Sonepur, Nov 13: The world famous 'Sonepur fair', the largest cattle fair in Asia which attracts millions of visitors every year, would soon be developed into the 'most popular brand of Bihar', Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has announced.
The month long fair, spread across 500 acres of land near the confluence of two great rivers - the Ganges and the Gandak - has been held every year for several centuries.
The fair, which begins on the auspicious Kartik Purnima day, is perhaps the only one of its kind in the entire sub-continent where large varieties of birds and animals, including parrots, eagles, elephants, horses, sheep, goats, buffaloes, are sold and exchange hands amid huge colourful events.
The Chief Minister, who inaugurated the fair in presence of a huge gathering here yesterday, however, regretted the poor infrastructural facilities both en-route and on the fair ground.
Recalling the great tradition of 'Sonepur fair', he assured the organisers of all help, including technical and financial cooperation, to restore its past glory, prestige and popularity worldwide.
''Since the fair attracts a large number of foreign as well as domestic tourists because of its uniqueness, lack of proper boarding, lodging and other facilities create huge problems and they must be upgraded by the authorites at all costs,'' the Chief Minister stated and reiterated his commitment to project Sonepur Fair as ''one of the most visible brands of Bihar very soon''.
''We are commited to improve the facilities for guests upto the world standrad so that many more people both from across India and abroad could come and stay here for a few days,'' the Chief Minister said.
Also referring to the poor condition of the country's longest river bridge - the Gandhi Setu - connecting Sonepur with state capital Patna, Mr Kumar said a time-bound project had already been taken up by the state PWD department to repair the bridge and improve the condition of its two way lanes.
''When completed by March, it would go a long way towards enabling larger number of people to come and visit the annual fair,'' he emphasised.
In this connection Mr Kumar also sought the ''fullest cooperartion'' from his arch political rival and Railway Minister Lalu Prasad towards improving the railway network in the area for establishing better connectivity to the fair ground. The fair, believed to be started by the Hindu Kings of the Pala era, has gradually, over the past few hundred years, developed into a unique place of cultural bonhomie for all.
Apart from being the largest selling ground for birds and animals in the continent the Sonepur fair has also become a place of diversified attractions for the people.
However, strict government regulations on business dealings of birds and animals in the country has greatly hampersed their sale in the fair.
As a result hundreds of animals, which used to arrive at the fair from all corners of the country for sale, are not coming anymore leading to huge reduction in their numbers.
Till late 1990s more than 300 elephants and an equal number of horses and other animals used to come to the fair for sale, but now their number has reduced to only about 25 to 30 every year, one of the elephant owners said.
This had also contributed towards the loss of previous charm of the fair to a great extent, lamented another.
Welcoming the promise made by the Chief Minister for developing infrastructure and projecting the fair as the new brand of Bihar, they hoped that following the projected improvement of facilities in and around the fair ground, the old charm and uniqueness of Sonepur cattle fair would return soon.