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Last updated: February 1, 2003

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Poor facilities, pickpockets mar Buddhist meet
By Imran Khan, Indo-Asian News Service Patna, Saturday, January 18, 2003 (Source : IANS) -
Thousands of Buddhists from abroad have flocked to the birthplace of the Buddha for a festival, but many are clearly unhappy over the poor facilities and infrastructure. Several foreigners have complained about a shortage of good hotels, restaurants, marketplaces and Internet cafes in Bodh Gaya as well as reliable transport to travel to other parts of Bihar.

The visitors are attending the nine-day Kalchakra festival that ends Monday.

A large number of the estimated 200,000 Buddhist devotees belong to Tibet and India, but sizeable numbers have also come from Europe, the US and neighbouring countries.

Despite a severe cold wave sweeping Bihar, the visitors are immersed in various activities related to the festival that has turned Bodh Gaya into a mini Tibet.

One American, J.

Henry, and his girl friend complained about the lack of good hotels and eateries.

"We expected a good place for food but we are disappointed," Henry said.

Similarly, Malcolm Joy, who has come from the Netherlands, said Bodh Gaya was devoid of basic infrastructure necessary for such a huge gathering.

"If Bodh Gaya is to be a leading tourist site in India, particularly for Buddhists across the world, the government should provide necessary facilities," he said.

Bodh Gaya, about 110 km from here, is where the Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago.

The Kalchakra festival is one of the most sacred events of the Mahayana sect of Buddhists.

Western Buddhists who arrived early went around the 30-odd foreign monasteries with well-furnished guesthouses in Bodh Gaya run by Buddhist countries.

Although authorities say they have enforced heavy security, police admit they have received a number of complaints about pick pocketing and thefts.

"In most cases foreigners have been the target," an official said.

Security was tightened in the town following intelligence reports that the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, faced possible death threats.

Not all foreigners are complaining though.

A group of Buddhists from Bangkok are elated over the air linking of Bodh Gaya with the Thai capital.

"We are happy that we at least have a direct air link with this Buddhist place," said Wo Yang Hee, a middle-aged Buddhist.

And there were others who appreciated the efforts of the Indian authorities to make neighbouring Gaya an international airport.

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Texts and Translations © Peter G. Friedlander unless otherwise indicated.