KATHMANDU: Nepal has undertaken several infrastructure development projects with the support of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to attract religious tourists from various countries, including India.
To improve regional connectivity and trade, ADB last year approved USD 180 million under the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) program for widening the East-West Highway connecting India, ADB country-director Nepal Mukhtor Khamudkhanov said.
The project implemented under the SASEC aimed at strengthening road, rail, and air links, as well as developing port infrastructure to match the needs of the regions–Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
As part of infrastructure development by ADB, an international airport near Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, is expected to be operational by March next year.
The USD 70 million airport infrastructure being developed under South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project, Khamudkhanov said.
Gautam Buddha International Airport, Bhairahawa, a place near Lumbini, is expected to attract tourists from Buddha circuit in India and other neighboring countries like China, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Japan.
More than five countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Cambodia, have shown interest in starting airline operations from the upcoming airport.
Besides Lumbini, Bivah Panchami in Janakpur is a big attraction for many tourists from India, said Suraj Vaidya National Coordinator Visit Nepal 2020.
According to mythology, Lord Rama married Sita on Bivah Panchami in Janakpur. The festival is observed every year to mark the occasion.
It attracts a lot of tourists from various places including India, Vaidya said, adding, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath paid a visit to Janakpur on Bivah Panchami last year.
Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama is in Uttar Pradesh. Last year, India, Nepal started the Janakpur-Ayodhya bus service under Ramayan Circuit.
“Both Uttar Pradesh and Nepal are trying to make Bivah Panchami a bigger affair. We are working with other states including Bihar on developing tourism potential which can be win-win for both the countries,” he said.
Vaidya said, Shiv Shakti Parikrama, a visit of holy sites related to Lord Shiva, is also part of the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign.
As per the official data, as many as 11.73 lakh tourists visited Nepal last year. Of this, nearly 2 lakh were Indians and 69,640 from Sri Lanka and 26,355 from another neighboring country Bangladesh.