KATHMANDU: Nepal has undertaken several infrastructure development projects with the support of Asian Development Bank (ADB) in a bid to attract religious tourists from various countries, including India, according to officials.

To improve regional connectivity and trade, ADB last year approved $180 million under the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme for widening the East-West Highway connecting India, ADB country-director Nepal Mukhtor Khamudkhanov said.

The project implemented under the SASEC aimed at strengthening road, rail, and air links, as well as developing port infrastructure to match the needs of the regions–Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, according to Indian news agency Press Trust of India.

As part of infrastructure development by ADB, an international airport near Lumbini, the birth place of Gautam Buddha, is expected to be operational by March next year.

The $70 million airport infrastructure being developed under South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project, Khamudkhanov said.

Gautam Buddha International Airport, Bhairahawa, a place near Lumbini, is expected to attract tourists from Buddha circuit in India and other neighbouring countries like China, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Japan.

More than five countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Cambodia, have shown interest in starting airline operation from the upcoming airport.

Besides Lumbini, Bivah Panchami in Janakpur is a big attraction for many tourists from India, said Suraj Vaidya National Coordinator Visit Nepal 2020.

According to mythology, Lord Rama married Sita on Bivah Panchami in Janakpur. The festival is observed every year to mark the occasion.

It attracts lot of tourists from various places including India, Vaidya said, adding, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath paid a visit to Janakpur on Bivah Panchami last year.

Vaidya said, Shiv Shakti Parikrama, a visit of holy sites related with Lord Shiva, is also part of Visit Nepal 2020 campaign.

As per the official data, as many as 1.17 million tourists visited Nepal last year. Of this, nearly 200,000 were Indians and 69,640 from Sri Lanka and 26,355 from another neighboring country Bangladesh.