Nepal to build £1.9 billion ‘Buddhist Mecca’
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on June 20, 2011
China is providing funds to Nepal to build a $3 billion (£1.9bn) ‘Buddhist Mecca’ to attract millions of pilgrims and spiritual tourists to the birthplace of the religion’s founder Gautama, Lord Buddha.
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi, Peter Foster in Beijing
Lumbini is a Unesco world heritage site that attracts half a million pilgrims every year from China, India, Japan, Sri Lanka and Thailand to its sacred ponds, gardens and temples.
Planners hope to build an airport, hotels, convention centres, new highways, temples and a Buddhist university at the site on Nepal’sWestern border with India, where Lord Buddha was born about 2,600 years ago.
The scheme is supported by a Chinese government-backed foundation and has brought together an unlikely alliance of Nepali government ministers, Prachanda, the former prime minister and leader of the Maoist insurgency, and Paras, the former crown prince, whose family Prachanda ousted from power.
It also has the support of Steven Clark Rockefeller, the heir to the Rockefeller dynasty. According to Nepali officials devout Buddhists spend more time at the other three main pilgrimage sites in India because Lumbini does not have the infrastructure necessary for longer stays.
Sarnath, in India’s Uttar Pradesh, where Buddha first taught “dharma” or natural law, Bodh Gaya in Bihar, where he found enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and Kushinagar where he found “nirvana” in death, are all drawing increasing numbers of high-spending tourists, and Nepal’s government wants to increase its share of the spoils.
China and Nepal signed an agreement earlier this year to develop the site, and the Beijing-based Asia Pacific Exchange and Co-operation Foundation has launched an ambitious campaign to raise the $3 billion required for the site to be transformed into the world’s leading Buddhist pilgrimage site.
Prachanda has made a number of fund-raising trips to Singapore and Malaysia, and hopes the project will create new jobs in Lumbini, a poor area.
China’s involvement in a project close to the border with India has caused discomfort in New Delhi, where the government has traditionally regarded itself as a patron of the Buddhist world through its hosting of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.