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Lockdown: Buddhist tourists unable to leave Bodh Gaya

By M I KHAN
April 02, 2020 08:00 IST
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'There are 36 foreign tourists from China, Italy, USA, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand and other countries.'
M I Khan reports.

A Buddhist devotee from Thailand offers prayers at the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya

*IMAGE: A Buddhist devotee from Thailand offers prayers at the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya. Photograph: PTI Photo

Amid the controversy over the violation of coronavirus guidelines by the Tablighi Jamaat's Markaz in Nizamuddin West, Delhi, foreign nationals have been spotted in Bihar's Bodh Gaya.

The town where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago is located 110 km from the state capital Patna. It attracts lakhs of foreign tourists and devotees every year including the Dalai Lama, who visits every January.

Contrary to the state police claim of enforcing a complete lockdown, foreign Buddhist monks and tourists are still seen on the streets of Bodh Gaya.

"They are staying in nearly two dozen foreign Buddhist monasteries here," an official of Bodh Gaya's tourism department says, speaking on condition of anonymity.

 

A Thai devotee seeks blessings of Buddhist monks at Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya.

*IMAGE: A Thai devotee seeks blessings of Buddhist monks at the Mahabodhi temple. Photograph: PTI Photo

Sources claim around 150 foreign tourists are currently in Bodh Gaya; most were unable to leave after Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi's sudden announcement of a national lockdown on March 24.

On Tuesday, March 31, the Bihar government declared a ban on the entry of outsiders during the ongoing lockdown.

Bodh Gaya Station House Officer Mohan Prasad Singh says first information reports have been lodged against five guest house owners for not informing the local police about the presence of foreign tourists.

"At present, there are 36 foreign tourists from China, Italy, USA, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand and other countries staying in these guesthouses," says Singh, adding that they have been asked to quarantine themselves until the lockdown ends.

Bodh Gaya, Singh says, has a deserted look as hotels, restaurants, shops and markets remain shut. "Only a few Buddhist devotees, who are maintaining social distancing, are visiting the Bodh Gaya temple for daily prayers," says the police officer.

The Mahabodhi temple

IMAGE: The Buddha statue in Both Gaya. Photograph: Kind courtesy Andrew Moore/Wikimedia Commons

Bodh Gaya resident Suresh Kumar Yadav says the lockdown is a big blow to thousands of people who depend on the tourists for their livelihood.

"Our troubles began in February itself as the tourist numbers reduced by 50 per cent, compared to the same period last year. In the first few weeks of March, hardly 10 to 20 per cent tourists visited Bodh Gaya. Now, the number is zero. I don't know what I can do to survive."

Yadav earns a living supplying milk to hotels, monasteries and guesthouses where the foreign tourists stay.

Raju Kumar, a tourist guide who also owns a shop near the Mahabodhi temple, says most of the tourists who were set to visit Bodh Gaya in March, April and May cancelled their bookings and there is no hope of them visiting this year. "We will be left with no source of livelihood," he says mournfully.

*Kindly note the images have been posted only for representational purposes.

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