An Indian tourism road show in HCM City on Wednesday invited Vietnamese to "walk in the footsteps" of the Buddha but in the comfort of trains.
HCM CITY —
Incredible India brought together key players in India's hospitality industry, senior tourism officials, and tour operators who saw great potential in the Vietnamese market.
Anand Kumar, joint secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, said Viet Nam was an emerging market for India.
Vietnamese tourists can help promote understanding between the two countries given that Indians can also know more about Vietnamese, he added.
Indian Buddhist scholar Shantum Seth said the arrival of Buddhist pilgrims from Viet Nam and other countries can help revive the religion in his country.
The value of a pilgrimage to India is that pilgrims can get an insight into Buddhism in the context in which the faith was born and developed, he said.
"It's like you walk with the Buddha," he said.
"When pilgrims visit Lumbini (where the Buddha was born), the chances are that they can see old, sick and dead men and monks just exactly like the Buddha did before he decided to leave in search of enlightenment.
"I myself have seen such sights," he said, explaining that life around Lumbini has not changed much in the last 2,500 years.
In the ancient town of Varanasi, pilgrims can still witness rituals on the Ganges River which made the Buddha look for other ways to relieve human grief, he said.
Although the original bodhi tree in Bodhi Gaya under which the Buddha meditated to attain enlightenment is no longer there, another bodhi tree grows in the same spot.
"It is just like the revival of Buddhism after many centuries after it fell into oblivion in the sub-continent," he explained.
"The branches of the tree represent Buddhist branches in many countries."
With one of the most extensive railways in the world that covers more than 64,000km and operate more than 15,000 trains a day, India has great potential for developing train tours, according to Rakesh Tandon, managing director of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation.
The company has launched several luxury theme trains for tourists that criss-cross the country – like the Palace on Wheels, Royal Rajasthan, Maharaja Express, Golden Chariot, Deccan Odyssey, Southern Splendour and Royal Golden Triangle – he said.
The Mahaparinirvan Express, a Buddhist circuit train, has a package for Buddhists that includes prime Buddhist spots like Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Varanasi, Nalanda and Kushinagar.
"The trains have attracted tourists from more than 30 countries in the last four years," he said, noting that many of them were from non-Buddhist countries like the US, Germany, Russia, Indonesia, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Australia.
Arjun Sharma, senior vice president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, said India has every element that makes up a tourist paradise: sea, sun, snow, sand, mountains, flora and fauna, rivers and monuments.
The country has more than 15,000 historical sites, 28 world heritage sites, 7,600km of coastline, colourful festivals like the snake boat race of Kerala, and desert festival of Jaisalmer, he said.
India's reputation as a destination rests on its incredible cultural heritage, mythology, warmth and hospitality, nature and landscapes, forts and palaces, music and dance, yoga and films, he said.
One-horned rhinos in Kaziranga, elephant herds in Bandipur, lions in Gir, and tigers in the Sunderbans are among the exotic wildlife that will enthrall visitors, he added.
Viet Nam is among a handful of countries whose citizens to India can get visas on arrival, Kumar said.
"Visa regulations will be eased further," he promised. — VNS