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Showcasing the Buddhist Circuit

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The Fourth International Buddhist Conclave held recently discussed strategies for promoting the Buddhist Circuit in Bodh Gaya and showcasing it as a safe and secure destination By Archana Sharma

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As part of promoting tourism in India for both international and domestic travellers, the ministry of tourism (MoT) initiated the development of the Buddhist Circuit, amongst other endeavours, earlier this year. To promote and further discuss strategies regarding this, the Fourth International Buddhist Conclave was held in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, from September 26-28, 2014. While talking about the importance of Bodh Gaya as a Buddhist destination, Shripad Naik, minister of state (independent charge), tourism and culture, MoT said, “The major USP of Bodh Gaya, at present, is the cultural heritage and the Buddhist customs present here. Since Buddhism is one of the major tourism products we will be promoting Sarnath, Kushinagar, etc, places which are significant for Buddhist culture, where world class facilities are being developed. Major initiatives are being undertaken and this Buddhist Conclave is possibly one of the best undertakings so far with buddhist delegates and scholars from all over the world present here.”

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The event witnessed participation from over 21 nations and more than 132 delegates were present. Inaugurated by Naik, Dr Javed Ikbal Ansari, tourism minister, Bihar and Jitan Ram Manjhi, chief minister, Bihar, the conclave focused on showcasing the development that had taken place in Bodh Gaya along with most of Bihar. “This is the first time that such a massive event has taken place in Bodh Gaya. We have also suggested proposals to the tourism ministry for further developing B2B relationships and arranging for FAM trips to help in understanding the importance and significance of the Buddhist Circuit,” stated Dr Ansari.

While welcoming the delegates, Professor Shivkant Ojha, minister for technical education, Government of Uttar Pradesh, talked about the future undertakings of the government. He said, “We are looking at creating a 212 feet Buddha statue, the first of its kind, amongst the infrastructural facilities. With the help of this initiative, we will be able to provide employment and empowerment opportunities to the youth of India, since this Rs 1800 crore project of developing the Buddhist Circuit will take precedence.” He also emphasised on international safety and accommodation of tourists while mentioning the 24 hour helplines that have been set up by the ministry.

Promoting Bihar

After the bombings that took place over a year ago, the fourth International Buddhist Conclave 2014 came across as the perfect opportunity and platform to refute the concerns over safety of tourists. According to Dr Deepak Prasad, principal secretary, tourism department, Government of Bihar, the main purpose of the conclave for them was to showcase to the world the recovery of Bodh Gaya as a safe and secure destination. “We had initially organised presentations, exhibitions, etc and then through tours of the various sites, we ensured that everyone was exposed to the development and infrastructural recovery. We not only took our guests to Bodh Gaya Maha Bodhi temple, Sujata Garh but also to sites that are in the near vicinity like, Nalanda, Gridhkut, Pragbodhi where Budhdha meditated,” he said.

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Currently, the Bihar administration is prioritising the Buddhist Circuit, its heritage and culture. Elaborating on this, Umashankar Prasad, director, Bihar administrative service, said, “At present we are only promoting the Buddhist Circuit, but Bihar is home to many other circuits like Jain, Sufi, Ramayana, Eco Tourism in Ghora Katora, etc. We are now looking at developing adventure tourism here like Goa and Kerala. We do have our heritage and cultural assets but we need to project them better and ensure that people are aware of the lesser known destinations also, which might lead to longer visits.”

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Planning to add Pragbodhi and developing it to international standards, Sanjay Kumar Agrawal, district magistrate and collector, Gaya, Bihar said, “At present we are planning to develop the infrastructure in and around Pragbodhi. A lot of people want to visit it since Buddha stayed there for six years and therefore it is a very significant site for Buddhists. We are planning a new road there and constructing wayside facilities so that tourists can have restrooms and other amenities. The state government is also coming out with a bridge on the Niranjana river which will shorten the distance between Pragbodhi and Maha Bodhi, to only eight km from Bodh Gaya, from the present 25 km.”

Also, aiming to attract tourists for longer stays, Agrawal stated, “We are putting up more sites in Bodh Gaya like Mundeshwari, Prag bodhi, Sujata Garh, etc. since earlier only the Maha Bodhi site was showcased. We are also developing new meditation sites apart from the already existing five meditation institutes where people can stay for a week.” They are also planning to add amusement parks and musical fountains for children.

Market demand

Being an international conclave, the international market was given major focus. However, there are quite a few other attractions in Bihar for domestic travellers as well. “This Buddhist conclave has been organised mainly to cover the international crowd interested in the Buddhist heritage especially people from South Asian countries. For the domestic market we have different events like the Pitrapakha mela where people from south come in and we witness a footfall of around 20 lakh people, whereas in Soni mela, people from Nepal are in majority. Our focus will be to include people with other itineraries, travelling to Sufi and Sikh circuits,” stated Dr Prasad.

The Bihar government is also ensuring that tourists have access to the region and that Bihar becomes well connected via air, rail or road. Elaborating on this Dr Prasad, said, “Generally by connectivity one means via air but we are planning the infrastructural development in such a way that the tourists can also enjoy rural tourism without any hindrances.” To further this, heritage walks are also being organised which will be launched in December 2014.

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“We have also requested the tourism ministry to look into the seasonality of flights, starting from October month and arrange air connectivity all round the year,” added Dr Prasad. To further promote tourism in the lean season, the Bihar ministry is planning to arrange different religious festivals with the help of different monasteries. Adding to this, Manjhi said, “In recent years, the Bihar government has undertaken many projects for developing this state and this can be seen when travelling via roads as many tourist spots and restrooms have been created along the way. We are also requesting better air connectivity from Gaya, Sarnath, Vaishali, etc as well as initiating better rail facilities.”

The conclave ended with the delegates being flown to Varanasi to observe the development of the Buddhist Circuit there.

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