Kaka our driver for the next 7 days (his name means Uncle in Nepali, a very respectful title……we still do not know his real name:))))….arrived the day before from Kathmandu….it took him 2 days to drive the 400 miles as there is a lot of traffic and poor roads…yikes!!! We learned you do not measure travel in distances but in time…..similar to a boat:))))) We were up early and left at 8am for the 7 hour drive (175 miles) to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and our first WOW of the trip. The drive itself gave us a huge glimpse/feeling/understanding of Nepal…..some beautiful scenery and some very poor standard of living. As you will see in the pictures, the air quality improved the further away from Kathmandu and from the rain. there still was a haze…..but not as brown….possible from some air inversion or it’s just dusty even in the rural areas. Nepal ranks as the 18th poorest country…it’s GDP ~USD31 billion……ranked 145th…… with a population of ~29 million and is ranked as “least developed country” by the UN…….the lowest classification. But, it has set a goal to raise the standard of living to the next category by 2025!!!!
We saw many…maybe 7-8…..weddings……long processions of decorated cars then big parties in buildings/tents. We saw some evidence of the Color Festival but not as much as the next day……more on that later!!! And traffic……yikes…..not a lot of rules but we did learn if you have an accident both parities go to jail and pay a fine…..so we saw lots of cars getting out of the way!!!! Also, we went through too many to count government checkpoints…..local police and army……looking for drugs, poachers et al……and also due to some of the political protests!!!
We arrived in mid-afternoon to a pretty nice hotel……a hot shower, working toilet, clean, but still a rock hard bed and pillow…ugh!!!! This was our first chance to catch our breaths……so, a little nap, a bunch of emails and then worked on the blog for Kathmandu. We had dinner that night at the hotel……we are starting to get a bit tired of eggs and chicken……they had momos on the menu…..steamed dumplings……like potstickers……they were delicious….we had a vege and chicken filling….but no soy sauce but a green chili sauce…..yummers. We also had spring rolls and chow mein…..both were good but nothing notable….but we for sure will have momos again!!!!
“Lumbini (Sanskrit for “the lovely”) is a Buddhist pilgrimage site located at the Nepalese town of Kapilavastu, district Rupandehi, near the Indian border. Lumbini is one of four Buddhist pilgrimage sites based on major events in the life of Gautama Buddha. Interestingly, all of the events occurred under trees. The other three sites are in India: Bodh Gaya (enlightenment), Sarnath (first discourse), and Kushinagar (death). Lumbini is the traditional birthplace of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, who was born in the 7th or 6th century BC.
According to Buddhist tradition, Maya Devi (or Mayadevi) gave birth to the Buddha on her way to her parent’s home in Devadaha in the month of May in the year 642 BC. Feeling the onset of labor pains, she grabbed hold of the branches of a shade tree and gave birth to Siddharta Gautama, the future Buddha. The Buddha is said to have announced, “This is my final rebirth” as he entered the world. Buddhist tradition also has it that he walked immediately after his birth and took seven steps, under each of which a lotus flower bloomed. In 249 BC, the Buddhist convert Emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini and constructed four stupas and a stone pillar. Ashoka’s Pillar bears an inscription that translates as: “King Piyadasi (Ashoka), beloved of devas, in the 20 year of the coronation, himself made a royal visit, Buddha Sakyamuni having been born here, a stone railing was built and a stone pillar erected to the Bhagavan [“blessed one”] having been born here. Lumbini village was taxed reduced and entitled to the eight part (only)”.
Monasteries and temples were built at Lumbini until the 9th century, but Buddhism declined in the area after the arrival of Islam and later Hinduism. All that remained was a sculpture, revered by local women as a fertility symbol. The garden of the Buddha’s birth was lost for a thousand years. The site was rediscovered in 1895, when a German archaeologist came upon Ashoka’s Pillar, identified by its inscription. Records made by the Chinese pilgrim Fa Xian were also used in the process of identifying this religiously acclaimed site. Lumbini was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.”
