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Buddhist Tourism Set for Major Make-over

Buddhist sites in Odisha are set for a facelift. In a bid to improve Buddhist tourism, the Ministry of Tourism has identified integrated tourism circuits including that in Odisha.

Dhauli, Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri, Udaygiri, Langudi and Khandagiri are in the Buddhist heritage circuit that the Ministry plans to develop in association with the Tourism Department, Government of Odisha. The circuit has been identified for tourists from places like China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and South Asian countries.

So far, Buddhist sites in Odisha had been in the shadow of the popular Puri-Konark Hindu pilgrimage tourism. Though Odisha has a lot to offer as far as Buddhist heritage is concerned, the number of tourist inflow to the sites has been low over the years. Historians and Buddhist experts are of the opinion that the State’s Buddhist potential does not figure on national and international tourism maps.

Although Dhauli, Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri, Udaygiri, Langudi and Khandagiri are well connected by road, they severely lack in infrastructure. The Ministry along with the Tourism Department aims at setting up tourism amenities, hotel facilities and infrastructure.

Sources in the Ministry said while road connectivity will be improved, hotel and lodging will be set up in these areas under a long term plan. Though a budget is yet to be worked upon, the Ministry plans to set up committees with members from the State Tourism Department to look into the work.

In fact, shelters and quality eating joints are scarce at majority of these sites. While some years back, a private group came up with a multi-cuisine restaurant at Ratnagiri, where travellers can also rest at night, the model has not been replicated elsewhere.

Amiya Pattnaik, former vice-chancellor of Utkal University of Culture, said the State is home to 20 Buddhist sites which are ‘very important’. “Ratnagiri can be compared with Nalanda and can even compete with Bodh Gaya. Ancient Buddhist documents indicate that Buddha Kesha (hair relics) were brought to the State by two rich traders, Tapassu and Ballika. Later, the Buddha’s teeth were also believed to have been brought to the State,” he said.

There are over 324 Buddhist sites in Odisha, out of which 108 sites have remains of Buddhist stupas, chaityas or monastic complexes. Even as thousands of tourists from East Asia, Southeast Asia and Nepal visit Bodh Gaya in Bihar every year, a limited number of them come to Odisha.

According to reports of the Tourism Department, of 65,522 foreign tourists who visited Odisha in 2012-13 financial year, only a handful came to the Diamond Triangle comprising Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitagiri, having the largest concentration of Buddhist remains.

source: The New Indian Express, 07 Mar 2014

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