India begins processing free visas for Myanmar pilgrims to Bodh Gaya

Myanmar residents travelling to India could officially apply for visa-free travel at the embassy of India in Yangon starting on September 25, Bodh Gaya pilgrimage travel operators said.

The move comes after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the granting of free visas to all Myanmar citizens when he visited Myanmar on September 6.

Two weeks later, the Indian embassy began processing free visa applications, U Maung Maung Myint, vice chair of Bodh Gaya Pilgrimages Working Committee told The Myanmar Times on September 28.

Located in Bihar, a northeastern state of India, Bodh Gaya is a famous holy place for Buddhist pilgrims.

“We can apply officially for Indian gratis visa as six month double entry for travellers from September 25 that is more than enough for Bodh Gaya pilgrimages and also we do not need to pay for other additional service charges because all are free,” U Maung Maung Myint said.

The visa application process is the same as with the previous one: every applicant has to fill the visa application form online and submit it to the embassy.

“The processing of visa takes about three days. In the past, we have to pay for service charges of about US$3 for each applicant. But this time we don’t need to pay for that. It is good for pilgrimages which we expect to increase compared to last year,” he said.

Due to the free visa to India, pilgrimage tour operators reduced their packages between $50 and $100, depending on the company. That is why tour operators hoped to get more travellers to Bodh Gaya pilgrimages in the upcoming tour season.

Before the granting of the gratis visa, Myanmar travellers have to pay $100 for visa fee and $3 for service charges. Those applying online e-visa will have to pay $50 and $3 service charges.

“As for my tour company, the Gaya tours booking rate are increasing after the visa-free system began, that is why I am sure the number of Gaya pilgrimages will increase more than last year,” said U Maung Maung Myint, who also owns Darna pilgrimages tour company.

According to Bodh Pilgrimages Working Committee, there is normally around 30,000 Myanmar pilgrims visiting Gaya yearly.

Myanmar travellers can also apply for gratis visa at the consulate in Mandalay, besides at the Indian embassy in Yangon. The Yangon mission process up to 200 visa applications daily for tour companies and 50 for individual travellers.

“It would be better if they can allow more than 10 persons quota for each tour company in a day. There will be a famous religious festival in Bodh Gaya in December and many pilgrims are expected to go there and there is already increase in the number of bookings,” said Daw Khine Thazin Hnin, owner of Khin Nandar pilgrimages company.

The company has reduced its Bodh Gaya tour packages by $80 since gratis visa took effect.

Source: Myanmar Times

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