Visting Lumbini: The Birthplace of Buddha


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.


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


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


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


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


Part of the connecting mall looking North from the Peace Pagoda


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


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.





Susie making new friends!

The Terai


You know you’re in the Terai as pedicabs and rickshaws suddenly appear.

When the time came around, it was hard to leave the peace and greenery of Chitwan.  In April,  the weather was getting a bit too hot and humid for my liking, although not too bad.  But rumour had it that this was nothing compared to the rest of the Terai, which we were about to experience as we were heading westward towards Lumbini in the Central Terai.

The Terai refers to the flat, southern strip of Nepal, which borders Northern India. Most people are surprised to learn it even exists as everyone expects Nepal to be cold and mountainous, not hot and flat. Of course, Nepal is both, and everything in between, it just depends on when and where you are standing.  Its actually astounding how much variety in landscape and temperature there is here.

Back on the road, it was hard to get pictures from the moving vehicle.  On the flat tarmac it was possible to drive faster, and the small towns and agriculture centers whizzed by at speed.  And, yes, it was very hot and dusty, and some of the major towns were ugly (non-descript at best) and there was no reason to stop and see more.


What I did like was the agricultural areas.  The Terai is known as Nepal’s bread basket.  And to prove it was saw endless acres of wheat, which happened to be harvesting as we were there.  99% of the harvesting was by hand, with long medieval scythes.  (It looked backbreaking and I can’t imagine doing it in the heat.)   However, we did see a couple of bright green combine harvesters at work in the massive sea of beige.


Terai wheat fields

Terai wheat fields


Terai village

Terai village

If Kathmandu is grey, the Terai is beige. Beige mud houses, dusty unpaved beige streets and unending fields of beige crops. And hot, did I mention it was hot?!…. So where in all this hot beigeness would we find the birthplace of one of the major major religious leaders in the world and whatever was it doing here…..? We were about to find out….


Janakpur Town: The Wild Wild South

I just returned from a trip to Janakpur.  Back in Kathmandu it’s dusty.  In Janakpur its dustier.  Kathmandu is pretty dirty….Janakpur is dirtier.  Back here in Kathmandu things are looking more organized…I’m sure you can guess why.

But it was a good trip.  And Janakpur is interesting place to see, despite its difficulties.

Its is in the Terai, the southern part of Nepal, close to the Indian border.  The Terai is flat and fertile — the bread (or rice) basket of Nepal — less populated, less developed and much more Indian in style and flavour.  Rickshaws are very common. There are more bicycles than motorcycles, but not so many that you can’t walk in the street without fearing for your life.  Cars are few.

It took a while to get used to the flow of street life.  People, bikes, and rickshaws traveled slowly, weaving together in continuous intervening streams.  Janakpur had the feel of a  . dusty border town from the wild, wild west – minus the horses and guns.  But what it lacked in horses it made up for in chickens, cows and black boar.  Yes, Pumba roamed the streets here.  Dozens of them.  And I was drawn to them with fascination — as I am now over the street cows (which are so yesterday darling) — and loved watching the squealing black piglets running down the side streets.  Often the street cows and pigs grazed the garbage in peace, side by side.


Foraging piggies….in the mist.  My best shot ;o(  Never work with children or animals!

We took a couple of early morning walks through the city.  Even at 6.30am in the early morning mist, there were already throngs of people walking to work or school.  We headed into the unknown through the fog, past storefronts just opening or shopkeepers still curdled up under bedding.

By the end of my stay I was ready to leave the dust and dirt.  But I took home some good memories of the people, countryside, and the famous Janaki temple – which I will leave to another post.




Hotel Welcome – where welcome never ends ;o)