The government has formally started work to develop the Greater Lumbini Buddhist Circuit to promote Buddhist tourism.
The plan aims at fostering tourism growth and offering better facilities to pilgrims to help boost tourist traffic and length of stay.
According to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, the planned 160-km Buddhist Circuit will incorporate 10 major Buddhist sites, including Kapilvastu, Devdaha and Ramgram.
Lumbini is seen as a potential world-class tourist destination for 500 million Buddhists in Asia. It hosts the birthplace of the Buddha and over 100 related archaeological sites scattered within a 50km radius.
Under the Greater Lumbini Buddhist Circuit project, Nepal aims at linking the region with the Buddhist Circuit in India as well as other regional tourism destinations like Chitwan, Pokhara, Bardia and northern-west mountain areas.
“Necessary budget for the project has been allocated and the work has formally begun,” said Rajendra Sigdel, under-secretary at the ministry.
As of now, only Tilaurakot has a few infrastructures, but rest of the important sites lack basic facilities. As a result, Nepal has not been able to attract tourists as expected.
Sigdel said due to the lack of basic infrastructure, the length of stay of visitors in Lumbini is not more than 30 minutes.
The government plans to increase the length of stay by at least five days.
“Various facilities, including sanitation, connectivity, rest room, information board will be developed in the planned circuit to increase their length of stay.”
The government recently approved a 10-year master plan to transform Lumbini into a world class tourism and pilgrimage hub. And, the Greater Lumbini Buddhist Circuit is a major component of the master plan.
Presenting the budget for this fiscal year, Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat said the master plan would be executed and work on developing the Buddhist Circuit would be started by this fiscal year.
The Asian Development Bank has assured to assist Nepal in certain areas for the circuits’ development, Sigdel said.
The master plan has set a target of achieving 2.98 million visitors by the end of 2024 with 596,661 visitors from countries other than India, 408,978 Indian visitors and 1.97 million domestic visitors. In 2013, Lumbini received 849,273 visitors, with 125,492 from countries other than India, 150,252 Indian and 573,529 domestic visitors.
The plan also targets earning $133.67 million in annual tourism receipts in comparison to the baseline tourism receipts of $34.34 million in 2013. Likewise, 3,000 locals will be trained with tourism-related skills, creating an additional 20,000 tourism jobs by the end of 2024.
The government has estimated Rs5 billion would be needed for the implementation of the plan. The figure does not include the costs for large-scale infrastructure such as an airport, road construction, large-scale building construction and those infrastructures proposed to be invested by the private sector.
India has given top priority to the promotion of its Buddhist Circuit. The World Bank Group is supporting India’s Ministry of Tourism and state tourism departments of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh on the government’s priority programme.
The Buddhist circuit is a globally important route for over 500 million Buddhists, along the life of Buddha across Nepal and India from Lumbini, where he was born; Bodhgaya where he attained enlightenment; to Kushinagar; where Buddha achieved salvation. The World Bank plans to integrate Lumbini into the circuit as well.