Since the government announced the Buddhist Circuit project in 2016, Rs 343 crore has been sanctioned for the project under different schemes, of which Rs 278 crore has already been released, stated an official from the Ministry of Tourism. Multiple projects have been undertaken under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme of the Ministry of Tourism in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. These projects are at different stages of implementation with most targeting completion by 2022-23, an official added.
Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Rajgir, Viashali, Sarnath, Shravasti, Kushinagar, Kaushambi, Sankisa and Kapilavastu are all to be further developed in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Sarnath and Bodh Gaya are currently the top foreign tourist destinations in the nation, receiving approximately six percent of total foreign tourist arrivals. Additionally, a Cultural Centre is being built in Bodh Gaya. Projects have been undertaken for the development of infrastructure as part of the Uttar Pradesh Buddhist Circuit of Shravasti, Kushinagar, and Kapilvastu that will be completed by 2021-22.
At Dhamek Stupa in Varanasi, two projects worth Rs 9.5 crore have already been completed, including a sound and light show. Also, the Ministry is working on capacity building, which includes training in Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese languages for linguistic tourist facilitators. A total of 525 people have been trained in these languages between 2018 and 2020 and 600 more will be trained between 2020 and 2023. Southeast Asia is home to 97 percent of all Buddhists, which is especially important.
Two more airports, one international, are planned for the Buddhist circuit. As part of the UDAN program, helicopter services will be developed and international connectivity will be improved. 88 pairs of trains have been connected from Gaya to New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Varanasi, in addition to the Buddhist Circuit train. A few other stations have been upgraded as well, including Prayagraj, Varanasi, Patna, Lucknow and Gorakhpur. The entire circuit is also being offered to travelers rather than only the part of it that takes place in India.
‘It is surprising that even though Buddhism originated in India and seven of the eight major Buddhist pilgrimage sites are in India, our country receives not even one percent of all Buddhist pilgrims worldwide,’ an official from the Tourism Ministry said. He also said that Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Thailand are attracting a majority of Buddhist-related tourists while India lags behind, most likely due to inadequate infrastructure. ‘We will offer world-class facilities and attract many of these tourists to India, which will also generate great revenue and employment’, he added.