Religious Tourism In Lumbini
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on August 14, 2010
By Thosapala Hewage
Tourism is a complex of social, cultural, religious and economical development that is now taken as the world’s largest industry. Thus, it is said “One can’t understand the world today without understanding tourism.”
Tourism is a labour intensive industry which is a very important source for foreign exchange earning. According to James Robinson, ex-president of the World Travel and Tourism Organization, tourism industry accounts for 9 per cent of global GDP and employs 235 million people.
It can be categorized as: Leisure tourism, Sustainable tourism, Cultural and religious tourism, Eco tourism, Heritage tourism, Medical tourism, Wildlife tourism, War tourism and Disaster tourism etc.
In 2008, globally there were over 922 million international tourists arrival with a growth of about 2 per cent compared to the previous year. There has been an upmarket trend in the tourism over the last few decades, especially in Europe where international travel for short breaks is common. The WHO estimates that up to 500,000 people are on planes at any given time.
Tourism in Nepal
Nepal is exceptionally rich in terms of archaeological monuments, historical places, unique cultural diversity as well as natural beauty. Hence tourism in Nepal has enormous potential but it has not yet been exploited fully. Although tourism has emerged as one of the fastest growing industries in Nepal it has not been promoted nationally and internationally as required. This can be done collectively by the countries in the region under the umbrella of SAARC.
As former Secretary General Nihal Rodrigo said special texture of the SAARC Region is its diversity which ranges from Nepal’s soaring snow-caped peaks to Bhutan’s richly decorated Buddhist monasteries, the bush grass forests and the mighty rivers of Bangladesh to the teeming cities of India. Sri Lanka’s temples and ancient arts to the turquoise sea and brilliant white beaches of the Maldives. This diversity need to be exploited to the maximum benefit of the country.
Prospects of tourism development in Nepal
Nepal has a wide range of places of importance where tourists are attracted. Tourists are drawn to Nepal by its unparalleled natural beauty, the challenges of its mountain climbing, its rich wildlife and biodiversity and unique religious and cultural heritage.
There is a need to develop the combination of spectacular and diverse tourism resources and a largely rural based population and deliver benefit of development to the remote rural areas. In view of the above, one can suggest that Nepal can benefit from different types of tourism if available potentials are fully exploited.
The government has decided to observe the year 2011 as a National Tourism Year setting a target of bringing in one million visitors.
Importance of Lumbini
Lord Gautam Buddha was born in 623 BC in Lumbini and this is one of the most sacred places of all Buddhists. Worldwide attention is focused on Lumbini not only because pilgrims and tourists from all over the world want to visit the place but also that for all mankind Lumbini has a special meaning as a place of meditation and spiritual renewal, a centre of cultural exchange and a symbol of peace. This is one of the most important reasons behind the high acclamation of Nepal and is a treasured heritage for the country. Lumbini is also famous for the highly civilized inhabitants and the natural prosperity of the place. It is said that the place holds the devotional feelings even in air.
Today devotees and visitors from all over the world come to Lumbini the timeless place where ancient monuments glorify the birth place of Buddha and bear witness to the record of the noteworthy visits by famous dignitaries. They deeply immerse themselves in the calm spiritual atmosphere of Lumbini.
Emperor Ashoka along with a team of pilgrims made a pilgrimage to Lumbini in 249 B.C. This could be the first recorded religious tourism in the world. The next pilgrims, according to the recorded history, were the three famous Chinese travellers; Tseng Tsai (4th century AD) Fa-Hsien (5th century DAD) and Hiuen Tsang (7th century AD) who visited Lumbini. They are reported to have seen the Ashoka Pillar with horse carved on top of it.
To develop Lumbini as an international pilgrimage and tourist centre, a Master Plan was prepared in 1970 and Lumbini Development Trust was established to implement it. In 1997 Lumbini was declared as a World Heritage Site.
The rich cultural heritage of Lumbini attracts the religious tourists as does the sacred garden which spreads over 8 sq. km. covering the entire valuable riches of this area. Nepalese and international monasteries representing different architecture and culture of Buddhist and Buddhist organizations are other attractions of Lumbini.
Lumbini is not only a sacred complex for Buddhists but also for Hindus as well as other religious people due to the peaceful environment. The Government of Nepal is making arrangements to develop Lumbini as the Land of Peace. It is very important as the teaching of Lord Buddha is meant for peace and harmony. Peace pagoda, peace bell, eternal peace light was constructed by the Japanese to symbolize Lumbini as peace city. Various conferences and seminars are conducted in Lumbini on peace. The Cultural Centre of Lumbini is dedicated for World Peace.
Sixty per cent of the tourists were interested in Buddha and Buddhism that’s why they moved to get their feet over the land where the Buddha was born i.e. pilgrims. Out of tourists from 66 countries visiting Lumbini, Sri Lanka and Thailand have been at the top, both representing Buddhism as religion of the majority.
Promotion of tourism in Lumbini
Today’s Lumbini is a small sleepy town in the South-Western Terai plains where the ruins of the old city can still be seen. The development of Lumbini and its surrounding area has been formulated in the Master Plan prepared by Prof. Kenzo Tange. The Master Plan is still the basis for all the development works being carried within the Master Plan area of 1 mile by 3 miles. The Master Plan that should have been fully implemented by 1995 is being implemented at a snail’s pace due mainly to lack of essential resources.
Authorities should work hard to promote and publicize Lumbini and other sites of the area as major tourist and pilgrimage sites. Similarly, efforts should be made to implement the Lumbini Master Plan as soon as possible so as to give a new look to the area and promote it as a number one tourist and pilgrimage site of Nepal.
At present, Bhairahawa is the only domestic airport available to visit Lumbini. It’s facilities are minimal. From Bhairahawa to Lumbini a 19 km road transport is not satisfactory which needs to be improved to make travel comfortable for tourists. The construction of Lumbini International Airport would be an added attraction to tourists so that foreign tourists can fly direct to Lumbini and spend a few days there.
Many of the tourists who arrive in Kathmandu do not include Lumbini in their destination programme. So, the authorities should work to channelize the tourists to Lumbini. A Lumbini festival should be organized on the occasion of Buddha Jayanti each year. Tourist-guides should be capable to interpret native languages of the guests. Local cultural activities should be organized. Awakening programs should be carried out. Health services, drinking water, sanitation facilities, tourist’s information centre, arts and crafts selling centre should be in place.
There should be proper co-ordination among concerned agencies for the development of Lumbini and it’s outskirts.
Conclusions and recommendations
The potential for development of Buddhist tourism in Lumbini is enormous. Presently no constructive plan has been developed or aggressive campaign has been carried out to explore the available potential. The Government of Nepal needs to get the help of UNESCO and seek required resources to develop Lumbini as an attractive tourist destination.
The Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) has to play a pro-active role in promoting tourism in Lumbini and to implement the Lumbini Master Plan. The International Committee for the Development of Lumbini initiated after the visit of the then UN Secretary General U Thant in 1970, needs to be reactivated in order to accelerate the development process.
Basic infrastructure facilities such as roads, electricity, water supply, communication, hotels and restaurants, trained guides have to be provided. It is also important to upgrade the existing Bhairahawa airport and improve connectivity with Lumbini.
Aggressive publicity and promotion programmes have to be carried out by respective agencies within the country and overseas taking Lumbini as the centre of excellence in religious tourism.
(Edited form of a paper presented by Hewage, Ambassador of Sri Lanka in Nepal at a seminar organized on the occasion of 2554 Buddha Jayanti by the Buddhist Women Association Nepal in the capital recently.)