Road condition the major stumbling block for Lumbini’s tourism year goalThe Buddha’s birthplace hasn’t seen as many tourists as expected for the Lumbini Travel Year 2076, owing to the sorry state of its roads.
While all eyes might have been on the Visit Nepal 2020, Province 5 is currently observing Lumbini Travel Year 2076, which has set a target of welcoming two million visitors. But while the provincial government has ramped up its publicity, little effort has gone into improving the road structure in the west’s tourism hotspot.
Roads leading to Buddha’s birthplace and other sites of historical importance await construction, facelift or expansion. As a result, even though six months have passed on the Nepali calendar year, Lumbini hasn’t seen an increase in the number of tourists. At this point, the government’s target of bringing in two million visitors looks like a far cry.
The most used road to Lumbini—that charts Belahiya-Bhairahawa-Lumbini—is in a state of disrepair. Similar is the case with other two road sections—Taulihawa-Lumbini and Butwal-Bethari-Lumbini. The roads were dug up two years ago in order to reconstruct them. As of now, they lie in disarray with potholes dotting the stretches.
This has met with repulsion from the tourists. “I found it very hard to reach Lumbini and return unlike what I had expected,” said Saroj Shiwakoti, from Nepalgunj, who was recently in Lumbini for a vacation. “I can’t recommend my friends to visit Lumbini.”
The 41km Bhairahawa-Lumbini-Taulihawa road stretch is being reconstructed with the financial aid from the Asian Development Bank. The reconstruction was expected to be completed within two and a half years. But two years on, only 30 percent of it is complete, according to officials. Only two out of five bridges on the road sections have been completed.
Meghraj Marasini, chief engineer at the Division Road Office in Butwal, blamed the contractor’s incompetence for the road project delay. “We are preparing to scrap the contract with the current contractor and grant it to another,” Marasini said.
The Bhairahawa-Lumbini road section is just 24 km but it takes over an hour and a half to cross it, said Janak Thapa, a local of Bhairahawa. The condition is pretty much the same with the other two road sections, Thapa added.
Amid all this, the provincial government, however, seems indifferent. Provincial Minister for Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment Leela Giri said that because the roads are under the central government, the provincial government is unable to lead the reconstruction works. “We have repeatedly requested the central government to pay heed to this,” Giri said. “But things haven’t gone as planned.”
Lumbini is now launching campaigns to preserve Buddhist rituals and publicise Buddha’s birth site. But this alone is unlikely to increase the number of tourists.
According to Lumbini Development Trust, a total of 101,269 foreign tourists have visited Lumbini in the first eight months of 2019. The figure is only 7,461 more compared to the same period last year.
While the condition of the roads has already taken a toll on Lumbini Visit Year, its implications look far-reaching, especially in view of the oncoming Visit Nepal 2020.
“Proper transportation is fundamental to tourism promotion,” said Sanjay Wajimaya, a tourism entrepreneur and former chief of Lumbini Tour and Travels Association. “If this fundamental necessity is overlooked, it’s hard to meet the expected target despite any extent of hype and campaigning.”