Lack of infrastructure is the biggest hurdle
Yek Raj Pathak
"A visit of one or two days or even a week is not enough in Lumbini. I am surprised when foreign visitors in Lumbini tell me that they stayed in Lumbini only for three or four days. A week is not enough for observing and studying Lumbini, rather it requires many weeks. Lumbini is such a sacred, important and enchanting place that anybody who wants to fully enjoy the visit studying the place needs at least two weeks."
This is the opinion of Master Shi Zhongyong on the importance of Lumbini. But his face did not show signs of happiness as he extolled about the religious and spiritual significance of Lumbini. Shi is the first member of the Overseas Exchange Committee of the Buddhist Association of China, the Vice President of the Buddhist Association of Shenzhen, Guangdong and the Director of the Chinese Monastery of Lumbini.
"But what do you do? There is no physical infrastructure here. Chinese in large numbers are very eager to come here for a visit. They want to come here and study Buddhist philosophy, the place of birth of the Buddha and many things related to these. However, there are no big and good hotels around here for their stay. Whatever facilities are available are also not adequate," Shi lamented.
He further said, "In China, there are hundreds of rooms in a single hotel and can accommodate a large number of visitors. But here the hotels are small. There are few hotels in Lumbini and they are also small and have a low accommodation capacity. Chinese tourists would like to come to a single group numbering in a hundred and stay in the same place. There is no adequate room for them here. So, there is the need for an adequate number of big hotels and other tourism infrastructure to cater to tourists who would like to come here in large groups and look around. I find this lacking in Lumbini."
Shi also offers some suggestions in this regard. He said, "Lumbini is the holiest of places and a centre of faith for Buddhists around the world. Since it is the birthplace of Lord Gautam Budhha, it is a place not only for the Buddhists but also for a place where the international tourists would like to visit out of reverence. Everybody would like to visit Lumbini once in their lifetime, not to talk about the people who believe in Buddhism. So, Nepal should construct not only hotels but other required infrastructure as well. This way, there is more possibility for Nepal's prosperity by means of tourism."
He said Lumbini is also the holiest and most revered destination for Chinese nationals. According to him, the number of Chinese wanting to come to Nepal has further increased after Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit on October 12, 2019. "The number of Chinese nationals seeking information regarding a visit to Nepal has also increased. It can be seen that many Chinese are very enthusiastic about coming here as Lumbini is the destination of a majority of Chinese," he observed.
The Chinese tourists coming to Lumbini also look for culture and art there. Only a few Chinese tourists understand English. According to Shi, it would be far better if the government of Nepal paid attention to facilitating the Chinese visitors coming to Nepal in the Chinese language itself and provide other necessary support during the time of their stay here.
The first member of the Overseas Exchange Committee of the Buddhist Association of China, also said they were making initiatives for cultural exchange related to Nepal and China also on behalf of the Chinese Monastery of Lumbini. He believes that these initiatives would help extend the stay of foreign tourists and encourage them to visit again.
Shi said the relations between Nepal and China are centuries. There are innumerable historical facts of ancient cultural ties between the two countries. He also expressed a deep desire to bring as many Buddhists from China to Lumbini at least once in their lives.
He has been staying in Nepal and mostly in Lumbini since the last 10 years. He is working to strengthen bilateral ties, especially cultural ties, between the two countries. "Nepal is the most beautiful country in the world. Heritage like Lumbini and Mt Everest are places of attraction for tourists from around the world and Nepal should reap benefits from these. It is very easy for Nepal to achieve prosperity if the necessary tourism infrastructure can be prepared by keeping tourism development as a priority. There is no need to worry about Chinese tourists. They will visit Nepal if the required infrastructure is in place and there is publicity,” he said.
The Global Times Magazine had released a research report sometime before the pandemic, in which it is estimated that the number of tourists will massively increase after 2020. This research showed that the number of Chinese searching for information about Nepal had increased by 15 per cent. Nepal had projected that more than 300,000 Chinese tourists would visit the country during the Visit Nepal Year 2020. But this campaign had to be cancelled owing to the COVID-19 global crisis.
Data on tourist arrivals from various countries with Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) shows that the number of Chinese tourists visiting Nepal has been increasing in the last few years.
More than 1.2 million foreign tourists came to Nepal in 2019. Chinese tourists account for most of this increase. The number of foreigners coming to Nepal in the first two months of 2019 had increased by 24 per cent and a large part of this increase was of Chinese tourists. Chinese tourists make up 14 per cent of foreign tourists visiting Nepal, which is only one step behind that of India.