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Tourism diplomacy for monetizing Indo-Nepal civilization camaraderie

by Birat Anupam - 9 April, 2024, 12:00 130 Views 0 Comment

In an extremely unusual event, Nepal’s firebrand communist Prime Minister  Puspa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachnada’ paid a religious tour to Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga temple of Madhya Pradesh as part of his 4-day-long official visit to India on 2 June 2023. He was heavily criticized for his religious rites at the Indian temple from his own camp of admirers. Prachanda, however, defended his temple diplomacy. Upon his arrival at Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport at Kathmandu, Prachanda said, ‘I am not just a communist; I am also the Prime Minister’.

This roundabout turn of Nepal’s communist Prime Minister has both political and diplomatic undertones. Politically, it is the public display of his inclination towards 81 percent Hindus of Nepal which he desperately needs to elevate his 32-seater third position party in Nepal’s lower house of parliament in the upcoming elections. Diplomatically, he has used this journey as an effort to cement his in-person bond with Indian PM Narendra Modi, who has visited Nepal’s major religious destinations in his five visits namely PashupatinathMuktinathLumbini and Janaki temple, among others

The widely accepted axiom to describe Indo-Nepal ties is ‘Roti/Beti’ relations. Roti which translates as bread and Beti as daughter, this axiom carries two countries’ people-to-people level relations from food culture to marital inter-linkage. This term comes true with other nations also. For example, Nepal has now Roti/Beti relations even with its sky neighbours like the USA and the UK as there is the rapid growth of the Nepalese expats population. They are settled there.

Elevating the Roti/Beti axiom to the next level, speakers of the three-day international conference in Sudurpaschim Province of Nepal stressed giving more priority to civilization than to the Roti/Beti term in April 2023. The conference titled ‘Manaskhanda: Inevitability of Integrity for International Civilizational and Cultural Connectivity Between Nepal and India’ was held from April 15 to 17 at the initiation of Sudurpaschim University in collaboration with Kumau University, Rishihood University, among others. Speakers included Dr. Arju Rana Deuba, five-time first lady and also the leader and Member of Parliament representing Nepali Congress, Dr. Vijay Chauthaiwale, Foreign Department Head of BJP, Indian Ambassador to Nepal Navin Shrivastava, and many other Nepalese and Indian scholars. All of them talked at length about the Manaskhanda circuit and civilization that binds Nepal’s Sudurpaschim Province and India’s Uttakakhanda state’s Kumau and other adjoining areas.

Just three days after the concluding ceremony of the provincial-level Manaskhanda conference, there was the Global Buddhist Summit in New Delhi. Even in the Global Buddhist Summit of April 20 to 21, Indian PM Narendra Modi talked about Indo-Nepal civilizational ties in terms of Buddhism. Modi said Nepal and India have developed a Buddhist Circuit. He also talked about the construction of the India International Center for Buddhist Culture and Heritage at Nepal’s Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha.

Last year, there was a new travel book unveiling ceremony in Lalitpur. The book is all about the religious and spiritual ties of Nepal and India. The Nepal-India Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NICCI) made the travel book titled ‘Religious and Spiritual Circuits Nepal and India’ public on March 27. The book has mentioned five religious pilgrims: Shiva Shakti Circuit, Mahabharat Circuit, Ramayan Circuit, Buddhist Circuit and Shikh Circuit. However, this book misses some other interesting circuits like the Devi Circuit which binds Koshi Province and Kolkota; and the Kirat Circuit which is part of Koshi Province and Sikkim State. The much-talked Manaskhanda circuit is not included in the religious and spiritual circuit listing.

Even the Shaligram corridor is nonexistent in the book. This means there remain lots more to work on religious and spiritual circuits between Nepal and India. This speaks volumes about the depth and height of Indo-Nepal civilization ties. On February 2, Shaligram Shila from Nepal’s Myagdi district was ferried to Ayodhya, India. That gained huge public and press attention both from India and Nepal.

Indian PM Narendra Modi’s selfie of Muktinath is drawing more Indian tourists to Gandaki Province. Modi’s Janakpur visit has increased Indian tourist footfalls in the capital of Madhesh Province and Mithila Civilization.

These are some examples of touristic scenes generated based on Indo-Nepal civilization camaraderie. This camaraderie deserved more attention, more investment, more research, more marketing and more infrastructural development. For example, the Manaskhanda circuit has no physical connectivity. Pilgrims from Kumau are facing hurdles in terms of duration and transportation from Kumaun to Tripurasundari temple, their favorite pilgrimage site in Sudurpaschim. Similar comes true to Nepali pilgrims travelling to Kumaun and other areas for pilgrimage. On the Indian side, they have better physical connectivity compared to Nepal. Nepal’s three tiers of government and their respective tourism authorities need tandem walk for better connectivity. This connectivity must be at local, provincial as well as national levels between the countries.

Largest population in the world, India is already the fifth-largest economy in the world, largest in the South Asia. India is projecting itself as the civilization power from the Global South. There is a growing trend of outbound travel. Travelling for religious and spiritual reasons is on the rise. Open borders and multi-faceted ties between Nepal and India add advantages for more proximity on multiple fronts. Nepal must be ready to seize this golden opportunity from its immediate neighbour.

Civilization camaraderie must be monetized in touristic tracks which is a win-win for both countries. Already the top tourist source country for Nepal, the Indian tourist footprint would skyrocket after monetization. Cross-border tourism will boom. In a report titled ‘Outbound Travel and Tourism- An Opportunity Untapped’ compiled by Nangia Andersen LLP in association with FICCI, India is poised to cross USD 42 billion for outbound trips. Nepal must position itself to gain more chunk of the 42 billion dollar market from its next-door neighbour. For this to happen, all bottlenecks in terms of human resources, infrastructures, policy framework and marketing must be erased at the earliest which is only possible from tourism diplomacy.

Birat Anupam
Author is Kathmandu-based journalist who mostly writes on tourism, diplomacy and the enviro.nment
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