Gotihava – Closeup

SYNOPSIS:  Where the Buddha grew up, his clan was slaughtered, his parents honored, and his son made demands.   About a motorbike ride and two self-appointed guides.  This is a bit more of an art historical blog than usual. 

Rightly so, the Kapilavastuans (if there is such a thing) feel marginalized by all the attention, recognition, and funding showered on Lumbini.  Really, the Buddha was born there by pure accident; in the middle of absolutely nowhere, on the way to Maya’s parents’ palace.  As was customary, she had tried to go home to deliver her child, but was surprised by the Buddha’s premature birth.  His home, where he grew up, married and lived was here, in Kapilavastu, (present-day Tilaurakot).

Presumably, Vladimir’s migraine had vanished and he had moved on with the 5 AM bus.  After experiencing yesterday’s heat torture, I was tempted to leave as well, but I knew I would never forgive myself for this.  Last night I strolled through the little enclave of shops and restaurants in search for a means of transportation.  I would not have minded one of those rickshaws, cruising along slowly and in style.  But the price for a day’s excursion was high.  And in hindsight, a rickshaw would have been completely ill suited for the roads I was experiencing today.  A rickshaw owner offered his services on a motorbike;  the mode of choice for transportation around here and 1/2 the cost of a rickshaw.  Hired!  To beat the day’s heat, we were on the road by 6 AM.

For a tourist looking for interesting or impressive monuments, this tour may not be high on the list.  What was eye-opening for me was once again the correction of my prior understanding; the gap between some of my assumptions with facts and actual artifacts on the ground.  My impression had always been that we have a lot more historically verifiable data about the Buddha than about Christ or Mohammed.  That still may be the case, but it is by far not as much and not as verifiable as I had assumed.  To a believer that may not ever matter; to a historian, it does make a difference. 

Almost all tangible evidence we have, postdates the Buddha by a couple of hundred years dating from the Sunga and Kushan periods (2nd century BC to 2nd century AD), and is based once again on Ashoka’s pilgrimage and the pillars and inscriptions he left.  Earlier references are scriptural or based on oral traditions and myths.  They provide clues and lead archaeologists as early as the 19th century to these archaeological sites.  But strictly speaking, all of this evidence has to be considered a hypothesis, perhaps even a theory, but not yet fact.  Kapilavastu has applied for UNESCO status, but so far has not been granted full recognition.

There are three main archaeological sites with structural remains and two partially preserved Ashoka pillars.  Two further sites recognize two additional Buddhas (people who achieved enlightenment), that I had never heard of, or may have forgotten. 

From Taulihawa, the contemporary district center, one has to fan out in all four directions as far as 10 km to reach each of these respective sites.  I left Lumbini at 6 AM and was back by 2 PM, including a lunch break.  Without your own transportation this trip is impossible.  There is not (yet) a shuttle or a bus or anything to get you from one place to the next.

My Lumbini driver was not knowledgeable enough to find each of these sites and he spoke very little English.  But I was not worried.  I have learned by now that things tend to manifest themselves.  At the first site we ran into a young man.  Without much explanation, he took off, after realizing my interest in the area, only to return with a book about all the sites, published by a local author.  He was a student of economics, but obviously educated and enthusiastic about the history of his area.  He instructed me about the best way to visit the palace site and then directed us to the next important place.  I offered him some money for his services, but he refused.  If you pay me, he responded, I will show you all the sites!  That worked for me.  A phone call to his wife later, we were on our way.  He told me his name twice, but it was so complicated, that I could not make any sense out of it.  I called him Mr. G. 

I won’t get too technical here, but I will briefly illustrate each site I visited (by far not all there are).  I labeled each photo carefully, so that you can hopefully make a decision on whether to put this area on your itinerary, should you be in the neighborhood.  🙂

The central site is now called Tilaurakot, the presumed palace site of the Sakya clan, including city gates and city walls.  A kid of about 6 attached himself to me, rattling off some basic “facts” relating to the Buddha’s life.  Oh, you speak English?,  I asked.  I was not interested in his “information” but I tried to engage him in a conversation:  How old are you?  Where did you learn English?  Why are you not in school?  He could not answer.  He had overheard who knows how many adults reciting the same sentences and was just repeating them.  I am sure he is well on his way of becoming one of those numerous guides I have encountered at Durbar Square in Kathmandu and Patan.  Once you get them off script, they are lost.  I asked one guide which way was north.  His response:  I am not that educated.    But he did carry a license as a guide.  I wonder what that actually means.  And he charged money for his services.  Mr. G. on the other hand was quite a delight as he took such pride in his Buddhist heritage even though he himself was a Hindu and certainly not licensed.  He was not into this for the money (only), but enjoyed the fact that he had an interested foreign visitor to show around. 

In between two sights he made a quick detour showing off his small but well-built concrete house.  His wife and two children were home along with his mother, and a tailor, who rented a front room in his home.  He was not rich but by far better off than Patam the guide I had met at the Swayam stupa.  Just like in America:  If you live in a big city, rent and housing are expensive.  If you live in a small village, you most likely can afford more space.   

My driver was such a petit man, that at one point on the sandy road, he lost control over his bike and almost broke my leg.  He tipped to one side.  I put my foot down to stabilize the situation, but he did not have enough strength to pull both of us and the bike back into position and we were slowly sliding further down onto my stuck leg.  Thankfully, Mr. G. was nearby and pushed us back up.  I guess I have to be more careful in choosing more-compatible drivers!

We returned at 2 PM — peak of the heat of the day.  This 8-hour excursion was more than enough for one day.  I disappeared into my sort-of air-conditioned room.  The little wall unit at the hotel managed about 30 degrees Celsius, almost 20 degrees less than the outside, yet still in the 80’s Fahrenheit.  But that was a big relief. 

And to think that there are people who have to work in heat like this! 


5 comments so far

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  1. I hope Kapilavastu becomes just as important as Lumbini. It certainly has architectural and historicak significance. Great photos especially of the local people. Glad you still have a functioning leg.

  2. Glad you still have two functioning legs.

    • Believe me, that was a very close and unpleasant call.

    • Believe me, that was a close and unpleasant call…

  3. Amazing how you find guides and information!