Buddhist sites to turn into hot spots


HYDERABAD, India -- Kalachakra, the mega Buddhist event held in Amaravati last year, has left the AP tourism department chanting 'Buddham Saranam Gachami'.

The event had attracted Buddhists from across the world and the state tourism department wants to make the best use of the state's newfound Buddhist identity. The department is now all set to project Andhra Pradesh as India's key 'Buddhist Tourism' destination.

Tourism department officials say that the state has 152 Buddhist sites and about 17 of these have been identified for development or are already being developed. The state archaeological department, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the tourism department are jointly working on this initiative.

The interest in Buddhism is not without reason. For starters, there has been a rise in the number of tourists to AP's Buddhist sites from Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia ever since the Kalachakra was held. Enough reason to believe that these sites, once developed, would lead to better traffic and revenue.

Also, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) toured the state in November, 2006, as part of its initiative to develop Buddhist sites in India. It has now asked for an estimate from the AP state government on the amount of money required for the development of the Buddhist destinations in AP. Separate estimates will be provided by the AP tourism, the state archaeology department and the ASI that will then be submitted to JBIC.

Nine sites have been identified around Vizag alone for development by the tourism department and ASI too has drawn up its own list (see box) of Stupas and Viharas that need to be developed.

The tourism department is also in talks with Thai Airways and Sri Lanka airlines to facilitate tie-ups between these airlines and hotels in Buddhist destinations wherein the airlines would offer information on hotels in these Buddhist sites to travellers flying to Hyderabad.

"People from Sri Lanka and Bangkok are keen on visiting these sites and this information would be of help," says M Balasubramanium Reddy, joint director, tourism department, adding that the tourism department has held road shows in these places and has also tied up with tour operators in China.

"AP is the only state in India with 152 Buddhist sites. While ASI has developed many sites in the state, there are still some that need to be developed," says D Jitendar Das superintending archaeologist and director ASI.

Nonetheless, these 152 sites have been divided into three circuits— Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Vizag—that would include areas surrounding these cities, Das says.