Since the 1960s, when The Beatles made their highly-publicised visit to a guru, India has been inextricably associated with holy men. The city of Pune owes much of its present-day affluence to jet loads of Westerners seeking solace in teachings of the colourful mystic, Baghwan Shree Rajneesh. Now, India is intent on capitalising more effectively on its spiritual image. 'Pilgrimage' tours have been earmarked as a priority initiative in a campaign to boost India's tourism industry. Famous holy men are even being invited to support the campaign. 'Various gurus who are popular in Europe will be asked to help promote this form of tourism,' Tourism Minister Madan Lal Khurana said. 'Attempts will also be made to invite European groups to India for yoga and naturopathy tours.' Part of India's return to its deeply- religious roots involves a nationwide effort to spruce-up the landscape around existing monuments and pilgrim centres - from the celebrated Taj Mahal at Agra to Jaipur and Ajmer in Rajasthan, the Golden Temple at Amritsar and the Buddhist centre of Bodhgaya. Dozens of other lesser-known pilgrim centres in 15 states have been singled out for tourism development. A cable-car system is being built at Vaishno Devi. A three-star hotel will be built at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab so visitors will at long last have a 'cheap and good' place to stay. Not only Westerners are being targeted. India has kicked off the campaign by dedicating a site for the world's largest bronze Buddha in Bihar - an event attended by a sizeable contingent of Hong Kong's Indian community. This will be followed by one of the biggest and most prestigious international seminars on Buddhism yet staged - the 'Vishwa Buddha Mahotasav'. Pilgrims from mainland China, Japan and Korea to Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Mongolia and Indonesia are expected to attend the 'mega' gathering at Sarnath and Bodhgaya from November 4 to 6. Among them will be heads of state and governments, academics and theologians. If the Dalai Lama accepts an invitation to attend, the event will inevitably attract Buddhist monks from throughout the world. 'The underlying idea is to regener ate the flow of tourists to the Buddhist circuit,' Mr Khurana said. 'Cultural programmes will be held for visitors and there are plans to organise a Sound and Light show on the life of Buddha. Buddhist monks, speaking various languages, will act as tourist guides.' To sustain the initiative, Mr Khurana said back-up support of efficient road, rail and air links were essential. To this end, a 'Buddhist Circuit' train service was being launched and new air connections would fly Asian tourists direct to the holiest city of all, Varanasi, where the airport would be upgraded. The Ministry of Tourism is busily producing brochures on the Buddha's life in India, to be published in Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Thai. Several states are making promotional videos and CD-ROMs. The Buddhist extravaganza is designed to kick off 'Visit India Year', which is timed to transcend the millennium. Celebrations will start on April 1 next year and continue until March 31, 2000. 'Airlines, railways, hotel groups and the travel industry are working on package tours to promote the celebrations,' Mr Khurana said. 'Special packages are being specifically designed to attract young Indians living overseas so they can glimpse the progress made by India over the last 50 years.' Hong Kong, which accounts for about 20,000 tourists a year, is targeted as a prime tourist source and a seminar on September 25 will bring industry professionals together for a 'meeting of minds' to discuss ways of boosting numbers even higher. In the meantime, acknowledging that Buddhist monuments may not be to everyone's taste, the Ministry of Tourism is promoting the development of health resorts and adventure tours to cater for more youthful, outdoor tourists. The more adventurous will soon benefit from an upgrading of lodgings and facilities on the remote islands of Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep. The ministry is also holding its breath that one of the most precious 'jewels' in India's tourism crown, Kashmir, can safely re-open following a decade of insurgency which has effectively sealed-off the 'Shangri-La' valley to visitors. Tourist arrivals in the valley, reduced to a trickle of only a few hundred daring souls in recent years, topped 9,000 in the last three months. 'The shooting of films has also resumed in the valley,' he said.