Visakhapatnam: While the governments of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are protecting and hardselling their Buddhist heritage by organising tourism festivals, Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh are in a state of complete neglect. Historic Buddhist sites in AP seem to be receiving scant attention from the state government, which has made tall claims about developing tourism at these sites.
The Union tourism ministry also seems to be ignoring Buddhist sites in the state. While it has sanctioned Rs 108 crore for the Buddhist Circuits in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh under the Swadesh Darshan project, it has granted no funds to any such project in AP.
Buddhist sites in the state are visited by many Sri Lankan and Tibetan tourists, who are disappointed at the lack of amenities and the poor maintenance. Some of the religious sites in Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam have become hubs of anti-social activities.
In the year 2000, excavations by the state archaeology department at Dantapuri (Dantavarapukota), located between Amudulavalasa and the Hiramandalam road in Sarubujjili mandal in Srikakulam district revealed four Buddhist stupas, beads of terracotta, stone and other items.
Though an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) team visited the place and declared that the stupas are the most ancient in the region, the Archaeology and Muse-ums department has ign-ored the stupas, says Dusi Dharma Rao, convener of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), Srikakulam district. As Dantapuri is under the jurisdiction of Archaeology and Museu-ms, ASI has not come forward to protect the stupas, he added.
The four ancient Budd-hist stupas at Dantapuri are in very bad shape and it is difficult to even locate and identify them. The revenue department has yet to acquire land in the area to protect the stupas. Youngsters desc-end on the place with liquor bottles, loaf around, and damage the stupas, says Ch. Neelayya, a native of Dantapuri. If the government protected the stupas and developed the area as a Buddhist tourism spot, Dantaprui would earn a good income, he added.
Another area that can be developed is the Guru-bhakthulakonda area in Vizianagaram district which houses remnants of Buddhism in the form of chaita grihas (prayer halls), the bases of brick stupas, broken pillars and vedikas. The hilltop is unexplored and hardly sees a visitor, despite its potential to attract tourists if properly restored.
The Buddhist sites of Salihundam, Bojjannakonda, Thotlakonda, Nagarjunasagar and some others in the state are considered among the most important in South India. But they do not figure in the pilgrimage list of the tourism ministry. Though the politicians claim to have developed Buddhist Corridors in AP to protect ancient Buddhist monuments and attract tourists, other states have bagged the Buddhist Circuits project. Buddhist sites in AP are not promoted by either the state or Union government, say Intach members.