It takes two to tango

Agnes Alpuerto / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Buddhist nuns pray outside the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, the place where the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. Photo: Agnes Alpuerto

With their common belief and interconnected cultures, Cambodia and India aren’t strangers to each other. However, both nations have seen too few visitors from each other over the years. In 2016, only about 15,000 Cambodians visited India. The country, meanwhile, welcomed only 60,000 Indians to the Kingdom last year. With the countries’ growing relations, can both nations see a surge of tourists from each other in the years to come? Agnes Alpuerto finds out from Indian and Cambodian tour operators.

Cambodia welcomes millions of tourists every year – with different people making Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, beaches in Sihanoukville and the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh their must-visit places.

India, with its colourful history and storied religious and tourist sites, also attracts a significant number of foreign visitors year after year, gaining popularity in its superior preservation of its holy sites, especially the places associated with Buddhism.Both nations are undeniably rich in history, culture, arts and religion. Both nations are also ranked on top as favourite Asian destinations. And both put so much emphasis on tourism as their economic driving force.

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An Indian vendor stands beside different images of Buddha and other religious items outside the Sarnath Temple in Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo: Agnes Alpuerto

But Cambodia and India do not seem to be as attractive as they should be to each other’s peoples, considering their shared beliefs and interconnected cultures. As a matter of fact, there are only very few travel agencies in both countries that offer package tours to India and Cambodia.

During last month’s 6th International Buddhist Conclave in India, tour operators from India and other countries were given an avenue to talk about business opportunities in reinforcing tourism. However, India and Cambodian tour operators seem to be still groping in the dark and finding a common ground to open the market for both countries. They are still searching for ways to attract their own people to travel to the other’s country.

Is Buddhism – a way of life that rooted in India and is now believed by more than 95 percent of the Cambodian population – not enough reason for Cambodians to visit India and Indians to visit Cambodia?

“I really want to go to India because I want to see the real birthplace of Buddhism. I want to visit Bodhgaya and pay respect to the Lord Buddha who tried his best to create the religion I believe in,” says Prak Chanden, who works at a legal consulting firm in Phnom Penh.
Panha Ly, a marketing staff at a talent agency, is also interested in going to India if given the chance. “I think it’s interesting to go there to learn and experience Buddhism. I mean, we believe in the same religion but I know there are differences in our beliefs. It’s nice to see the place and learn about the history of my religion.”

But Chanden and Panha may have to wait a little longer for their dream trip.

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“At this moment, India is not yet part of our package tours. There is a very slow demand for such destination as of now. Only older people are showing interest in going to India for religious reasons,” says corporate tour manager Pen Pichet of Elite Travel and Tours.
Even tour agents in New Delhi and other states in India expressed their views that Cambodians are not much of a common sight in its tourism spots.

Managing director of Magadh Travel and Tours in New Delhi, Anuj Kumar, said many Indian operators are very interested in welcoming Cambodians to the Land of Buddha, especially because the Kingdom of Wonder is a home to the most number of Buddhist believers in the world.

“Of course, we really want to have Cambodians here in India. They follow the teachings of the Lord Buddha so it’s important for them to see the place where Buddhism was born. India is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. I hope the market improves in the coming years because this is really a place for Buddhists,” Anuj Kumar said as he talked with Cambodian travel agents who attended the conclave.
But though the market for Cambodian and Indian tourists in both nations can be considered too young, if not unborn yet, there is a big room for hope that the people of these countries will soon be partners in religious tourism and beyond.

The Indian government’s invitation to the biennial International Buddhist Conclave, Phnom Penh’s hosting of the Incredible India Road Show, government officials’ visit to each other’s territories, shared activities and projects and the recent signing of agreements to restore Preah Vihear Temple, cooperation on the health sector and diplomacy are just few tangible and concrete signs that India and Cambodia are going forward in its bilateral relations.

In the coming years (or months, perhaps), we will be seeing a huge jump in the number of Indian tourists visiting our land. India will see such surge, too, in its very own religious tourism sites.

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These countries may just be waiting for the right timing, the right kind of demand, the right kind of mutually beneficial exchanges and the right kind of partnerships.

Revered Cambodian monks are welcomed with flowers during a visit to Nalanda in Bihar as part of the 6th International Buddhist Conclave. Photo: Agnes Alpuerto

Because if the bases to take grand tours to each other’s countries are to be considered, there are just countless of them – Buddhism and beyond. After all, there’s a reason why India and Cambodia tag themselves as Incredible and Kingdom of Wonder, respectively.

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