Master Plan of Lumbini

SYNOPSIS:  A trip to the birthplace of the Buddha with Vladimir from the Hidden Paradise in nearly unbearable heat.

I will spare you the details of the bumpy 8-hour bus ride that should have taken 5 hours, taking us from Pokhara to Lumbini.  That’s Nepal and its roads that are in desperate need of repair. It will likely be that way for a few more years, or even decades?  Vladimir from Serbia, who lives in Canada, whom I met at the Hidden Paradise, had been tossing up a few possible places for his next destination.  When he heard that I was heading to Lumbini, he decided to join me.  We got stuck in the last row of the bus, which makes every pothole that much more enjoyable.  A few times, Vladimir even bumped his head, when thrown up in the air by the rough ride.  We could tell that the temperature was on the rise the further we got on with the trip.  The thermometer still showed a whopping 36 degrees Celsius (upper 90’s) when we arrived in the late afternoon. 

We checked out the situation and decided on an early night.  In the morning, we would meet up by 5 AM, grab a cup of tea, and get going before the heat of the day would strike.  38 degrees Celsius — sun-factor taken into consideration that would be felt as 48 degrees — were forecast by about noon (I think that is close to 120 Fahrenheit?)!

Lumbini is the reported birthplace of the Buddha.  Neither then nor now was and is it a real town.  Then, there was nothing but a few trees.  Today, there is an enclave of hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, souvenir shops, and a few small booths selling everything you need.  This cluster of buildings is located across a UNESCO-designated park that marks and protects the archaeological remains that sprung up at the site over time. 

Maya, the Buddha’s mother, was supposedly on her way to her parents’ home, when in the middle of nowhere, she gave birth to her miraculously conceived son.  The three main gods of Hinduism showed up shortly after, presenting gifts to the newborn child whom they recognized as a special spiritual leader…  Sounds familiar?  Well it should.  But keep in mind that it is not Christianity inspiring the Buddhist story, but vice versa. 

The Lumbini Park is unique.  A monastic setting has been excavated at the site, which is believed to have developed shortly after the Buddha’s death.  It is now partially covered and known as the Mahadevi Temple.  A large tree nearby that could not possibly be from the 5th century BC is venerated as the tree under which Maya sought shelter.  More importantly, an Ashoka Pillar marks the site.  Ashoka was a 3rd-century BC Indian emperor and important convert to Buddhism, who is single-handedly responsible for the early spread of Buddhism.  Similarly to Constantine and his mother in Christianity who visited early Christian sites and “rescued” (or created?) some artifacts, he visited places related to Buddhism.  He marked them by a pillar, inscribing the importance of the site for the new religion.  His edicts and pillars, if not his entire life, are historically verifiable.  Much of the Buddha’s story has been pieced together based on his pillars; not surprisingly, both men’s lives have over time been embellished with numerous legends. 

The archaeological site of Lumbini could be rather underwhelming were it not for the beautiful layout of the whole park.  A circumambulatory path around a pond marks the Mahadevi Temple.  From there, a 4-km monastic park stretches east and west of an artificial water channel.  Dozens of stupas and monasteries have been built by dozens of different countries.  The central axis of the site, marked by the pond, once again leads up to a Japanese Peace Stupa; the second such stupa in Nepal.  I visited the other one in Pokhara (see blog entry Pokhara Excursion).  Surprisingly, but very fitting for the site, it also is a bird sanctuary.  The circular pond attracts over 50 different types of birds (as we were told).  And near the Peace Stupa, there is a crane sanctuary. 

At first we thought we would walk this area.  But each monastery is walled in.  4 km soon turn into a dozen km to be walked without a clear idea where to find entrances to the various places…  We caved in and took one of the many rickshaws that roam the area.  Those guys know where to go.  And the little bit of a breeze on the ride in between the hot stupas and monasteries keeps you alive, sort of. 

In addition to the walking, there is the increasing heat and the ever-present humidity.  By 7am I was sweating, by 10 am exhausted, and by noon — after 7 hours we had made it indeed through the entire compound!  I was ready to escape into my air-conditioned room and crash!  Vladimir by then, had a severe migraine and emerged only once more for dinner.  This climate took a toll on both of us.   That’s why not all the images are labeled properly…  At times, it was hard to pay attention or to retain the information provided on the entrance signs.  And at times, the signs were missing…  I returned to the site at night.  It was cooler then, but the mosquitoes ruined it all!

June is not the season to visit Lumbini.  Now we know why!  But what can you do if you are here only in June?  You got to rough it. 

I am not sorry I did.

6 comments so far

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  1. How in the world do you keep all those myriad stupas and Buddhist temples apart in your mind? And, why?

  2. Very cool!! Despite the heat … no pun intended, lol. Seems very different in vegetation, weather, etc. (less polluted also?) from the Kathmandu area. I would have loved to see that and also Pokhara. Although the bus ride sounds pretty horrible…
    Next time!
    Are you thinking about going to Chitwan as well? Looks like you are pretty close…

    • Chitwan… in hindsight, I am very sad, I did not make time for it. I should have gone. 🙁 But yes, no comparison between Kathmandu (which turns out to be my least favorite in all of Nepal) and Pokhara, Lumbini, and the rest of it.

  3. Being a lifelong Buddhism admirer, I’ve always wanted to see and experience Buddha ‘s birthplace — until now. Your graphic description of your journey to get there and the conditions you braved to see it made me glad to read your account and see your photos. That’s sufficient to satisfy my romantic notions to actually experience it for myself!

    • Joe, there is definitely a better season with a better climate to visit Lumbini. And… to avoid the roads, you could fly. Don’t give up on this quite yet.

  4. Question: In your travels, have you EVER had a decent bus ride?? LOL

    All those temples are really interesting. When I saw the German one, without seeing your identification of it, I said to myself…”German…looks like lederhosen.” And that Canadian one…as simple and unadorned as the Canadians…though maybe a few pine trees around it would be appropriate.