Promoting Religious Sites
Nepal and India share a common religious and cultural history, which, if projected properly, can increase tourist traffic in both countries.
South Asian countries, while unique in their own ways, tend to share a common culture. The norms and values prevailing in Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Sikhism, are deeply rooted in South Asian societies. Though the number of followers varies from country to country, their presence and influence in local arts, cultures, and traditions are distinctly visible in every society in the region. Nepal too has its unique geography, history and cultural heritage, which makes it an integral part of the broader cultural history and tradition of the Indian subcontinent.
Nepal and India share numerous similarities in cultural traditions. Both countries have made great contributions to enrich the regions’ religious and cultural heritage. Lord Buddha, born in Nepal, left his footprints not only in South Asia but all across the world. Sita, the daughter of Nepal and wife of Ram, the crown prince of Ayodhya in India, is highly regarded by Hindus all over the world, which reflects the cultural bonding between India and Nepal. Indian philosophers and saints have made significant contributions to evolve, develop and spread the heritage known today as the South Asian culture.
Nepal and India share a versatile cultural link where religion has played a significant role in shaping cultural relations between these two countries. This is evident by the fact that thousands of Nepalese visit pilgrimage sites in India each year. Similarly, certain sites in Nepal are of religious significance for the Hindus such as Pashupatinath in Kathmandu, Lumbini (Buddha’s birth place) in Rupandehi district,
and the Ram-Janaki temple in Janakpur (the birth place of Janak and Sita). The cultural ties between the Nepalese and the Hindus are further strengthened due to a common religious faith, philosophy, and practice of worship.
Language is another component of the Nepal-India cultural affinity. The different languages shared between the Nepalese and the Hindus include Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Hindi and Awadhi of which Sanskrit is the root. In addition, both countries use the Devnagari script in writing and religious texts. The same script is used to write the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and Tripitak.
People from Nepal and India have had a frequent exchange of ideas and personalities representing art, culture, music, literature, and sports. The religious traditions and mythologies have given life to norms and values in Nepal and India and the art forms prevailing in these two countries also share a similar history.
Tourism, being Nepal’s largest industry, is also a major source of foreign exchange and revenue. A popular destination among mountaineers across the world, Nepal is home to 8 of the 10 highest mountains in the world. The government of Nepal has reached out to different countries, especially India’s travel companies, to promote its tourism sector. The country enjoys popularity with Indians as a recreational, shopping and pilgrimage destination. Its reputation as a tourist destination in India has increased vastly in recent years. Transportation links between the two countries have further bridged the divide as 55 flights operate be-
tween Kathmandu and the Indian cities of Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai, every week. Other reasons include a pleasant climate, easy road access, no visa requirement, a common language, and a favorable exchange rate.
Popular among the tourists is trekking, mountaineering and safari tours. This includes white-water rafting, biking, fishing, rock climbing, paragliding, hot air ballooning, pony treks, and boating to name a few. Nepal also has ten national parks, six conservation areas, three wildlife reserves and a hunting reserve.
The tourism industry is the largest and fastest growing industry in the world, accounting for more than ten percent of global spending. For Nepal, it generates foreign revenue and provides employment opportunities as well. The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) conducted a Nepal-India Tourism Mart in Lumbini in January, where the participants discussed the idea to jointly promote Buddhist religious sites in Nepal and India. Government officials and travel industry representatives discussed strategies to promote a travel circuit comprising all major Buddhist sites. The main objective of the Tourism Mart was to promote Buddhist sites, boost interaction between tourism entrepreneurs, and expand business net- works in both countries.
The tourism industry is equally important to India, which receives over a million tourists annually who visit its Buddhist sites, whereas Nepal has, in the past, received less than 100,000 tourists a year at Lumbini. According to the Nepal Tourism Ministry, Nepal’s “Visit Lumbini Year” campaign in 2012 attracted nearly 509,073 tourists from 92 countries who visited Lord Buddha’s birthplace, including 113,195 from India, 52,672 from Sri Lanka and 28,480 from Thailand. Madiha Bilal Kapadia holds an MBA in Marketing from IoBM and freelances for various publications.