Atish Dipankar as Professor and Chancellor of Sompura Mahavihara translated Madhyamaka Ratna Pradipa into Tibetan language. It is believed that during his stay at Sompura Mahavihara, war broke out between King Nayapala, son of King Mahipala and Laxmilarna, King of Kalachuri. It was Atish Dipankar’s meditation that helped to terminate hostilities and establish peace. Though he was invited to visit Tibet and preach Buddhism by the then King Lah Lama Yioshi Hod, yet he could only make his YATRA (journey) in 1040AD during the reign of King Chang Chub Jnanaprabha. Tibetan Buddhists refer to him as Jabo Chhenpo (a great God), one of the greatest masters of Buddhism.
Tibetan works (Tibetan translations of Dharmakayavidhi and Madhyamika Ratna Pradipa, Taranatha’s history and Pag-Sam-Jon-Zang) reveals the glory of Sompura Mahavihara. Ratnakara Shanti was the stavira of the Mahavihara, Mahapanditacharya Bodhibhadra was a monk of this Mahavihara, Kalamahapada, Viryendra and Karunashrimitra spent time as scholars of this Mahavihara. Taranatha and other Tibetan sources mention that King Devapala built the Sompura Mahavihara after the conquest of the Varendra Bhumi.
The excavated ruins at Paharpur in the Nagaon District and 10 kms from the district town of Joypurhat, Bangladesh establishes the fact that Sompura Mahavihara was built by the 2nd Pala king, Dharmapala between 781 to 821 AD. Clay seals from the ruins bear the inscription ‘Shri-Somapure-Shri-Dharmapaladeva-Mahavihariyarya-Bhikhshu-Sanghashya’. King Devapala and his son King Mahendrapala continued their patronage to the Mahavihara. During the reign of King Mahipala (995 to 1043 AD) the Mahavihara was repaired and renovated. It is recorded in the Nalanda inscription of Vipulashrimitra, that his ancestor Karunashrimitra lost his life in the fire as he refused to leave the Mahavihara. This was probably from the attack of the Varman rulers of Vanga. About a century later, Vipulashrimitra restored the former glory of the Mahavihara and built a Temple of Tara. The expression then used for the temple was ‘Jagatang Netraika Vishrama Bhuh’ (a singular feast to the eyes of the world).
Help Tourism during its last decade of serious work on Buddhism in the East Himalaya mainly with the scope of establishing Cross-Border tourism for peace and its connectivity with the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda deemed University) wanted to explore the positioning of Paharpur as a World Heritage Site to attract visitors and connect it to development of Community Based Tourism (CBT) locally. Sascha Prinz, a masters degree ecotourism intern from University of Applied Science – Eberswalde, Germany, who had come to work on the Help Tourism sites, was sent to make a preliminary survey in February 2009. As per his report, there was no infrastructure to attract special interest tourists in Buddhism who would spent a few days at Paharpur, but the people in general were hospitable.
A two members team led by Raj Basu and joined by Biplab Saha took a YATRA (journey) to Paharpur between 9th to 11th September, 2009 as a part of Help Tourism’s Bangla Initiative (an initiative which was taken by Help Tourism in 2001 to explore the World Heritage Sites of Bangladesh) and talked to several possible stakeholder groups during this period. During this trip the interest and advantage of Joypurhat District town and its people were realized and the initiative to make it a base for Heritage Tourism in North Bengal of Bangladesh, mainly for Paharpur and Mahasthangarh was begun. Again on the World Tourism Day 2009, 27th September a group of tourists from Kolkata (Calcutta), led by Biplab Saha was taken to Joypurhat. They were taken around the several sightseeing places in the area, followed by a cultural evening by the people of Joypurhat and it was confirmed through their satisfaction, that this can easily be developed as the ‘Joypurhat circuit’. Since then several community meetings, local infrastructure development initiatives and circuit development programs were organized. The most active organizations of the area in this initiative have been the Joypurhat Municipality, Phulki, Sishu Udyan and DMSS.
