Visting Lumbini: The Birthplace of Buddha


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I’m not sure what I expected to find in Lumbini, which is internationally recognized by almost everyone as the birthplace of Buddha. All I had seen was a few photographs of a white monastery-like building in the middle of nowhere and, as we drove through the arid stretches of the Terai, nowhere seemed to be just where we were heading.  I supposed I’d expected one or two sacred sites and maybe a few golden Buddhas, as after all it is one of the most sacred sites in Buddhism, but I was shocked and impressed at the scale of the place.

The UN Lumbini Development Project was set up in 1970 and a master plan was put together to develop Lumbini, which had fallen into disrepair centuries ago.  Today its an UNESCO World Heritage site,  consisting of a rectangular walled block of land measuring 4 kilometres by 2 kilometres, which includes a sacred garden and Buddha’s birthplace at one end, and a Peace Pagoda at the other.  Between these two extremes runs a long connecting mall with reflecting ponds, vaguely similar to the famous mall in Washington.  Either side of the mall (to the east and west) are plans for up to 40 different Buddhist monasteries from different sects and countries all over the world; some are built and some are still being developed.  And the scale of development is far larger and more impressive than anything else I have seen in Nepal to date.

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The Maya Devi temple in the sacred garden at the north end of the temple

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Buddhist monks under the sacred tree.  These guys were selling blessings.

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Stunning tree covered in prayer flags that we are told is the tree that Buddha’s mother leaned against to give birth to him.

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The ruins of his birthplace are covered in a white monument, but still surrounded by original foundations from other buildings.

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Part of the connecting mall looking North from the Peace Pagoda

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Spaced out along the mall were signs in English and Nepali which shared messages from Buddhist teachings.

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At the eternal flame looking South to the Peace Pagoda

I’m not Buddhist, so this wasn’t a religious experience for me, but it was a peaceful and beautiful place. And remarkably clean and well cared for. It was actually quite shocking to walk on clean, swept, wide pathways (and great proof that if Nepalis want to keep something up, they can!)

However, what struck me most was the emptiness of the place.  Wide boulevards that would fit thousands of people, and barely anyone there.  Of course, this had something to do with the time of year.  Touring outside in 90 degree is too overwhelming, even for the devout.  But I also know that Nepal has not done a great deal to promote religious tourism here. Most (non-Buddhist) tourists come for the trekking and mostly don’t even know about Lumbini.  So it sits in relative obscurity, as this giant monument to Buddhist in the middle of nowhere.

Finally, a quick look at some of the monasteries.  I could do a separate post entirely on the different monasteries that we saw.  I would guess there were about 25-30 built and we saw about 10-15: Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Nepali, Chinese, French and German (yes!) , Japanese….  Here are few examples of the different styles. We spent half a day, we could have spent two days looking at everything. Fascinating place.

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Susie making new friends!

Girls Roadtrip! Or Thelma and Louise (with a driver)….


… (hint) It has a much better ending!

It was so exciting that my really good friend, Susie, would be coming all the way to Kathmandu. I was a little apprehensive too as this is a difficult city to visit in a lot of ways — its dirty, dusty and congested — but I thought she would do ok and she did. ;o)

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Susie arriving at KTM.  This is one of the few pictures we managed to get together.  Guess neither of us had heard of selfies…oh well!

I had planned a full week on the road to escape the grey dust of Kathmandu.  (We did exchange some of it for the beige dust of the Terai…but that story comes later.)   We were excited.!!  A whole week of no kids or husbands, and time to catch up on each others lives.

Nepal isn’t the easiest country to get around. The road system is limited and a lot of the roads are windy and potentially dangerous. So if you wanted to keep to tarmacked roads that have western quality hotels, Chitwan and Pokhara are the best bet.,,and that’s where we were headed.   We had our own driver, a serviced jeep, good brakes and plenty of trunk space.  So, we were sure to pack essentials like gin, tonic, Pimms and PG tips.  We were going to do this in style…!

nepal roadways

Notice the black top roads (in red) are all in the south of the country. Thats because the north of the country is covered by rather large mountains called the Himalayas. No highways there!

 

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Ready to go…bags at the door…

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.. and into the jeep.  Let’s get out of here….!

We traveled for 4-6hrs from location to location, glimpsing rural Nepalese life from the windows.  It wasn’t always easy driving…too many trucks…but our driver did a good job of keeping us safe and we were never in the jeep so long that we went crazy.   It was fun to watch the scenery change…and the weather too.  The south is so much hotter!

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Grabbing the view from the front….

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….and from behind!  That truck was stuck in a 2 foot gutter.  One of several “accidents” we saw.  Fortunately nothing fatal.

So the next few posts are going to be about our adventures in Chitwan, Pokhara and Lumbini. He’s a little preview:

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Other people even hauled our stuff up and down the stairs, so bags magically appeared in the rooms.

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Enjoying an elephant ride together

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Making new friends in Chitwan

People brought us plates of food. Yes those are french fries. What the hell!

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Finally being chilled out enough to lounge around and read

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