Bengal eyes Buddhist tour circuit

The state government’s dreams of promoting and hardselling Bengal tourism among foreigners seem to be taking shape with the ambitious Buddhist trail project up for discussion next month.

Representatives from the state will meet their counterparts from Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to chart the journey that will take tourists to places where Buddha left his footsteps 2,500 years ago.

The state’s most ambitious tourism project so far, is about to take off. The proposed Buddhist trail, a journey designed for viewing all those places where the Buddha left his footsteps 2,500 years ago, will be formally thrashed out at a meeting among representatives from the governments of Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh next month.

The circuit – originating in Kolkata and including North Bengal, Darjeeling and Sikkim – will pass through Buddhist destinations of the above states. A capsule on Bengal tourism, to be aired by BBC, will elaborately portray the project.

The Bengal government’s foreign travellers’ policy has also found takers in Asia and the ministry of railways, with the latter planning to start a special coach on the lines of the Delhi-Odisha Mahaparinirvana Express (named after an account of the last days of Buddha’s life).

While the special train from Bengal will chug through Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Jharkhand, Darjeeling and Sikkim may be linked with air-conditioned bus services from Bagdogra by air or Siliguri by train. The cost of the package tour will be fixed in dollars. It will include travel, catering, sightseeing and entrance fee.

Even as the tourism ministry has been roped in, Air Asia’s foray indicates that the target tourists are likely to be from Malaysia, Thailand, China, Japan and other East-Asian nations.

A majority of Buddhists live in these countries.

The trail, after touching the other states, will cover Bengal’s plains, its Dooars and the Hills, providing not only a picturesque view and cooler temperatures, but also a welcome break from the usually hot and humid summers in Southeast and East Asia. It may also include the Upper Phagu tea estate near Gorubathan as it is set to become a Buddhist pilgrimage dedicated to the 10th Century Buddhist prince Atish Dipankar Srigyan.

“Like Delhi in the other Buddhist trail, Kolkata will be the gateway for those wishing to follow the path of the Buddha down this side,” Bikram Sen, secretary, tourism department, said. “Since we must tie up with the places outside the state, the process of implementation will begin with formal meetings with the other four host states. At the helm of the project is the ministry of tourism. Air Asia, too, has shown interest since they would be the ones promoting Kolkata and

Bengal as a subsidized tourist destination,” said Sen. There are about 350 million Buddhists in the world. A large number of them are from the South-East Asian countries.

The tourism department is gearing up to make a presentation in the upcoming meeting. It will touch upon the idea of the experience of a visitor who will be travelling through all the places where the Buddha walked – right from the 15-feet serene statue of the Buddha against the backdrop of the snow-peaked Himalayas and Ghoom’s densely forested hills to imposing Mahabodhi Temple at Gaya.

“The ruins of great antiquity will not be the only attractions. This Buddhist trail will be about delving into India’s ancient past and the mystical East. It will give the foreigners a chance to break away from the breakneck pace of modern highrises and the jungle of neon lights dotting towns and cities to a peaceful respite and the quiet hideaways of Bengal,” state tourism minister Krishnendu Narayan Chowdhury said. The frills, of course, would be Bengal’s heritage, its rituals and cuisine.

A dedicated team of tour guides will be appointed to escort the tourists and explain the various phases of Buddha’s life at the different places enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, the historical importance of Sarnath (where he had voiced his first sermon), his last resting place Kushinagar at Uttar Pradesh, followed by the history of the famous monasteries of Ghoom and Rumtek.

The Buddhist trail

Bodh Gaya and Mahabodhi temple (Bihar): The place of Buddha’s enlightenment

Sarnath (Bihar): Where he delivered his first sermon

Kushinagar (UP): Where he attained Nirvana

Shravasti (UP): The place of twin miracles where Buddha’s supernatural abilities were revealed

Rajgir (Bihar): Buddha spent 12 years here

Sankasa: Where he descended from Tusita after a three-month stay teaching his mother the Abhidhamma

Vaishali (Bihar): Where he received honey from a monkey

Rumtek (Sikkim): Headquarters of the Karmapa branch, Rumtek Monastery was rebuilt in 1964, as a replica of the Tsurphu Monastery. Behind the main temple are the Dharma Chakra Centre and the Nalanda Institute of Buddhist Studies. Rumtek is a splendid example of Tibetan monastic art.

Ghoom: The famous monastery with a 15-feet Buddha statue. It is 8 km from Darjeeling.

Source: The Times of India

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