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‘'Our focus currently is on promoting Buddhist tourism in the state’'

H S Upadhyay, IFS, director and additional secretary, department of tourism and culture, Government of Odisha talks to Express TravelWorld on the new benchmarks developed in the state to promote tourism. By Heena Mahajan

What are the new tourism products that you have or are planning to promote?

H S Upadhyay

Odisha has been blessed with a diverse terrain that offers as many as 321 tourist destinations. Be it spiritual tours, adventure sports or relaxing beach resorts, the state caters to the need of every visitor. Odisha Tourism has been working towards showcasing the rich cultural and religious heritage of the state and its people through numerous festivals and fairs such as the Konark Dance Festival, Gotipua Dance Festival, Rajarani Music Festival, Dhauli Kalinga Mahotsav, Toshali National Crafts Mela, etc.

We have taken several steps to promote Buddhist tourism in the state. Odisha is also now one of the stops of the special Buddhist train-the Mahaparinirvan Express. The train will run as a joint venture between the Odisha Tourism and Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). We are expecting an increase in tourist footfall through this initiative. The first train will start from December 20, 2012 from New Delhi.

For beach lovers, we have the second edition of the International Sand Art Festival and the International Surf Festival this year. Puri Beach Festival in December would provide hot air balloon rides. We are also hosting the first edition of the Chilika Festival this year. Boat racing would be main attraction of the festival.

What are your plans for the festive season?

The best time, probably, to visit Odisha is between November to February. Not only for the weather but also because of the number of festivals that are organised during this period. The festivities are just round the corner. We began our festivals with the Gotipua Dance Festival on November 15. A string of festivals lie in store for travellers during this period- the most important being the Konark Dance Festival in December. For beach lovers, we have the second edition of the International Sand Art Festival and the International Surf Festival this year. Sport lovers can enjoy the International Beach Festival in December and enjoy hot air balloon rides or participate in boat races.

What are your expectations from the International Buddhist Seminar in Udaygiri?

We are expecting as many as 100 scholars at the seminar. We are inviting tour operators from all the countries having sizeable Buddhist population including South East Asian countries and Sri Lanka. We are expecting a good response to this initiative which is an attempt on our part to showcase our Buddhist heritage to the world.

Odisha is one of the four states in India with rich concentration of Buddhist heritage, the other three being Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Although we have as many as 200 Buddhist sites scattered throughout the length and breadth of the state, very few are aware of it. We would like to publicise this asset and draw more and more tourists into the state.

According to our reports till August 2012, we have witnessed an inflow of more than 54 lakh tourists. This is about 9.02 per cent higher from the tourist footfall last year.

Any recent developments in terms of sports tourism?

We are moving ahead with plans to develop 3000-acre Shamuka beach (Puri), a third generation aquarium and related tourism products, amusement parks, houseboat facilities and water sports in major rivers and backwaters. Furthermore, Odisha Tourism will soon introduce water sports for which we have identified 13 water bodies, both natural and man-made. Currently, we have river rafting facilities on the Mahanadi river. Sports such as boat races, surfing etc are also conducted.

What are your target markets in terms of attracting tourists?

Besides, our traditional overseas markets like UK, US, Italy, Germany etc we are focusing on the Buddhist travellers. Buddhist tourism is one of our major strengths. We have more than 200 Buddhist sites, stupas and relics scattered throughout the state and our focus, currently, is on promoting Buddhist tourism in the state.

A lot of tourists from South East Asian countries visit Buddhist sites in north India but the inflow in Odisha has been pretty low due to lack of connectivity. In order to attract these tourists to Odisha, Department of Tourism, Odisha and IRCTC are together running two special trains- two Odisha special editions of the Mahaparinirvan Express. Buddhist sites such as Lalitgiri, Khandagiri, Udaygiri and Ratnagiri have been added to the tour itinerary of the Buddhist Express. Our main target through this train is the tourist inflow from the East Asia, South East Asia, Nepal and Sri Lanka. We are also planning road shows and seminars in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Taiwan for attracting tourists to our Buddhist sites.

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