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Nepal to build £1.9 billion 'Buddhist Mecca'

July 29, 2011

China is providing funds to Nepal to build a $3 billion (£1.9bn)
'Buddhist Mecca' to attract millions of pilgrims and spiritual
tourists to the birthplace of the religion's founder Gautama, Lord


By Dean Nelson, New Delhi, Peter Foster in Beijing

9:00PM BST 17 Jun 2011

Lumbini is a Unesco world heritage site that attracts half a million
pilgrims every year from China, India, Japan, Sri Lanka and Thailand
to its sacred ponds, gardens and temples.

Planners hope to build an airport, hotels, convention centres, new
highways, temples and a Buddhist university at the site on Nepal's
Western border with India, where Lord Buddha was born about 2,600
years ago.

The scheme is supported by a Chinese government-backed foundation and
has brought together an unlikely alliance of Nepali government
ministers, Prachanda, the former prime minister and leader of the
Maoist insurgency, and Paras, the former crown prince, whose family
Prachanda ousted from power.

It also has the support of Steven Clark Rockefeller, the heir to the
Rockefeller dynasty. According to Nepali officials devout Buddhists
spend more time at the other three main pilgrimage sites in India
because Lumbini does not have the infrastructure necessary for longer

Sarnath, in India's Uttar Pradesh, where Buddha first taught "dharma"
or natural law, Bodh Gaya in Bihar, where he found enlightenment under
the Bodhi tree and Kushinagar where he found "nirvana" in death, are
all drawing increasing numbers of high-spending tourists, and Nepal's
government wants to increase its share of the spoils.

China and Nepal signed an agreement earlier this year to develop the
site, and the Beijing-based Asia Pacific Exchange and Co-operation
Foundation has launched an ambitious campaign to raise the $3 billion
required for the site to be transformed into the world's leading
Buddhist pilgrimage site.

Prachanda has made a number of fund-raising trips to Singapore and
Malaysia, and hopes the project will create new jobs in Lumbini, a
poor area.

China's involvement in a project close to the border with India has
caused discomfort in New Delhi, where the government has traditionally
regarded itself as a patron of the Buddhist world through its hosting
of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.

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