News / Asia

India Taps Potential of Rich Buddhist Heritage

Indian folk artists from the eastern Indian state of Orissa perform during the three-day long Travel and Tourism Fair in Kolkata, July 13, 2012.
Indian folk artists from the eastern Indian state of Orissa perform during the three-day long Travel and Tourism Fair in Kolkata, July 13, 2012.
Anjana Pasricha
India is tapping the potential of its rich Buddhist heritage by wooing more tourists from East and South East Asian countries. Buddhism originated in India but went on to gain more popularity in other Asian countries.

From a rail station in New Delhi the luxury train, the Mahaparinirvan Express, begins its winding, eight-day journey through three Indian states -- Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa.
 
The passengers on board include a group of tourists from Thailand, who are greeted with garlands and music. At daytime, the train stops at some of Buddhism’s most sacred sites such as Bodh Gaya where Buddha obtained enlightenment, Sarnath, where he gave his first sermon, Varanasi, where he preached and Kusinagar, where he died.  
 
The train is sometimes delayed by dense winter fog, but the visitors from Thailand say they are satisfied with their spiritual encounter.

Buddha began preaching Buddhism in India more than 2,500 years ago. As a result, some of Buddhism’s most sacred sites - places where he lived and preached are located in India -- although the religion went on became more popular elsewhere in Asia.
 
Many of these holy spots lie in India’s poorest states which were not easy to access for decades. As a result only the most committed religious tourists made the effort to reach the sites, resulting in relatively few foreign visitors.  
 
But in recent years, India has been trying to attract more tourists from countries such with sizeable Buddhist populations such as Japan and Thailand and develop what it calls spiritual tourism.  
 
It has connected key Buddhist heritage sites through a rail network on which the Mahaparinirvan Express plies. And it is trying to improve other infrastructure such as highways and airports for those who want to plan their own visits.  
 
The head of India’s Association of Tour Operators, Subhash Goyal says the process has begun, but much more needs to be done. “In a lot of areas where hotels and other things need to come up and second is road connectivity, and there needs to be air connectivity connecting all these places with small planes or with helicopters," he said. "If the facilities improve and infrastructure improves, I am sure we can have two to three million tourists, just Buddhist tourists coming to India.”
 
The government recognizes the need to invest more funds to develop what it calls the “Buddhist circuit.”  
 
Tourism Minister, K.Cheeranjivi on a recent visit to Tokyo, said India needs more quality, budget accommodation close to prominent Buddhist sites and called on Japan to invest in the hospitality sector.    

It is not just India that is hoping to draw in Buddhist tourists. Passengers aboard the Buddhist pilgrim train are taken via bus across the border to the tiny town of Lumbini in Nepal.  
 
This town, where Gautam Buddha was born, has been getting a makeover for many years to provide amenities for tourists.

Sharad Pradhan at Nepal’s Tourist Board says so far most of the overseas tourists come via India, but they hope to change that. “We have many tourists coming from Sri Lanka also, there are so many tourists coming from Thailand, Japan also. Now the government of Nepal is opening airport at Lumbini," he added. "So that will be complete within two years so that tourists can directly come to Lumbini.”
 
In India, states rich in Buddhist heritage have begun reaping a dividend from Buddhist tourism. A decade ago, virtually no foreign tourists went to Bihar, which is among India’s poorest and least developed areas, but also the area where most Buddhist sites are located. Today, Bihar hosts nearly half a million overseas visitors.

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Comments
     
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
February 17, 2013 4:53 PM
One of famous contempolary Sri Lankan buddhism preasts says in his books that Buddism is not a religion but a subject of psychology. Buddha investigated his own sensation, emotion and all mental sufferings to analize their causes to hundreds of kinds of psychological status. So he taught followers that mental sufferings would be solved by rational analysis of subjects' mental statsus. He neither wrote sacred books nor asked to pray himself or worship idles.


by: kanikaal irumporai
February 15, 2013 7:28 PM
This kind of partnership and facilitation goes much further than simply promoting the tourist industry. It extends into the collaboration with the Buddhist fundamentalist regime of Sri Lanka, erasing the traces after the crimes committed and providing diplomatic shield to the perpetrators. Japanese top diplomat stationed at the UN in New-York was to make sure that no hurdles come in the way of this grand design and the other Buddhist forces to provide active support with India, which has it's own interests in the extermination project. IN contrary to popular belief that Buddhism is a peaceful and passive religion preaching kindness towards others, the reality especially the Theravadha branch of it, has a more violent and bloody past. Buddha might have preached peace and non-violence like Jesus the Christ, but most of his followers are not pea lovers. The sculptures in on the domes of many of historic temples are testimony to this, while the historical destruction of Mahayana branch in the Souther part of India and modern day Sri Lanka around the dawn of current era reveals more.


by: Rob Swift from: Great Britain
February 15, 2013 12:36 PM
Buddha is the true prince and will inherit the Kingdom. His angel is Michael ,Guardian of the children. Buddha went the way of the hunter, and found himself, in the same way that the Physician healed himself. (Christ). Truth can only come at a moment of Truth .'The Chosen One.'' As you search so shall you find.'


by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
February 15, 2013 11:32 AM
The Buddhist heritage pre-dates Christian and Moslem heritage. But the Buddhist heritage is ignored because of Buddhism is a passive religion. The Buddhism originated in India and spread to other countries, not by conquering countries, but just because of the religious ferver where as Christianity and Moslem religion spread mainly by conquering countries and enforcing religion. The ancient Buddhists sites in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka are to be protected as world heritage sites for the future generations and for the tourists in the Buddhist circuit.

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