The most important part to make everything happen is ‘Motivating Dhaka’. If the intellectual community, administration and travel industry of Dhaka is not a part of this initiative, then it would be half done. Hence, a strong partner from Dhaka became a must for this initiative. We could not think of a better partner than Mr.Taufiq Rahman of Journey Plus at Dhaka, who has been with this initiative from day one with all moral support. During his visit to Kolkata TTF 2010, he was taken for familiarization to Help Tourism’s Community Based Tourism Project at Bali in Sunderbans. This was the starting of a greater initiative connecting Bangladesh all along its borders with Northeast India and West Bengal known as ‘Heritage Tourism and Cross-Border Opportunities’. It was decided that the last one and a half years of ground work at Paharpur would be launched as Part 01 of this greater initiative during the World Tourism Day 2010 through the WTD Yatra 2010 ‘Dhaka to Darjeeling via Paharpur, connecting 02 North Bengals’. This was in continuation with the ‘Shantiniketan Declaration’, a workshop held at Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan on the 29th and 30th of March, 2010 being organized by Help Tourism in collaboration with Visva Bharati University, India Tourism, ACT, Travel to Care, IIPT, ICRT-India and West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation. Accordingly, Taufiq with his network developed a Dhaka Team for the WTD Yatra 2010 for which the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh confirmed their collaboration.
WTD Yatra 2010:
WTD or World Tourism Day is observed globally on the 27th of September every year with several themes to be carried forward for responsible contribution of the tourism industry. This is an important day to launch tourism products, especially in the Eastern Indian subcontinent as this is the starting of the yearly season after the monsoons.
Yatra, is an old Indian word which is a part of the Tirtha-Yatra, meaning pilgrimage or journey for enlightment. Hence, the word ‘yatra’ to ‘WTD’, a journey to tourism enlightenment, started on the 27th of September, 2010 from Dhaka. This was followed by the workshop at Paharpur and the journey completed at Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
About a 100 delegates from different works of life from Joypurhat, Naogaon, Bogora, Dhaka and India, of which about 87 of them had registered attended the workshop and contributed to the ‘Paharpur Declaration’, a continuation of the ‘Shantiniketan Declaration’, where tourism, peace and heritage conservation in cross-border initiatives were the priorities. The same priorities continued in the formation of the ‘Paharpur Declaration’. There were 60 recommendations in the ‘Paharpur Declaration’ which has been mentioned at the end of this report. Details about the Paharpur Circuit from Joypurhat will be available on the website www.livingbuddhism.in. During the occasion of the WTD Yatra 2010, DMSS opened its guest house on the outskirts of the Joypurhat town on the way to Paharpur. The 10 double bedded (attach toilet cum bath) rooms were used for the delegates and a plan for adding 04 family rooms are in process. The bookings of all these rooms, along with sightseeing and village visits will be available with Help Tourism’s Bangla Initiative. Special interest combined itineraries for Bangladesh will be available with Jouney Plus at Dhaka. For details please check www.journeyplus.com.
The Indian delegates was led by Mr.Goutam Ghose and the Dhaka delegates by Mr.Pijush Banerjee. The moderator for the Paharpur workshop was Mr.Shekhar Das and the Chief Guest was Mr.Safiqul Islam, DG-Archaeology. Dr.Nazmanara Khanum, the DC of Naogaon District was the Special Guest of the occasion. The workshop was opened by the film ‘Beyond Barriers’, a film by Ajoy Roy. The welcome address was made by Taufiq Rahman and the ground for the workshop was presented through a guideline explained by Raj Basu.
The organizing part of the workshop and the Joypurhat hospitality was made successful by Shah Fakir Md. Rafiqul Islam Chowdhury Prince and Apurba Sarkar. Almost all delegates participated in the workshop and their inputs were noted as a part of the ‘Paharpur Declaration’. The points of ‘Paharpur Declaration’ were:
