For every spiritual person, a trip to Varanasi is a must at least once in their lives. From planned pilgrimages to family vacations, Varanasi is one of the biggest draws for spiritual travellers in India and abroad.
However, there is also a Buddhist connection with the holy city that people don't often realise. A distinct significance of Varanasi lies in the fact that it is also the place where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon. It is where the wheel of dhamma was rolled, and now it will be home to a Bhutanese temple dedicated to Gautam Buddha.
"There are six major Buddhist-centric destinations in UP, including Sarnath, Kushinagar, Shravasti, Kapilvastu, Kaushambi and Sankissa, and we are developing all of these. The tourism department has big plans to develop them to attract followers of Buddhism," said Mukesh Kumar Meshram, Principal Secretary of Tourism & Culture, Government of Uttar Pradesh, while speaking to OT.
"Globally, there are about 50 crore followers of Buddhism, but as of now, we only attract 5 lakh travellers. This initiative is part of the developmental plans where we are writing to all Buddhist countries, including Bhutan, for collaborative efforts in boosting tourism."
A proposal for this initiative was put forth by the Bhutanese government to the Union Tourism and Culture Ministry a few years ago. As part of the arrangement, the Uttar Pradesh government will allocate land on India's behalf to the Bhutanese government, while the latter will oversee the construction of the temple and a guest house. The handover of the land is anticipated to be completed soon. This will make Varanasi an even more attractive hub for tourists looking for a spiritual getaway. The building of this temple will not only open doors for Bhutanese travellers but also the followers of Buddhism across the world.
Varanasi is a frequent destination for pilgrims from Bhutan, with many travellers making the pilgrimage to Varanasi for their spiritual journey. Among the tourists, there have also been multiple visits by the ruling royal family members in recent years. Since Bhutan's official religion is Buddhism, the influx of native tourists from there to Varanasi is a considerable amount. Buddhism in Bhutan is followed by over 85 per cent of the population, with their Buddhist beliefs closely tied to the Tibetan tradition.
Meanwhile, the construction of this temple has been an ongoing affair. Initially, the land was sought in Sarnath, a globally revered Buddhist pilgrimage site. However, the project encountered delays due to the site's existing saturation. This prompted the Union Ministry to task the local administration with suggesting an alternative location. In response, the local administration proposed a two-acre plot in Pindra tehsil, conveniently near the Babatpur Airport in Varanasi. The Bhutanese representatives also approved of this option. The place's proximity to the airport will make it better accessible for travellers coming in from elsewhere to visit.