Nepal and India: Opportunities for tourism
Despite sporadic ups and downs in relationship at the government level between Nepal and India, the people-to-people ‘connect’ has been stellar. No passport or visa formalities need to be observed by the citizens of both the countries. The relation between two nations is neither artificial nor paper-based. The beginning of relation and nurturing of this relationship was started by Goddess Sita, the princess of then Mithila, and Lord Ram, prince of Ayodhya, when they married in the Treta Yuga some ten thousand years ago.
The unique interdependent relationship between border residents in both Nepal and India in social, economic and other sectors is in existence since long. The traditional connect among the people residing across borders is seen almost in all walks of economic life: agriculture, industry, trade, tourism, employment and so on. Every day, thousands of inhabitants from both the countries cross the border with for commerce, trade and employment.
The open border between two countries seems to be an asset for the people in both sides of the border. People have accumulated benefits in education, health and other economic activities. Farmers in this region have benefited from the sale and purchase of agricultural products in border towns.
Health institutions across the border in India attract a large number of people situated at the border area and big number of Indian inhabitants come to Nepal to have eye-related treatments. Nepal appears to be the best for ophthalmology.
Almost three decades ago, there used to be a major attraction for the Indian border inhabitants, particularly the labour class, to come to Nepal during the cultivating and harvesting seasons. They used to play pivotal role in agricultural sector of Nepal and vice versa.
Above-mentioned entities are natural which can never be curtailed by any power. On this basis, we can claim that Nepal and India have unique relationship.
Amidst all these dynamics, Nepal should look forward to attract Indian tourists for its economic empowerment. It’s worth mentioning that in 2018 Prime Minister [PM] of India, Narendra Damodar Das Modi visited Nepal for the fourth time during his first tenure. PM Modi has created history as none of the PMs before him made as many visits to Nepal. During that last visit, firstly, he visited Janakpurdham and Muktinath, the two prominent religious avenues of Nepal. In both his visits, PM Modi delivered his speeches and declared packages. Nepal can benefit from Modi’s packages at the optimum level provided Nepali leaders show the requisite willpower. It is worth talking the significant positive changes seen in Nepal after the visit of PM Modi to Janakpurdham and Muktinath.
PM Modi announced Rs. 1 billion aid for Janakpur’s development and started his speech in Maithili language with a few touching quotes, “Without Nepal, Bharat’s faith, belief and history are incomplete. Our ‘Dhaam’ is incomplete and Ram is also incomplete”. Well, this is the reality as well. However, more than financial aid, the Modi’s visit to Janakpur left a long term effect. After his visit the number of Indian tourists, basically Hindu pilgrims, has increased. Religious tourism has been promoted through which Nepal is reaping various benefits.
But due to lack of connectivity, it seems a bit challenging to enhance this tourism. Keeping this challenge in mind, Nepal and India have started bus services from Janakpur to Patna (Bihar) and Kathmandu too. In the long term, Ramayana Circuit would improve the connectivity tremendously. The last BIMSTEC declaration from Kathmandu of constructing a Buddha Circuit would also benefit entire South and South East Asia.
From January 2019 till the end of April, 8,556 Indian tourists arrived in Muktinath. The number is more than half the total number of visitors to Muktinath during this period. In the last five months, 16,984 foreign tourists have visited the temple.
According to Jomsom-based information centre of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), 9,105 foreigners visited Muktinath in April alone among which Indian tourists were counted at 4,537. ACAP’s data shows that the number of Indian tourists visiting Muktinath temple has been increasing every year. Most importantly, Nepal’s PM KP Sharma Oli had also appreciated these facts in public while inaugurating Nepal-Bharat friendship Dharmashala jointly with Narendra Modi in Kathmandu on 31 August 2018.
Nepal’s major tourist sites such as Koshi Tappu, Parsa Wildlife reserve, Bardiya and Chitwan National Park are in the Terai region. Rafting in the Koshi River is always tempting. Beautiful tea gardens in Jhapa and Ilam can be turned as the tourist hub for Indian residents during the summer.
Additionally, Mithila region between Koshi and Gandaki rivers in the Terai is well known. Temples, ponds, unique festivals and beautiful scenes can lure Indian tourists to the region. For many Hindus, Janakpur is as holy as Lumbini is to the Buddhists. Baraah Chhetra can be also brought to the limelight for the Indian tourists.
In the border towns of Tarai, the occupancy rate of the Indian tourists in the hotels is higher than the tourists from the rest of the world. With increase in Indian economy, the flow of Indian tourists has surged.
However, many Indian tourists have been complaining that they are compelled to pay certain fees like the western tourists whenever they go to national parks and wildlife reserves. In order to attract more Indian tourists to the country, Nepal should treat them like domestic tourists so that the number of Indian tourists could grow. Infrastructures like hotels and well-equipped airports and standard road connectivity need to be expedited. Only then can Nepal benefit from tourism from just across the border.
To ensure smooth tourism between the two nations Delhi and Kathmandu must maintain sweet relationship. Any crack in relation can hamper the possible prosperity of Nepal and India in the long run.
The writer is a Member of the Parliament representing Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal.
Published on 19 August 2019