Javed Iqbal Ansari, Bihar Tourism Minister

Interview

November 18, 2015

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India & You

Nov-Dec 2014



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BIHAR TOURISM OFFERS A UNIQUE AMALGAMATION OF ANCIENT CIVILISATION, RELIGION, HISTORY AND CULTURE. EVERY YEAR, MILLIONS OF TOURISTS VISIT BIHAR FOR RELIGIOUS PURPOSES. JAVED IQBAL ANSARI SHARES THE INITIATIVES BEING TAKEN TO SHOWCASE THE POTENTIAL OF VARIOUS TOURIST PLACES OF BIHAR TO THE WORLD.

Q : What is the percentage of the international and domestic tourist arrivals in Bihar? How has the overall growth been?
Flow of tourists, both domestic and foreigners, have risen astronomically. Bihar had received 6.8 million domestic and 63,000 foreign tourists in 2005 which went up to 215 million from within the country and 0.7 million from abroad in 2013. Though foreign tourists are coming to Bihar in huge numbers; in the last 1-3 years, we have seen a slight decrease in the numbers. But now we are regaining the numbers. I am looking to increase these numbers and working on the strategies to boost tourism in the state.

There is a huge difference in what Bihar used to be few years back and what it is now. The state which is offering plethora of options to be explored. Bihar is the land where the Buddha began his journey to search the solution for suffering and finally got enlightened. The sacred footsteps of the Buddha, evolved into pilgrimages, are today trailed through the Buddhist circuit. We have not only developed and promoted Buddhist circuit, but we have many other circuits to offer – be it Sikh, Jain, Ramayana or Gandhi. We have worked on these circuits very well. And if you will come to Bihar, you will definitely appreciate the government for working on these tourism destinations and keep tourists spiritually connected to Bihar. Besides promoting spiritual tourism in a big way, Nalanda University is a tourist attraction which is the first university in the world. And, here we are also putting together heritage in order to promote it – the churning of the oceans that took place during the Great battle between the demons and Gods, we have a large granite rock which is believed to have originated from the churning. And today, there is Jain temple on top of this rock. We have planned to construct a ropeway each at Barabar (Jehanabad), Mundeshwari temple (Kaimur) and Brahmayoni (Gaya). Apart from this, we have Rajgir, Bodh Gaya, Valmiki Nagar, which is famous for its extensive forest area. Wildlife sanctuary is there. At the foothill area of Himalaya, close to Indo- Nepal border, the hermitage is a pilgrimage spot where the creator of the Ramayana epic, Valmiki is believed to have lived. So, every tourist spot in Bihar has something unique which attracts tourists from all over the world.

Q : What are the state’s strengths and focus areas in the tourism sector? How do you plan to utilise your strengths? Any plans to bring new features to tourism in Bihar?
When it comes to tourism, Bihar does have tremendous scope. It always remains a topic of discussion around the world – be it Bihar or people of Bihar. So, we have to think from the tourist’s point of view. Our aim is to promote – Gautam Buddha – the main focus; Mahavir temple or Mahatma Gandhi when he came to Champaran. Either we talk of Lord Buddha or Lord Mahavira, whether it be Guru Gobind Singh or Hazrat Makhdum Sheikh Sarfudeen Yahiya Maneri; be it Ashoka or the freedom fighters; all have contributed to the glory of India and have left reminiscences in the auspicious land of Bihar. They all disseminated to the world message of peace and love. Mahatma Gandhi also started the freedom fight from the land of Champaran in Bihar. It is required to protect and maintain the historical and archaeological importance of the invaluable heritage, unforgettable history and our world famous tourist destinations for our future generations.

The Bodhi Tree, under which Buddha attained enlightenment, has become a magnet for tourists all over the world. The ancient city Rajgir existed even before Buddha’s time. The natural fortification by five hills and some of the caves believed to be Buddha’s favourite abode for meditation makes the region a point of reverence for the Buddhists. So, there are lots of tourist spots. A statue of Buddha would be installed inside the lake at Ghora Katora in Rajgir in Nalanda district.

I would like to bring forward an interesting fact about a village named ‘Dhejan’ in Jehanabad district of Bihar. This village is enriched with invaluable historical Buddhist arts and crafts. Also, several idols of Lord Buddha have unearthed during excavation for houses, wells etc. This place poises to be a heaven for researchers in the field of Buddhist arts and crafts. The reason behind sharing these points is to emphasise that various sustainable development and planning projects should be undertaken which should take care of the requirement of the income and revenue of the locale people and should also increase the socio-economic benefits and push up the tourism sector. This will also help in educating the locale people about the historic monuments and its importance.

Q : How much accommodation is available for foreign tourists? What steps have been taken to improvise these facilities?
Accommodation is quite well. Tourists will not face problem in finding hotels. I understand people have different expectations and mind set. We are working as per the tourists’ feedback for the betterment of accommodation.

Q : How has the infrastructure been?
Infrastructure is good and we have developed infrastructure a lot. The condition of roads is quite well. Recently, the centre announced a slew of measures and one of them was to launch an air-conditioned train in Buddhist circuit from next year and putting signboards in languages of different countries for non-English speakers to make Bodh Gaya and other places associated with Lord Buddha more attractive for visitors. The train would have facility of separate kitchen in the train itself in which foreign tourists could cook and enjoy food of their country.

In 2017, millions of Sikh pilgrims from across the world would be congregating at the historical Gurudwara Patna Saheb to celebrate 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh (Tenth Guru of Sikhs was born in Patna in 1966). For this, a sum of INR 300 million is needed for developing roads and Ganga ghats to organise the event in Patna Saheb. So, we are working closely with the central government for this infrastructure requirement.

Q : Last question is about upcoming WTM 2014. How will you present Bihar there? What would be the marketing strategies?
The way I am promoting Bihar here in India, the same way I will present the state and its tourism potential there. Currently, we are doing promotion and branding of international Buddhist circuit and this will be continued in WTM as well.

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