One of the visible positive outcomes of the fourth BIMSTEC summit, in terms of our tourism promotion, has been visit to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, by heads of states who came to participate in the summit. President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena, along with other Sri Lankan ministers and top officials, visited Lumbini and offered prayers. At the historic Buddhist site, President Sirisena visited the Mayadevi temple and Ashoka pillar and offered rituals according to Sri Lankan traditions. He has also announced support for completing Lumbini Master Plan, if Nepali side comes up with a proposal to that effect. Apart from Sirisena, President of Myanmar U Win Myint and first lady Dow Cho Cho also visited Buddha’s birthplace before the summit. Myanmar President expressed his deep reverence for Buddha and announced each citizen of his country would love to visit Lumbini at least once in their lifetime. These visits will surely spread positive message of Nepal at a time we are preparing to observe 2020 as Visit Nepal Year and attract as many as 20 million tourists by that date.
Buddha’s birthplace has become one of the ‘must visit’ sites for high profile visitors coming to Nepal. In February this year, a Bhutanese princess had visited Lumbini, followed by Luis Carlos, the deputy mayor of Spanish capital Madrid. Carlos had even suggested that Lumbini should be developed as a center for meditation for people across the world. Good news is that regional organizations like BIMSTEC and SAARC have always put Lumbini development into one of their priorities. BIMSTEC summit, for example, has endorsed the idea of developing the Buddhist circuit to promote tourism and people-to-people contact among the member states. If Nepali authorities had managed to make Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit Lumbini, it would have sent yet another positive message. For Modi has announced to host International Buddhist Conclave in August 2020 in India and invited all BIMSTEC leaders to attend the event.
Despite all positive gestures shown by the international visitors, the fact remains that we have not been able to do much from our side to develop Lumbini as the world class religious tourism destination and to promote it accordingly. Nepal held International Buddhist Conference in April this year but we could not bring heads of states from India and China and other countries where Buddhism is a major religion. It goes without saying that Lumbini can attract tourists from countries like India, China, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the US and many other European countries. But for this, we need to build world class tourism infrastructures in Lumbini so that the visitors can stay there for a few days and experience peace. Due to lack of enough infrastructures tourists have to go across the border to seek accommodation. Besides, construction of Gautam Buddha International Airport still remains slow and there is a lingering doubt that this national pride project will be completed on time. Completing this project should be the top most priority if we want to make Visit Nepal 2020 a successful one. Historical and religious sites like Lumbini can boost our tourism industry if we are able to capitalize on international goodwill and develop infrastructures accordingly. Lip service won’t work.