By RK Sinha
Do not presume that, COVID-19 pandemic has permanently halted the government affairs and its future projects. This is actually not the case. As a matter of fact, the various government departments of GoI, are working like before, rather even more with better concentration and focus. The government is focussing to lure much better numbers of tourists from countries practicing Buddhism and believing Gautam Buddha. This includes hundreds of millions of devotees from dozens of Buddhist countries. However, till date, India lacked in attracting or promoting millions of followers of Buddhism,to the rich Buddhist Circuit in India to most of the Buddhist tourists residing in different parts of the world. It is a harsh reality. Till recently, we have not planned to attract tourists to places of india, barring places likeTaj Mahal , Jaipur or Dal lake in Srinagar, Kashmir.
If you are not lucky enough to visit buddha temples based out of Thailand and Sri Lanka, then you will not realise that those temples receive thousands of tourists of countries having buddhist population everyday. They feel overwhelmed after visiting Lord Buddha temples.
In order to attract tourist of Buddhist countries, a major step was taken recently by the Government of India to Kushinagar Airport with facilitating landing and take off of the International Flights.This decision is really praiseworthy by the Buddhist world. However India should take many more such endeavours in this direction,so that at least 1.5- 2 crore buddhist tourists start visiting India every year. Though a few lakhs buddhists tourists have been visiting India every year, for last few decades. But, specially from Sri Lanka, Thailand and some from Japan. They spent atleast two to three weeks in India during thier visit. They keep travelling from Bodh Gaya to Rajgir to Vaishali to Sarnath and to Kushinagar. Some of them also visits, Nagpur Diksha Bhoomi,a place where Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar took to buddhism.
Moving from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath and ahead
India will have to ensure, more and more Buddhist tourists visit the sacred land of Bodh Gaya. This place which transformed prince Siddharth into Lord Buddha by enlightening him while meditating under Bodhi Tree( an old Peepal tree).
Tourists visiting Bodh Gaya compulsorily visit Sarnath also where Buddha, after getting enlightened, gave his first speech. The attraction of buddhist followers towards the birthplace and workplace of Gautam Buddha, I.e, India is quite obvious. Bodh Gaya-Rajgir-Nalanda enjoys a special place in the list of favorite tourist destinations. Tourists from south-east Asia, Sri Lanka, Japan etc. visit India. After landing in India, they visit Rajgir, a place from where Gautam Buddha continued his journey. The tourists keep on visiting entire year, but peak season is October to March, may be due to the better claimatic conditions. But now we have to create infrastructure to make it apt for all seasons. You will be disappointed , comparing Buddhist tourists population visiting Thailand and Sri Lanka. These much smaller countries recieves several times larger Buddhist tourists than India.
Undoubtedly, the initiatives taken for betterment of places linked with Buddhist circuit,has enhanced the number of tourists from countries like Sri Lanka, South Korea, Japan some other Buddhist countries of South East Asia. But still a long way ahead . Thailand alone recieves more than four and a half crore tourists every year. Sri Lanka witnesses the similar trend. The tourists visiting Bodh Gaya and cities in proximity of Buddhist circuit like Rajgir and Nalanda, Vaishali, Varanasi, Sarnath and Kushinagar spends a hefty amount also during their journey.
Develop new Buddhist pilgrimage sites
We should also prioritise to develop Buddhist circuit, similarly as Thailand is developing newer Buddhist pilgrimage centres. We have taken, various steps towards this. Mahabodhi Temple situated at mandir marg of New Delhi is one such example. This enjoys the title of being the first Buddhist temple of Delhi. It was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1939. Historical personalities like Dr.Rajendra Prasad, Dr. Sarvapalli Radha Krishnan, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar(Baba Saheb) and others frequently visited this Mahabodhi temple. A mesmerising statue of Lord Budhha has been placed here. Tourists from abroad can also be enticed here. Similarly, Buddha Jayanti Park of Delhi was established in 1959,commemorating, the completion of 2500 years of Gautam Buddha’s salvation. Buddhist beggar (talapoin) Sashandhar Sagar inaugrated a buddhist temple on 2nd October 1993 inside this campus. Statue of Gautam Buddha in sitting posture is placed here. A peepal tree is also present inside Buddha Jayanti Park related to Gautam Buddha.A branch, of the tree under which Gautam Buddha got enlightenment , was planted in Sri Lanka by the son of King Ashoka of the Mauryan empire. This branch grew into a huge tree. A branch of this tree was presented to then PM of India Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri by his Sri Lankan counterpart Smt. Sirimavo Bandarnaike in 1964.He planted this branch here, and now this has grown into a lush green tree. However, Tourism Ministry must ensue that these places should also find place in the Delhi Tourist Circuit like Jama Masjid and Lotus Temple of Bahawi community.
Actually, the consequation of visiting India started by Meagasthenes, Fa-hien, Hiuen Tsang , even in pre- Buddhist era and still continuing in the present times. But still it is unfortunate that still we do not receive enough number of tourists in comparison of the Tourist attractions we offer.People of the world, are curious to know about India, its glorious history and various other mesmerising factors India is blessed with. Every nook and corner of India attract tourists. Tourists of different tastes like india. India has to offer something for everyone. Persons interested in historical places, wild animals wandering in deep forests and spirituality or modern cities India offers everything. India recieves maximum number of tourists from America, Britain, Canada, France and Sri Lanka. This is claimed by Tourism Ministry of India. Out of total tourists, 16 percent come from USA and 12.6 percent from Britain. Agra, Goa, Kerala, Varanasi and Delhi/Kashmir are among the most loved five places of India for visiting tourists.
It is a usual belief, that tourists came to India to visit some special tourist destinations. It is also a reality that a major chunk of these tourists confine their journey to a few cities of India only. A diplomat posted at capital of South Africa claimed that tourists of his country prefer to visit only Delhi and Mumbai during their journey to India. In Delhi, they visit Rajghat(memorial of Mahatama Gandhi), Qutub Minar,Red Fort, Jama Masjid ,Old Fort, Lotus Temple and Akshardham Temple. Because, sadly we have not included any place of Buddhist importance.
They often visit Taj Mahal of Agra.
It is a common belief that Americans don’t actually bother about a particular city or place. Many of them often visit Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Varansi. Some only like to visit Delhi, Mumbai and Kerala. Many of them prefer to visit Goa. Many of the incredible coasts and beaches of Goa resemble South American and Carribean islands. That’s why tourists of these places like to visit Goa.
We should endeavour to attract tourists from all over the world to all parts of India. Their expenditure by visiting tourists in India will boost economy of India and generate employment. But we should lay our emphasis on buddhist countries. We cannot risk to loose them.
(Writer is senior editor, columnist and Former MP)