Tsunami hits Bihar's Buddhist tourism

Indo-Asian News Service, Jan 10, 2005

Patna, India -- The December 26 tsunami has badly hit tourism in Bihar with visitors from countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand, which were struck by the killer waves, staying away from the state's Buddhist sites.

Officials said Sri Lankan and Thai visitors, who form the bulk of the tourists flocking to holy sites like Bodh Gaya and Nalanda, have declined by 40 percent.

These areas normally receive thousands of tourists from Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia who come to see these places.

But this year their numbers have dwindled due to the devastating tsunami that killed at least 150,00 people in 12 countries.

"The tsunami has created such a panic that the number of tourists has reduced drastically this winter, which is the tourist season," said Ashok Sinha, a senior official at the Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation.

There has also been a decline in tourists from Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia. Over 50 percent of foreign tourists have cancelled their hotel bookings, sources said.

Bodh Gaya is known for its Mahabodhi temple, believed to have been built by emperor Asoka in the third century BC.

The temple's main attraction is a 150-ft spire near the sacred fig tree, under which the Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago.

Apart from Bodh Gaya, the town of Gaya, about 100 km from the state capital, is a convenient base for visitors to other Buddhist sites in Rajgir and Nalanda.