Orissa Buddhist sites little known to Buddhist visitors

By Rakesh Ray, Kalinga Times, March 23, 2007

Bhubaneswar, India -- If the state government thinks that Orissa's three major Buddhist sites - Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, also known as the Diamond Triangle of the State - are familiar to the Buddhist visitors from the south-east Asian countries, then it is time to think again. For, a number of visitors from Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia have expressed their sheer ignorance about the presence of such fabulous Buddhist remains in the state.

After visiting the most sought-after Buddhist sites like the Boddhagaya in Bihar, Saranath in Uttar Pradesh and Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh, the Orissa's Buddhist destinations came as a pleasant surprise for Kiatfuengfoo and most of his colleagues who were here on Tuesday as part of their six-day maiden trip to Orissa.

`We did not expect to witness some enchanting relics of Lord Buddha here in Orissa. In fact, we did not have the knowledge of such sites' existence here in the state,' said Kiatfuengfoo.

Expressing solidarity with him, Chanin Romsamrarn said that Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri are in no way inferior from that of the other scintillating Buddhist sites across the world. `But it is a pity that these places are yet to reach the minds of the people living in the countries of south-east Asia,' Chanin said. These visitors' revelation cannot be ruled out if the poor inflow of tourists from the south-east Asian countries is any indication.

According to sources, nearly 700 tourists (almost all are Buddhists) had come to the State in 2003 from the South-East Asia countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore. The figure dropped drastically to nearly 680 in 2004 and 640 in 2005, sources informed.

Lack of vibrant publicity and absence of enough air connectivity to the countries, mostly inhabited by Buddhists are some amongst the reasons that have led to their ignorance, maintained the visitors.

`The state government should properly represent and market its rich destinations across the globe. Since the state has enough potential to attract scores of Buddhist tourists, it should chalk out measures to make the visitors like us aware of its potential. This will help woo more Buddhist tourists to the state,' said Tarrin Nimmanachaeminda, another visitor. This apart, the visitors urged the State Government to set up rest sheds at different Buddhist sites.

`At most of the Buddhist sites here, we found that there were no interpretation centers. There should be some scholars, who can explain to tourists the historical and archaeological importance of the place,' said Tarrin.

Another visitor, Kriang was of the opinion that good roads should be available nearby the Buddhist sites. `While you will find huge brick monasteries at one place the remains of apsidal temple, stone stupa, sculptures and images of Buddha and Bodhisattva will be found at other places of a single Buddhist site. But most of the sites do not have well-furnished roads in order to travel around the different places of a single destination,' Kriang said. The visitors also met the state tourism secretary two days back and apprised him of their suggestions in order to woo Buddhist tourists to the state in large numbers.

According to sources, nearly seven million Buddhist tourists hailing from the south-east Asian countries have been traveling around the world. In recent past, the State Government had mooted a proposal to organise Buddha festivals at major Buddhist destinations in the State. But its purpose to popularize Buddha's culture in the state failed to take off due reasons best known to the authorities.

`We have the potential to attract a lot of Buddhist tourists from around the world. If proper attention is given towards the promotion of the existing Buddhist sites in Orissa, we can expect a good gathering of Buddhist tourists here in our state,' said archaeologist and researcher, Sunil Kumar Pattnaik.
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