UK troops to visit Bodhgaya to de-stress

Even though the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya attracts tourists from all over the world, this January will probably be the first time that members of the British army will visit the place of pilgrimage on a large scale to meditate and de-stress.

Over 4,000 British army corps members, several of them fatigued from deployment in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, will come to Bodhgaya in Bihar and Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh from January 2013.

The exact date for the first group to arrive is yet to be finalised.

The British army's decision to send battle weary troops to Bodhgaya is a result of the success of a pavilion set up by the Bihar government's tourism department at the World Tourism Mart in London between 5 and 8 November this year.

A government website that provided virtual tours of 56 tourist destinations in Bihar elicited an enthusiastic response from participants at the tourism mart.

Bihar Tourism Minister Sunil Kumar Pintu, who represented the state at the World Tourism Mart, told The Indian Express , "They (the British army) approached us and decided to send troops on rotation on seven-day tour to Bodhygaya. While a group of 100-150 members of British army will spend seven days at Bodhgaya, they will spend a day at Sarnath, another Budhist site in Uttar Pradesh."

The minister added that groups of British army corps were expected to visit the sites throughout the year.

"We have asked Bihar Temple Management Committee to earmark space near Mahabodhi tree for meditation of British army tourists," said Pintu.

Pintu added that special care would be taken to ensure that other tourists do not disturb their meditation.

Sunil Karyakara, a Buddhist chaplain with the British army, has been made the coordinator for the trips. Though the British army will bear travel expenses, the Bihar government will facilitate hassle-free travel arrangements and provide security, said Pintu.

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