Government studies Lumbini master plan

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BUTWAL, APR 08 – The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has been studying a 10-year master plan to develop Lumbini as a pilgrimage hub. The objective of the plan is to increase the length of stay and spending of tourists and create potential impacts on the livelihood of local communities.

The plan envisages integrating Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha; Tilaurakot, his childhood home; Devdaha, his maternal and in-laws home town and Ramgram in Nawalparasi, which contains one of the relics of the Buddha, into the Greater Lumbini Development Area which will be 157 sq km in size.

As per the plan, the roads linking all these areas will be widened into four lanes and lined with holy trees. The report has proposed investing Rs 3.72 billion to complete the Greater Lumbini Development Project. The cost excludes road infrastructure. The plan, which took a year to complete, was prepared by a five-member taskforce led by tourism expert Ram Chandra Sedhai. The plan envisages increasing tourist stay by least five days.

Currently, due to the lack of infrastructure and effective tour packages, visitors hardly spend a day at the birthplace of the Buddha. Tourism entrepreneurs have been saying that the income from tourists visiting Lumbini is very nominal as almost all the packages are developed by Indian tour operators.

As per the plan, archaeological sites in Rupandehi, Kapilvastu and Nawalparasi will be integrated and promoted. “If all the tasks are completed as per the plan, Lumbini will be a major pilgrimage destination within a few years,” Sedhai said, adding that the envisaged plan would create big impacts on the livelihood of local communities. The blueprint was submitted to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation a month ago. Sedhai said that the ministry was likely to approve the plan within a week after conducting few rounds of meetings. The plan is expected to be implemented from this year and will be completed by 2024.

The sustainable plan includes promoting Lumbini as a religious, cultural and leisure destination separately. Under the scheme, Tilaurakot, Devdaha and Ramgram will be promoted as cultural heritage tourism. Palpa, Butwal , Bhairahawa and Belhiya will be promoted as leisure, sports and shopping destinations.

The plan has also envisaged offering tour packages to tourists visiting Lumbini to other destinations like Pokhara, Palpa, Chitwan, Mustang, Jomsom, Dhorpatan, Swargadwari, Bardia, Rara Lake and Kailash Mansarovar.

With the ongoing construction of an international airport in Bhairahawa, the government has targeted attracting 2 million tourists annually by 2020. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) had approved the airport upgradation plan as part of its South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project in 2009.

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 50-km radius.