Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered prayers at the historic Janaki temple in Janakpur, Nepal, on Friday becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to do so in the birthplace of Goddess Sita.
The PM, who is on a two-day trip to the Himalayan nation, arrived in Janakpur at 11.30 am today to begin his third trip to Nepal since coming to power in 2014, which is being seen as a way to “reset ties” following the 2015 Madhesi crisis.
Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli received the Indian PM at the temple. Wearing a pink-coloured headgear, the PM performed a ceremonial puja as per “khodasopachar” rituals.
The two prime ministers then jointly flagged-off a bus connecting Janakpur to Ayodhya – the birthplace of Lord Ram – in Uttar Pradesh in India.
Speaking on the occasion, the PM hailed the centuries old ties between Janakpur and Ayodhya and expressed confidence that the bus service will contribute to the strengthening of tourism ties between the two countries.
“Ramayan Circuit will prove to be a stellar example for tourism ties between the two nations in a time when tourism is developing across the world at a rapid pace,” said PM Modi.
The Ramayan Circuit is among the 13 tourist circuits under India’s Swadesh Darshan Scheme.
“The circuit will pave the way for a strong foundation economic growth, cultural strength and people-to-people contact between India and Nepal,” he added before ending his short address by thanking PM Oli, the Nepalese government and local officials for the warm welcome.
Janakpur is one of the three places of religious importance that the PM is visiting. He will pray at the famous Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu and visit the Muktinath temple at the foot of the Thorong La mountain pass in Mustang district on Saturday.
At Kathmandu, Modi will be offered a civic reception at the Bahrabigaha’s Rangabhoomi ground where he is likely to address the people gathered to welcome him.
Modi and Oli will hold one-on-one talks in the Nepalese capital and discuss ways to strengthen the historic relationship between the two countries. According to officials, certain agreements were expected to be signed between the two leaders.
The business side of the visit
A major highlight of his visit is laying of the foundation stone for Arun III hydroelectricity project in Sankhuwasabha district of eastern Nepal. India will spend $1.5 billion on the 900-MW project undertaken by India’s Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam. It is expected to be completed in five years.
The ceremony comes a day after Nepal said “no” to China to build the Budhi Gandaki hydroelectricity project that was awarded to a Chinese firm by the previous Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’-led dispensation in 2016.
It is also expected that a strategic railway link between Raxaul in Bihar and Kathmandu in Nepal will get the green signal during the visit.
The project report of the rail line would be prepared by top officials of the two countries in the coming weeks and months. They would also give to the two governments the estimated cost of the project and the time-line for completing it, sources said.
The rail project is considered significant in strategic circles since China proposes to build a railway line between Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Kathmandu by 2022, with an apparent aim of reducing Kathmandu’s dependence on India.
The PM will also meet President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, vice-president Nanda Bahadur Pun and leaders of the major political parties.
What PM said before his Nepal visit
Before emplaning for Nepal, the PM had said that his visit at the invitation of the PM KP Sharma Oli “reflects the high priority India, and personally I, attach to our age-old, close and friendly ties with Nepal”.
Underlining the visit by PM Oli to India, PM Modi said that the regular visits between the two nations reflect his government’s “commitment to the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, in consonance with the motto of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’”.
“Prime Minister Oli and I will have the opportunity to take forward our recent wide-ranging discussions in New Delhi on issues of mutual interest, and to advance our cooperative partnership across diverse sectors,” he said in a statement.
PM Modi hailed Janakpur and Muktinath as “living testimony to the ancient and strong cultural and religious ties between the peoples of India and Nepal”.
“I am looking forward to meeting the political leaders and friends in Nepal. I am confident that my visit will further cement our people-centric partnership with Nepal on the basis of mutual benefit, goodwill and understanding,” he said.
PM Oli had visited India on 6 April on a three-day visit. It was his first visit to any foreign country after coming to power.
He held extensive talks with PM Modi and the two nations agreed on a range matters including reviewing key projects together and removing obstacles.