Step-Child Odisha! Buddhist Circuit In State Out Of Centre’s Focus Too

Bhubaneswar: The Central government turns a blind eye when it comes to promoting iconic tourism sites in Odisha. And it’s guilty on this count not once, but twice—The glaring omission of iconic sites in Odisha earmarked for global promotion as well as step-motherly attitude towards developing the rich Buddhist circuits in the state.

Last week, the Odisha Bytes report, Disappointing! No Odisha Site Among Centre’s List Of 17 Iconic Places, triggered an uproar when it revealed that no site from Odisha found mention in the Union Tourism Ministry’s list of 17 iconic sites in the country to be developed as world-class tourism centres.

Responding to the OB report, Odisha Minister of Tourism & Culture Jyoti Prakash Panigrahi has warned of taking up the matter with the Centre and also raise it in Parliament and other forums.

Earlier in February, former Union Tourism Minister K J Alphons told Parliament that his ministry had sanctioned Rs 361 crore for the development of five Buddhist circuits in the country. Intriguingly, the famous Buddhist sites in Odisha, including Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri, were missing from the Tourism Ministry’s list.

Instead, the ministry’s Swadesh Darshan Scheme identified the Buddhist circuits in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

Adding insult to injury, now even budget-carrier Indigo has left out Odisha from its proposed new services to be launched on August 8 to connect places of Buddhist importance in the country.

Perhaps it’s time that the Odisha Government brings to the notice of the Union Tourism Ministry the state’s ancient Buddhist legacy. It should advocate the cause of the Buddhist circuits of Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri, Udayagiri, Langudi and other sites scattered across Odisha. Moreover, scholars also believe that Vajrayana, a form of tantric Buddhism, also originated in Odisha.

Neglect from Aviation sector

On June 13, private carrier Indigo issued a release about venturing into Buddhist circuit tourism by launching daily flights from August 8. The carrier has set eyes on leisure travellers who would like to experience Buddhist history and spirituality. The new flights will connect Kolkata to Gaya, Kolkata to Patna, Kolkata to Varanasi and Gaya to Varanasi.

Odisha Byes made several contact Indigo on the omission of Odisha sites, but the company failed to respond.

Tour operators in Odisha too are a disappointed lot. Benjamin Simon, founder of Travel Link, argued that a direct service between Bhubaneswar and Varanasi would have helped Odisha draw a large number of Buddhist pilgrims, including international travellers. “But the state has missed this business opportunity,” he rued.

“Varanasi is a vital link for the development of Buddhist tourism in Odisha, especially drawing pilgrims from Kathmandu who make Varanasi their base and then travel to other Buddhist places including Odisha,” he added.

Simon revealed that a few years ago, Air India had started operations on the Bhubaneswar-Varanasi sector, with a good load factor. “Tourists from Nepal came in good numbers to Odisha. But the service was suspended abruptly by the airline with the promise to restore it back. It never happened,” he said.

This caused a huge setback for Odisha tourism. “The state government must ensure that before withdrawing services, the airlines must engage with it and cite the causes for withdrawing services,” he suggested.

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