By Utpal Borpujari
Even though thousands of pilgrims and tourists from abroad throng the Buddhist destinations in the country every year, these places suffer from severe lack of amenities, something which the Centre has set out to rectify at last with the possible support of International Finance Corporation (IFC).
The Ministry of Tourism, worried that the lack of proper tourist infrastructure, such as good trains and roads as well as wayside amenities in these destinations, located mainly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, was creating a negative image about India, has now taken up a project to address all these ills plaguing the Buddhist Circuit.
The inspiration to approach IFC, which is part of the World Bank group, was drawn from the agency’s support to the development of the Inca Trail in the Machu Picchu region of Peru.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed and hope the IFC would get on board to develop the Buddhist Circuit with international amenities. Right now, these places have no proper airport except in Gaya, no proper trains connecting all of them, and abysmal road conditions,” Tourism Ministry secretary Sujit Banerjee said here.
Places like Gaya, Sarnath and Sravasti in the Buddhist circuit are thronged by thousands of tourists from South-East Asian nations, Japan, China and the rest of world every year. “But we have no good infrastructure to support them except the sites themselves,” said Banerjee.
IFC has already supported one tourism project in Rajasthan, and the ministry is hopeful that it would lend its financial support to the Buddhist Circuit too.
While the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd, an arm of the Indian Railways, sometime back launched a train called Mahaparinirvan Express connecting all important places of Buddhist pilgrimages in India besides one in Nepal, the Tourism Ministry feels it is not adequate enough.
The Tourism Secretary said he had held discussions with his counterpart in the Railway Ministry in this regard. “In fact, our thrust has been a ‘convergence project’ with other government sectors so as to offer tourists a seamless experience while travelling in the country,” Banerjee said.
In this regard, the Ministry’s ambitious project to develop a Hospitality Development Promotions Board is at an advanced stage, he said.