Tourists on the Buddhist circuit trail from Bodhgaya (Bihar) to Lumbini (Nepal) reportedly face major harassment at the Sonauli (Uttar Pradesh)-Bhairahawa border with Nepal, due to inadequate immigration and (or) customs infrastructure.

According to available reports, foreign tourists are forced to wait in queue for 4-6 hours to clear checks on the Indian side.

The Sonauli-Bhairahawa gate is 90 km from Gorakhpur (UP) and 26 km from Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. Every year, thousands of Buddhists from neighbouring South East Asian countries visit the area on a pilgrimage.

Popular circuit

The trail starts at Bodhgaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment and travels through Rajgir (Bihar), Vaishali (Bihar), Sarnath (UP), Shravasti (UP) and Kushinagar (UP) to Lumbini. The Buddha attained Nirvana in Kushinagar.

Pilgrims from Thailand, Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar etc visit Bodhgaya either directly (Bodhgaya has an international airport) or through Kolkata go along the trail by land, mostly in groups.

Mrinal Kanti Chakma, Director of Buddhabhumi Parikrama Pvt Ltd, who arranges such pilgrim tours, told BusinessLine that in the past the border authorities at the Sonauli Land Customs Station used to clear pilgrimage groups in one go.

The practice has now been discontinued to ensure better security, but without adequate infrastructure and staff. The net result is long queues. A group of about 430 foreign pilgrims had to wait for nearly six hours to clear the Indian check-post.

Only two checkposts

India has only two integrated checkposts (ICPs) with modern passenger facilities — at Raxaul (Bihar) and Jogbani (Bihar) — along the 1,700-km-long India-Nepal border. The remaining gates are in a mess, particularly on the Indian side.

According to Chakma, with improved air connectivity, pilgrim interest in the Buddha circuit is rising. Also, India has launched a Ramayana trail connecting Ayodhya (UP) with Janakpur, the mythical birthplace of Sita, in Nepal.

“To optimise the opportunity, India must ensure better treatment to tourists, particularly foreign tourists,” Chakma said.