LUMBINI, Nepal (AP) — Nepal's president announced a campaign Saturday to lure hundreds of thousands of tourists and pilgrims this year to visit the area of the country where Buddha was born.
President Rambaran Yadav said Nepal is eager to welcome both devotees of Buddha and peace believers to Lumbini, in southwestern Nepal, where Buddha is believed to have been born 2,555 years ago.
"Let us spread peace not just in the country and among our people, but also in the world," Yadav said.
Buddha was born in Lumbini as Prince Sidhartha. Followers believe he left his family and kingdom and meditated in the jungles of Nepal and India before achieving enlightenment.
"Our campaign is to spread the message of brotherhood, love and compassion for world peace," said Karma Sangbo, a Buddhist monk coordinating the campaign.
An estimated crowd of 3,000 gathered for the inauguration of the campaign Saturday at Lumbini Garden, which has been developed with trees, ponds and monasteries, and is a popular destination for Buddhists from all over the world.
Organizers said they hope to get hundreds of thousands of visitors this year to Lumbini, which is about 150 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Katmandu.
There were no official figures available of how many visitors have come to Lumbini in previous years.
Nepal has been trying to recover from a yearslong communist insurgency that chased away tourists who generally come to view the Himalayan mountain peaks or come as Hindu or Buddhist pilgrims. Even after the rebels gave up their armed revolt in 2006, political instability plagued the country.
Nepal received about 800,000 visitors in 2011.