The site has a masterplan and is divided into 3 sections……the birthplace temple/sacred garden, monasteries and welcoming/village center. I’d say the whole site is maybe 30-40% complete and they have been working on it for 20+ years. Money, politics and creative differences seems to be the problems…..of course!!! We first visited the monasteries and this was the WOW. The masterplan calls for about 40+ monasteries from different countries. So far 20+ countries have committed and and maybe 10 are completed with 10+ in various stages of completion. Most of the monasteries are funded by private donors with very little government support…..if I recall correctly Thailand, Mynamar, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia and China have government support. Several monasteries of other countries have been heavily financed by donations from Americans. USA does have land and an approved design but has not started construction.
We have seen a lot of ancient temples now and some have been quite elaborate. These in Lumbini I think are some of the most creative and modern designs incorporating the individual country architecture….as in best of the best designs……truly impressive. One in particular is Cambodia which has been in construction for 5+ years and has another 1-2 years to go. We witnessed a world class artist painting these large Buddha paintings….maybe 8’x4’…….maybe 100+ paintings…..he has been working for over a year and does one every 3-5 days……exquisite details with bright colors…..we were mesmerized by the beauty and intricacy of these paintings!!!
We were able to visit the German, Canadian, China, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, and Bhutan monasteries. The German one was holding a World Peace Prayer Week and had about 200 monks visiting. We saw them chanting and at prayer!!! It seemed most monasteries had between 10-30 permanent monks. The German one also had garden scenes depicting the various life stages of Lord Buddha.
We were struck by some of the similarities of Lord Buddha with Jesus Christ……both had an immaculate birth, had a relatively normal childhood although Lord Buddha was raised in wealth, both went walk about (my term) at age 29 where they sought more learnings, then started teaching others, fasted, had disciples…..but I don’t think Lord Buddha performed any miracles, then both went to an afterlife……Jesus to heaven……Buddha achieving enlightenment and nirvana. The major difference of course is Jesus is the son of God and Lord Buddha made no claims to being a God/deity.
After the monasteries we visited the “sacred garden”, about 20% completed and then the birthplace. There were several temple and monasteries built around the site from 200-300BC to 800AD……some of these have been excavated. The actually birthplace is just a marker stone that has been authenticated to the believed time of birth. We were not allowed to take any photos of the actual birth place…here is better description:
“The most important temple at Lumbini is the Maya Devi Temple, which enshrines the traditional site of the Buddha’s birth. The current temple stands on the site of earlier temples and stupas, including the stupa built by Ashoka.The modern temple consists mainly of simple white building that protects ancient ruins, with the exact spot of the Buddha’s birth identified. The delicate sandstone sculptures discovered here are now in the National Musuem in Kathmandu. Atop the temple is a small square tower of the type seen in Kathmandu, with Buddha eyes on each side and a golden pinnacle on top. On the south side of the temple is a sacred pool, where it is said Maya Devi bathed before giving birth, and where the newborn Buddha was washed by two dragons. The Maha Devi temple is surrounded by the brick foundations of ancient temples and monasteries. All around Lumbini, long lines of colorful prayer flags are strung between trees. They carry prayers and mantras heavenward as they flap on the breeze. The other main sight of interest at Lumbini is Ashoka’s Pillar, near the temple. It is protected by a small fence, which is decorated with prayer flags and banners from the faithful. Around the courtyard containing the pillar are bowls for incense sticks, and there is room to sit in front of the pillar for contemplation.”
As we approached the birth stone there were several tourists not being very respectful…..talking, laughing etc….. but they soon left and a couple in front of us knelt by the stone and said a prayer….it was very moving for both us to see this kind of respect!!
In 2014 Korea proposed a plan I think has been accepted to develop Lumbini as a World Peace City. I sincerely hope this happens as well as the other 20 monasteries and the sacred garden are completed. In today’s world, to see 20+ countries worshiping a common religion in such close proximity certainly gives one hope!!!!
OK…..Lumbini was a Wow…..we only spent a half day and could have spent at least another half day there….but now off to Chitwan National park in chase of the elusive rhino, tiger and wild elephant!!!!
Hope all is well!!
PS: Pictures on the website: http://www.mysticmoonvoyages.com/photo-gallery/nggallery/main-album/Lumbini-Nepal