Buddhist pilgrims return to Lumbini after floods

- Madhav Dhungana, BHAIRAHAWA
Before the floods, 600 tourists used to enter Nepal daily. In September, pilgrims particularly from Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and China visit the birthplace of Buddha

Sep 9, 2017-Tourism in Bhairahawa and Lumbini is beginning to recover after being severely hit by the floods that submerged huge swathes of the southern plains and border regions in India following heavy rains in mid-August. 

The Gorakhpur-Sunauli highway, a key overland entry point into Nepal from India, was inundated, blocking all motor traffic.

Hoteliers said tourists had been cancelling advance bookings en masse during a prime season for Buddhist pilgrimage following the disaster. Almost all hotels had been sold out before the deluge. However, tourist arrivals have started to rebound from last week. 

“The floods affected our business for nearly three weeks,” said Amrit Khanal, manager of Hotel Redsun. “Now business has returned to normal,” he said, adding that bookings had crossed 70 percent. Floodwaters had covered the Indian town of Pipiganj in Gorakhpur district in Uttar Pradesh state, crippling transportation and preventing travellers from going to Nepal, travel trade entrepreneurs said. The town lies on the 75-km Gorakhpur-Sunauli highway. Sunauli is the busiest among eight key entry points on the Nepal-India border for tourists visiting Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha.

Chandra Prakash Shrestha, president of the Siddhartha Hotel Association, said that hotel bookings had started to increase gradually. “It has cheered entrepreneurs who have been worrying about the impact of the floods.” 

According to the Belhiya Immigration Office, 200 tourists have been entering Nepal daily from last week. “Everything has returned to normal. However, arrivals are still low,” said immigration official Rajiv Aryal. 

Before the floods, 600 tourists used to enter Nepal daily. In September, pilgrims particularly from Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and China visit the birthplace of Buddha. 

Visitors start their Buddhist circuit journey at Bodhgaya and proceed to Sarnath and Kushinagar in India and end it in Lumbini.

According to the statistics of the Lumbini Development Trust, there were 136,253 tourists in Lumbini in 2016, not counting Indian visitors. The number of Indian visitors stood at 134,269. Sri Lankan visitors numbered 56,033 and Thai visitors numbered 21,926.

Likewise, the holy site received 15,284 visitors from Myanmar, 14,890 from China, 3,901 from South Korea, 3,263 from Vietnam, 3,086 from the Netherlands, 2,917 from Taiwan, 1,480 from Japan, 1,334 from the UK and 1,272 from the US.

Published: 09-09-2017 08:07

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