Our commitment to promoting Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, often gets manifested in speeches political leaders deliver on the day of Buddha Purnima, also called the day of Vesak. But we won’t be able to achieve the goal of promoting the country as the birthplace of Buddha and thereby promote Buddhist tourism only through such piecemeal approach. The world celebrated 2563rd Buddha Jayanti on Saturday and as usual many commitments have been made. The United Nations celebrated it at its Headquarters in New York, in which President of UN General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés and representatives from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand participated. In Nepal, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli vowed to revive the international committee formed under the United Nations some 49 years ago for the development of Lumbini. Thanks to the prime minister but as things stand, we have not been able to develop Buddhist shrines as envisioned in the masterplan for Lumbini development, even five decades since then secretary general of the United Nations, U Thant, visited Lumbini and set in motion UN’s initiative for development of the Buddha’s birthplace.
It goes without saying that U Thant, along with Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, played a vital role in developing masterplan and they envisioned to develop Lumbini as a pilgrimage and tourism destination. Now the PM wants to revive the international committee formed by the UN but we will be able to benefit only when this commitment is matched with action. One way of doing that will be completing the construction of Gautam Buddha International Airport, which will connect Buddha’s birthplace with the rest of the world, on time. Construction of this airport has met with various obstacles time and again—unavailability of construction materials, dereliction of duty by the contractors among others. With UN’s recognition of Vesak as International Peace Day, Buddhist faith has become popular across the world. Besides, 82 percent of works under Lumbini Master Plan have been completed. Lumbini Development Trust aims to complete all the works included in the master plan within the next three years. These are the encouraging signs. If we can preserve, and renovate where necessary, structures like Mayadevi Temple, Sacred Pond, Asoka Pillar and remnants of archaeological importance, they will surely keep attracting followers from around the world.
Lumbini is a World Heritage Site. Pilgrims from around the world come to visit here. But Lumbini still lacks proper tourism infrastructure. In lack of good hotels either the visitors cut short their stay or return to the capital on the same day or go across the border to Indian towns to find accommodation. These are the areas which can be improved immediately. With proper vision and its execution, Lumbini can be developed into the site of religious tourism like Mecca for Muslims and Jerusalem for Christians but this does not happen with mere lip service. The government needs to take necessary actions for this. Visit Nepal Year 2020 is only few months away and we are aiming to bring in millions of tourists from around the world. This presents us great opportunities to turn Lumbini vision into reality. Creating basic tourism infrastructure, expediting remaining construction works of Gautam Buddha International Airport and that of Lumbini development masterplan can get us there. For this the government needs to intervene with result-oriented actions.