By Shyamal Sinha
Maharashtra Tourism Development Corp. (MTDC), under the government of the Indian state of Maharashtra, has drawn up a plan to make the Buddhist heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora iconic tourist and pilgrimage destinations along India’s growing Buddhist circuit.
To put Ajanta and Ellora on the international Buddhist tourism map, MTDC co-organised the 6th International Buddhist Conclave 2018 in Aurangabad, in association with India’s Ministry of Tourism. The conclave, which took place on 23–26 August, was attended by Buddhist delegates, monks, and officials from more than 12 Buddhist-populated countries.*
Ajanta and Ellora are UNESCO World Heritage Sites situated 29 km and 107 km, respectively, from the city of Aurangabad. Ajanta consists of 30 rock-cut caves built between the 2nd and 5th centuries. They contain some of the rarest and finest surviving examples of ancient Buddhist religious art—in particular, rock paintings. Ellora comprises 34 rock-cut caves, built between the 5th and 10th centuries, housing monasteries and temples of three religious traditions: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.
The delegates present at the conclave in Aurangabad, which sought to encourage tourism industry players to invest in the potential of the Buddhist circuit, visited some of India’s main Buddhist attractions, including Ajanta.
“Buddhist tourism is a growing sector and the International Buddhist Conclave will help us understand its potential and opportunities to promote Buddhist sites in the state,” said Jaykumar Rawal, minister of tourism for the government of Maharashtra, on the importance of Buddhist tourism. “I am certain through this initiative Maharashtra will be able to encourage Buddhist travelers from across the world. The Ministry of Tourism has also recognized stupas and viharas across the country and is planning to develop these Buddhist Circuits,” he added. (Financial Express)
Maharashtra is home to numerous prominent Buddhist heritage sites. In addition to the aforementioned Ajanta and Ellora UNESCO sites, it is also home to the Global Vipassana Pagoda in Gorai, a stupa in Nalasopara, and the Kanheri Caves in Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Following the conclave, MTDC received a government grant of 50 million rupees (US$690,000) for the refurbishment and repair of the visitor centers at Ajanta and Ellora. The grant will also be used to pay water and electricity bills for the centers. According to The Times of India, MTDC did not have the funds to pay its electricity and water bills after funding the contruction of the visitor centers, and its electricity supply has been cut off since November 2017.
“After 2017, the visitor centers were being run with bare minimum costs to lessen the financial burden,” said a Maharashtra tourism department official. “Still, we could not pay the electricity dues.” (The Times of India)
To appeal to Buddhist pilgrims and tourists, the goverment of Maharashtra is planning to partner with the KJ Somaiya Center for Buddhist Studies in Mumbai to design tour packages.
“Our aim is to extend the prospects of Buddhist tourism around the world by inspiring travelers to understand the rich inheritance through shrines and centers in Maharashtra,” said MTDC managing director Suhas Diwase. “I believe that the Buddhist circuits in the state will be of interest to travelers who are looking for unique experiences in their journey to discover Lord Buddha’s voyage and attainment of nirvana.” (Financial Express)