In recent years, India has witnessed the start of operations of several new airports and this trend appears to be linked to an upward trajectory for the foreseeable future. The Prime Minister has decided to set up a network of more than 200 airports across the country. But, the international airport started at Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh is of special importance in itself. Its commissioning will help followers of Buddhists living in various countries of the world who believe in Buddhism to effortlessly visit their Parinirvana Sthal (where Lord Budhha took his last breath) and achieve nirvana after his death.
When the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi inaugurated the new airport, there were diplomats from countries like South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, including Sri Lankan Prime Minister, the son of Mr. . Mahinda Rajapaksa, and her cabinet Minister Namal. Their presence is a testament to the capital importance of Kushinagar Airport for countries practicing Buddhism.
Unless you have visited countries like Thailand or Sri Lanka and seen the truth for yourself, it is extremely difficult to imagine the massive scale of the thousands of Buddhist tourists who visit Buddhist temples 24 hours a day. on 24 every day. As tourists, their general reactions to seeing the idols of Lord Buddha are of this awe and wonder. This is the situation when these nations have no direct relation to Buddhism. Sri Lanka has gone so far as to admit that Buddhism is a blessed gift from India.
From now on, Buddhist circuits are developing around Kushinagar, Shravasti and Kapilvastu. In addition to these, similar projects have been commissioned in several regions of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. It’s no surprise that tourism was one of the first and worst sectors affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the situation is improving and we are slowly returning to our expected versions of normal, it can be correctly assumed that the influx of foreign tourists to places associated with the Buddhist tour of India will increase rapidly.
Undoubtedly, India is home to a rich ancient Buddhist heritage with many important holy sites related to the life of Lord Buddha. It is important to raise the question of why, despite being a land of Buddhists, we have so far been so weak to attract Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world. The Indian Buddhist heritage is a subject of extraordinary interest to followers of Buddhism.
Kushinagar is one of the main pilgrimage sites for followers of Buddhism. Lord Buddha reached the ultimate state of Nirvana (Mahaparinirvana) at Kushinagar, which is one of the most crucial archaeological sites in India. Major tourist attractions in Kushinagar include Ancient Mahaparinirvana Temple, one of the most sacred temples for Buddhists, Rambhar Stupa, Kushinagar Museum, Sun Temple, Nirvana Stupa, Matha Kuar Shrine, Temple Wat Thai, Chinese temple, Japanese temple, etc.
Yet our country sees a tiny annual flock of Buddhist tourists compared to other nations. This is because our previous governments glorified the Mughal tourist attractions, which in a way were actually a reminder of our slavery, and failed to preserve the Buddhist tourist spots which were symbols of our spiritual prosperity.
Buddhist tourists spend around two to three weeks in India. During their visit to our country, they continue to travel from Gaya to Vaishali and from Sarnath to Kushinagar. Some even visit the Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur where Dr Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar scored a monumental step in history as he embraced Buddhism with his 6,000,000 followers.
The Modi government has now started to work on the idea that tourists from countries that actively preach and practice Buddhism should be brought to India. This is a very large group of potential tourists. So far, we have failed miserably to bring millions of Buddhist followers from around the world to the major Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India. It’s a fact.
Thailand alone receives an influx of four and a half to five million religious tourists each year. So why don’t tourists come to India, which has always been the epicenter of Buddhism? Now that is a moot question. It is a fact to be aware that all tourists visiting Bodh Gaya and its adjacent Buddhist Circuit towns – Rajgir and Nalanda, Vaishali, Varanasi, Sarnath and Kushinagar – spend a lot of money throughout the year, which stimulates and strengthens the local economy fiscally.
Today, as new Buddhist pilgrimage sites develop, so too, we must restore, expand and reorganize the existing Buddhist circuit. Efforts in this direction have already been launched, but much remains to be done. For example, the Mahabodhi temple, in which a beautiful idol of Lord Buddha is installed, is located on the Mandir Marg of the capital Delhi. It is the first Buddhist temple in Delhi inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1939.
Along with this, we have also developed the Ladakh Buddhist Vihara, a renowned attraction, for international tourists. It may be surprising to come across the name of the Buddhist Vihara of Ladakh. For this Buddhist monastery, the central government allocated a place in 1963 to people from Ladakh Buddhist society residing in Delhi. It can be accessed from Kashmere Gate underground station. There is a magnificent statue of Lord Buddha installed here.
There are several small prayer wheels in the temple and a large mill is located at the main entrance. The place is a home of spiritual peace. The peaceful Yamuna River flows right next to it. Amidst the hectic life of Delhi, a few moments of tranquility should be spent here.
As of now, the religious tourism sector in Kushinagar is expected to expand rapidly after the opening of Kushinagar International Airport. The Uttar Pradesh and Bihar Buddhist Pilgrimage Tour will see an influx of tourists, especially from Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea, China and other Southeast Asian countries.
India’s main goal should be that in the next 5 years at least 10 million tourists from Buddhist countries visit India every year. For this, we must develop world-class roads and hotels around the places of pilgrimage associated with Buddhism. If we once divert our attention and sincerely invest in that direction, then we will be rewarded with a lot of profit. The biggest benefit that will result from all of this would be that employment opportunities for local youth will increase in several ways.
(The writer is an editor, columnist and former Member of Parliament. The opinions expressed are the personal opinion of the author.)