Bodh Gaya tourism in deep coma sans international flights and domestic visitors
- The situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon since the peak season of earning in Bodh Gaya is from October to February.
The recovery rate from Covid-19 may have shot up and economic activity may have picked up pace everywhere in Bihar and the rest of the country, but the tourism industry at Bodh Gaya, where a sizable population ekes out a livelihood from it, has gone deep into coma.
The local businessmen and hoteliers blame it on the ban on international flights as well as the closure of most of the monasteries housing Buddhist temples.
“During year-end, we could see an increase in footfall of domestic tourists, but the numbers have fallen now,” said Rakesh Kumar, president, Bodh Gaya Tourists Guide Association.
The main temple of Bodh Gaya, Mahabodhi Mahavihar was opened for general pilgrims and tourists on December 21. “We held a meeting on December 19 after which the Mahabodhi Mahavihara was opened after two days. Since the opening, the tourists have been visiting the temple,” said Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC), secretary, N Dorjee.
Another important temple in Bodh Gaya, the 80-feet Buddhist temple, also opened in the first week of February. However, the reopening has not attracted tourists as expected.
On the issue of monasteries still remaining closed, Dorjee said, BTMC did not have control over them. “There are about 45 monasteries and they are controlled by their association, International Buddhist Council. However, they are facing certain constraints like maintenance cost and shortage of manpower,” he added.
The situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon since the peak season of earning in Bodh Gaya is from October to February. “From February onwards, the tourists start leaving Bodh Gaya. The people, who survive directly or indirectly by earning from the tourism and hotel industries, have been badly hit, as international flights were banned and Buddhist rituals and events were cancelled,” said Kumar.
Kumar said many tourist guides were on the verge of starvation while some had switched to different vocations for now. “We have collected money from the members of the tourist guide association and helped the needy guides,” he said, adding, “All our savings have dried and till October it will be a challenge for us to earn our daily bread.”
International Buddhist Council general secretary Bhante Pragyadeep said the monasteries were closed as their running involved costs. “Since pilgrims are not visiting Bodh Gaya, the donations on which the monasteries run have also dried up. However, the ray of hope is that slowly they were opening up,” he said.
Pragyadeep said not all monasteries were important. “The main attraction of Bodh Gaya was monasteries of Sri Lanka, Japan, Tibet, Myanmar, Thailand and International Buddhist Council and they were opening up slowly,” he said, adding, in eight to ten days almost all the monasteries would reopen.
President, Hotel Association of Bodh Gaya, Sanjay Singh, said most of the big hotels that had made huge investments were in poor condition. “The earnings of the hotels depend on the flow of foreign tourists, which is nil now. Unless the international flights resume, the situation will not normalize and money will not flow in Bodh Gaya,” he said.
The plight of street vendors who sell antique pieces, trinkets and other articles is also intense. “The roads at Bodh Gaya, which used to remain packed with tourists, are empty now. We hope that once the monasteries reopen, the flow of domestic tourists will increase,” said Gulabchand, president, National Hawkers’ Federation, Bodh Gaya.
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