1. Tourism, peace and heritage conservation approach in cross-border initiatives.
2. Connectivity & Good roads connecting sites of Naogaon and Joypurhat Districts.
3. Basic tourist facilities like toilet complex, restaurant etc.
4. Interpretation and Guide facility at the sites, English speaking guides.
5. Highlight all heritage sites in a systematic way.
6. Sightseeing taxi facility at Joypurhat as this is important terminal for tourists.
7. Link Paharpur with Nalanda site.
8. Utilise other acquired lands in Paharpur for development purposes which helps locally.
9. Local employment opportunity through the Heritage sites for poverty alleviation. Local capacity development priority.
10. Impact analysis of tourism on the heritage sites and the management plan should address core and buffer areas.
11. Conservation master plan with local, district, national and cross border international levels.
12. Archeological department should identify a proper consultant to help the master plan.
13. Paharpur as the nucleus of the heritage cicuit of Bangladesh North Bengal.
14. Local committes or units at every heritage site for tourism to start with this initiative.
15. Ease the political boundaries between the two North Bengals as there was not so much restrictions before.
16. Safety and security of tourists/visitors.
17. Bangladesh to make easy visa facility for foreign tourists.
18. Local tourists of Bangladesh must visit their home sites.
19. Proper display of time and distance between the several sites.
20. Joypurhat to be promoted as the tourism base for visitors to Paharpur.
21. Establish A Regional Government Tourism office at Joypurhat for promoting and information about the sites of the region.
22. Awareness of local heritage sites at the local schools and at all public level.
23. Nogaon and Joypurhat to Prepare Hilli as a tourism facility site.
24. Picnickers mainly come as visitors and crosses a lakh, but the real tourists are negligible.
25. Longer stay at Paharpur for atleast 06 hours and develop the tourism product accordingly.
26. Local awareness among the people of Paharpur.
27. Promote Muktijodha base of Paharpur.
28. Foreign currency exchange facility.
29. Local culture team for tourism activity addition.
30. Government to be a good facilitator, business opportunity for the local people.
31. More trains between Hiili/Balurghat and Njp and better trains from Dhaka to Joypurhat, both for tourism.
32. Promote Paharpur through television medium and Government to promote mainly in Japan through advertisement to increase number of domestic and international tourists.
33. Archeological department to please confirm protection of all the heritage sites. Local awareness and participation in heritage conservation.
34. Include Heritage Tourism as subject in schools of Bangladesh.
35. International but regional level cultural exchange between Bangladesh and India.
36. India should have a tourism office in the Hilli/Balurghat area.
37. Visitor interpretetion centre at Paharpur.
38. Establish a network as ‘Paharpur Bandhu’ or ‘Friends of Paharpur’ with today’s members on a email base.
39. The project on tourism infrastructure has begun at Paharpur by tourism department.
40. 15 million ADB fund received and a part will be used for community based tourism as 1992 resolution.
41. No presence of the heritage sites with Paharpur present on the internet and hence a site to be launched with Paharpur.
42. The intercity train stoppage at Jamalpur Railway station.
43. Tourism Guide Association of Bangladesh will help in local guide training.
44. Local homestays to be promoted at priority basis and every household to be involved with good toilet facilities.
45. Moonlit Paharpur than can be promoted as product.
46. Bangladesh Travel Writers Association will help in publications on print and net.
47. Local people to take the responsibility to conserve the sites and the Government to help such initiatives.
48. Free and publications for sale of good quality should be available.
49. Promote Rabindranath Tagore’s Yatra and consider visitors as Tirtha Yatri to connect people.
50. Establish a helipad at Paharpur for tourists.
51. Reestablish the train route through Hardings Bridge, via Joypurhat between Calcutta to Darjeeling.
52. Department of Archaeology will help tourism but it should be kept in mind that no damage can be done to any site for tourism development.
53. Tourism has to be the growth engine in Bangladesh to be taken as a policy.
54. DC Madam, Nagaon has confirmed the participation in joint development of cross border tourism with adjoining North Bengal of India.
55. This initiative has increased people to people relation as said by DG Archaeology between Government, local people, visitors from Dhaka and visitors from India.
56. Trust and confidence building has to follow from this workshop in heritage tourism development and cross-border relation development by the present Government.
57. Tourism is a common demand in Bangladesh today and the Government is giving priority.
58. Host family culture exists in Bangladesh but this has to be nurtured and developed for the upcoming generation.
59. Schools have already been involved in educational tours to Paharpur and this will be made more elaborate in future.
60. Light and Sound show for Paharpur, which should include the days of Mahasthangarh.
Note: This will be followed by the next initiative ‘Sylhet to Shillong’. Anyone interested may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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