Boom time for ‘pilgrimage business’

As Bhutanese make their annual visit to Bodh Gaya in numbers, travel agents cash in on the rush

Tourism: Bhutanese from all parts of the country have gathered in Phuentsholing to leave for pilgrimage in Bodhgaya, India.  This is a good time for ticketing and travel agents in the border town of Phuentsholing.  Business runs high.

More than 100 Bhutanese leave for pilgrimage to India through the agents a day.  Agents make their package alluring, with offers to take pilgrim to other sacred sites in India.

Bhutanese pilgrims, mostly elderly people, pay Nu 1,250 per ticket to Bodhgaya, an 18-hour journey from Phuentsholing.

There are about 13 ticketing and travel agencies in Phuentsholing.  They have their stalls in front of the office of Road Safety and Transport Authority.

Agents said that, sometimes, more than 300 Bhutanese travel to Bodhgaya in a day.  That’s about five or six buses a day.  Events like special prayer ceremonies determine the rush.  Agents negotiate with transporters in Bihar, India.

“Business this year has been better than last. More people are going to India,” a travel agent said.

Tandin, a pilgrim from Thimphu, said that visiting Bodhgaya was like a dream come true for her.

“I’m happy that I’ll finally be visiting Bodhgaya this year,” Tandin said.  With Tandin are about eight Bhutanese, who are travelling together.

Along with Tandin, there are about eight of them who had planned the trip together.

This is the season of the year, when many Bhutanese go to Bodhgaya through Indian travel agents.  The tour packages are sold for Nu 10,000 to Nu 15,000 per person per trip.  On an average, pilgrims spend about Nu 20,000 to Nu 30,000 in India.

Some Bhutanese pilgrims said the trips are not always worth the money they spend.  They complain that, sometimes, the tour is badly organised, uncomfortable and unsafe, especially when the group is a big one.  Although accommodation and food is taken care of by the agents, some said that they hardly get three meals a day.  Several accidents have also occurred during such trips.

“The organisers should be responsible and they should ensure smooth trip for pilgrims,” a pilgrim said. “People work hard to save whatever they can so that they can go on pilgrimage beyond Bhutan.”

A travel agent, who organised tours to the sacred sites in India, said that, when organising tours in huge groups, it was difficult to make everyone happy.

“Package tours to India are very popular among the Bhutanese,” said one of the agents.  More than 300 Bhutanese pilgrims go to India through him.

Kinga Dema, P/ling

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