Sunday, January 31, 2010

Indian tourists to visit Burma on land route

Saturday, 30 January 2010 15:53 Mithu Choudhury

Guwahati (Mizzima) - A group of Indian tourists are geared to visit military-ruled Burma, through the border gates of the two countries in Manipur state, India on March, organisers of the package tour said on Thursday.

The Indo-Myanmar Fraternal Alliance (IMFA), an NGO based in Manipur state’s capital Imphal, on Thursday told journalists at the Guwahati Press Club in Northeast India’s Assam state that they are arranging a package tour from the Northeast India to Burma’s ancient capital of Mandalay.

R.K.Shivachandra, President of the IMFA, said the tour is coming about after six years after the Burmese junta lifted travel restrictions from Manipur to Burma. The tour will begin from Moreh on the Indian border town, without having to go through the hassles of obtaining passports and visas from Kolkata.

Shivachandra said the IMFA is organising this trip in collaboration with Diamond Palace Tourism Company in Burma, and at least 70 people from Manipur and Nagaland states in Northeast India have already been booked for the package tour.

“Meities [Manipuris] have their own blood and brothers in Myanmar [Burma]. The same holds true for the Nagas. We appeal to the people of Assam to also join us as Tai Ahoms have very close links with the Shans,” Shivachandra said.

“Media persons can come too but they have to book themselves as tourists, else they will not be allowed to travel inside Myanmar [Burma]. In all we are expecting around 200 to 250 members to register for this trip”, he added.

It is rare for the Burmese junta to provide visas to foreign journalists, as information flow is on a leash.

The IMFA President said, the trip will begin from Imphal town and travel through Burma’s bordering town of Tamu, Kalewa and Monywa and finally to Mandalay city.

It is a seven day trip, at the cost of Rs 12,000 per head would include food, 3 Star hotel accommodation, cruises and entertainment.

“But if there are demands then from Mandalay we can arrange a day long trip to Psipaw (250 kms from Mandalay), the place of the Shans for our Assamese brothers," he added.

Shivachandra said this initial tour will be a sort of root-tracing trip, as there are several roots to be explored in Burma reaching right up to Yunnan in China.

"A strong friendship and trade and economic relations can be fostered between NE India and Myanmar and neighbouring countries like Thailand and Yunnan in China through people to people movement, understanding and collaboration. Opening of border tourism will pave the way for this understanding," he said.

IMFA has also appealed to the Manipur Government to allow Buddhist tourists from Burma and other Southeast Asian countries, wishing to go to Bodh Gaya in Bihar to come through Moreh-Imphal on the land route via Assam for their destination.

"We are not saying this but huge pressure is actually being applied by the Buddhists from the neighbouring countries to make this a reality. Countries like Myanmar are not exactly rich and it costs a religious tourist to Bodh Gaya around Rs 45,000 [Approximately USD 1,000] for air travel via Kolkata. The same will come down to Rs 15,000 through Imphal. The affordability will also increase the volume of tourists,' said the President.

IMFA has also appealed to allow patients from bordering Burma like Tamu town to undergo treatment in Imphal, which is at a distance of 100 kilometres, rather than moving to Mandalay around 500 kilometres away.

"This will not only be convenient but will also bolster friendship and ties," said Shivachandra.

The IMFA, a group formed in 2004 to boost relationship with Burma, has organised periodic tour packages to Burma for North Eastern Indian people. During 2004-2005, the IMFA organised about 15 tour packages to different tourist destinations in Burma including former capital Rangoon, ancient city of Mandalay and hill station Pyin Oo Lwin.