakond-Salihundam-Dantapuram. She said was impressed with the Kalachakra ceremony held in the state in January 2006 for which her government spent Rs 55 crore.

In Orissa, the important Buddhist sites are Udaigiri, Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri and Dhauli. In Maharashtra, major Buddhist sites are Ajanta, Ellora, Kanheri, Karla, Bhaja and Bedsa and Sanchi and Sirpur areas in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation has so far assisted four projects in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra amounting to Rs 1,200crore. It has plans for assisting development of other Buddhist circuits in India and the Heritage Corridor between Delhi and Mumbai.

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