Great Himalayan Drive Day 6: Visiting the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini in Nepal

Buddhist monks praying near the Mahamaya Temple in Lumbini in Nepal
Buddhist monks praying near the Mahamaya Temple in Lumbini in Nepal

Lumbini is believed to be the birth place of Buddha in 623 B.C., and a World Heritage Site worth visiting.

Lumbini is one of the four important places associated with the life of Buddha, the others being Bodh Gaya (where he attained enlightenment), Sarnath (where he first preached) and Kasia (where he passed away and attained Nirvana).

The central landmark here is the Mayadevi Temple, named after Buddha’s mother Queen Mahamaya or Maya Devi. Next to the temple is a pillar erected by KIng Ashoka to mark this sacred spot. The pool next to the Mahamaya temple is where Buddha’s mother is said to have bathed after giving birth to him. Some say she bathed here before giving birth and Buddha was given his purification bath here. Other attractions include monasteries built by different countries here, and a Peace Stupa built by the Japanese.

Some highlights of the visit to Lumbini:

* Met a young boy Omkar Kumar Pandey (must be around 15) sitting under a tree near the pool dressed like a priest – with some older priests praying next to him. Strangely he was calling out to people walking around – including those at a distance – with a Namaste (greeting with folded hands). If he would see anyone holding what looked like a Lonely Planet, he would call out and say he is featured in it. When I asked if he was, he clarified it is his uncle Vivekanand Bhante who is. Omkar said his uncle is the seniormost Buddhist priest here and is currently out to the border town of Sinauli to buy a mobile where it is cheaper than locally. Omkar went on to narrate the whole story of how Lumbini came out to be a place of significance. His version (mostly matches the official one): Queen Mahamaya was on the way to Deogarh and decided to rest under a tree at the spot where the Mayadevi temple is now located. She decided to cool off in the Pushkarni Pond but due to a strong gust wind got blown into the air. She caught hold of a branch of a Sal tree and gave birth to the Buddha in 623 B.C. Some believe the new born walked 7 steps, and a lotus flowered appeared wherever his foot came down. With finger pointing up, he said, “This is my final birth, and I will be worshipped by Devas (Gods) and humans alike.” After 300 years, King Ashoka is said to have visited the place and on learning this was the place of Buddha’s birth installed the Ashoka Pillar.

* The Mayadevi temple is located inside what is known as the sacred garden. It is a huge complex and many countries have made elaborate monasteries here. Some include Germany, China, Thailand, Myanmar, South Korea, Nepal and India. The best way to explore see these is to hire a three-wheeled cycle rickshaw or rent a bicycle.

* Some monasteries including South Korea and Myanmar have rooms and dormitories if you want to stay there. I saw the Korean one: each room had 4-8 beds with attached toilets but shared baths. You can hire the full rooms for between Nepali Rs. 500 – 1000 per night. The guide said males and females can stay together only if they are family; they do not allow the ‘foreign model’ here. The latter referring to unmarried couples staying together.

* I went to a fancy looking restaurant called 3 Fox with a slick menu card too. Looked like I would have a good meal – but was disappointed. Breakfast at a dhaba opposite the main entrance to the Lumbini Sacred Garden was far better.

* The town had a few internet cafes but the connection was either down, or there was no power, or the one or two PCs available were all busy.

Lumbini marked Day 5 of The Great Himalayan Drive I am undertaking from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh. See more images on Facebook even if you are not a member.

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