Lumbini – Discovering the Origins of Buddhism
A beautiful morning in Pokhara and also our last, well, after spending three peaceful days here it was time to leave for Lumbini – the birthplace of Gautam Buddha and one of the four major Buddhist pilgrimage sites – located 291 km away, and leave Nepal from the Sunauli border, which is just 26 km. The distance might not be much but the mountainous terrain, zigzag roads ensures you don’t speed up/ or drive more than 60 km/hr., it can really slow you down.
The view was stunning – rolling hills, terraced fields spread like a lush quilt over the landscape, quaint houses dispersed in patches – sigh, we were leaving it behind in two days. Kayde couldn’t stop shaking his hands in excitement, he was rejoicing the moment!
I started to feel nausea, happens sometimes on roads like these, making it a challenging drive in Nepal. However, for Kayde, he was lost in slumber like he was on his bed, only in the start he got a bit fidgety but after eating food and gobbling down the tasty bananas, sold by locals on the highway, he was satisfied!
We reached Lumbini only by evening, engulfed in darkness we tried to find hotels to spend the night. Each hotel board and every light bulb was covered with thousands of insects, because of the paddy fields around it, and the weather too was kind of humid.
We went from one hotel to another asking for rates, there are a good amount of them, most were charging around Rs 1800 to Rs 2400, thats expensive for less than 24 hours. Finally some luck, got a good deal at Sunflower Travelers’ lodge, Rs 1600 for an a/c room with complimentary breakfast and free wi-fi, although there was no signal in the room.
Since we were low on cash, we had to go to an ATM in the market area, and it was filled with insects from top to the bottom, Clyde had to dust off his t-shirt and was frantically brushing his hair after coming out. Fortunately, for us the mosquito net came to good use for Kayde, who seemed unaffected he went for each insect fallen on the bed and gazed at the bulb.
Sunflower lodge is run by few Chinese students, a friendly lot, they all wanted to play with Kayde and they gave us good service as well. The only problem, however, was communicating with them, we had to break words and use gestures to get the message across.
The complimentary breakfast was disappointing, there was bread, butter, jam and tea, heavy one that! It was our last day in Nepal, we had permit for only 10 days, and it really seemed less, there was so much more to explore. The plan for now was to head to the huge complex built in the sacred gardens of Lumbini, also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Many temples, stupas and monasteries have been constructed in last the couple of years by various international Buddhist communities, to promote Lumbini as a center for world peace.
Before we entered the complex, a colorful structure caught our eyes just close to the lodge. Tashi Rabten Ling Monastery ( Center for Buddhist Monastic Studies) is to create a place where Buddha’s teachings are protected, maintained and studied.
There was nobody around, so we could peacefully take pictures of the prayer hall, the interior was like any other monastery – paintings of deities adorned the walls, ancient scripts and Buddhist texts were stacked in wooden shelves.
Lumbini Sacred Garden
A short walk from the monastery and we were at the ruins of the old city/ rich past of Lumbini. We hired a cycle rickshaw for Rs 300, fixed rate, that will take us around and identify the monuments. The distance is a lot, we saw a group of foreign tourists who were walking initially and by the time we reached the second site, quite a few had found themselves rickshaws.
The first stop was at the Mayadevi temple situated in the sacred garden. The temple is built around ruins of the old city and shows the precise place of Buddha’s birth on a marker stone, and many devotees were offering their prayers at the spot Buddha was born. According to legends, Maya Devi was passing by the Lumbini Gardens, when she stopped to walk inside and bathed in the pool. Soon after that she felt labor pains and gave birth to the holy prince who later became the Buddha.
Photography is not allowed inside, but when we see such sites, it makes me wonder how authentic is the information, or is it just another way to draw more people and boost tourism? Questions, doubts play in my head and I don’t think we’ll ever know the truth.
Adjacent to the temple is the Ashoka stone pillar supposedly erected when the King visited Lumbini in 249 BC. The pillar bears an inscription in Brahmi script identifying the site as the birthplace and granting Lumbini a tax-free status in honour of his birth, and it is followed till date.
There is nothing much to the pillar but its much revered by the Buddhists. On the other end of the garden is the sacred pond called, ‘Puskarani’, believed to be the pool in which queen Maya Devi bathed just before giving birth to Buddha.
There were large stretches of Bodhi trees and several groups of devotees were seated under its shade having discussions, chanting prayers, reading etc.
The restored garden also have the remains of many of the ancient Stupas and monasteries dating from 2nd century BC to 8th century AD. Its believed that Buddha lived until the age of 29 in Lumbini.
International Monastic zone – West side
From here the rickshaw guy took us on a tour of monasteries built by Buddhist communities from various countries – some were under construction, some open to public and few were closed. Vietnam monastery incredible architecture and colours, but tourists weren’t allowed inside.
Nepal monastery was still under construction, said the rickshaw guy, and he took us to the next one – French stupa for Universal Peace.
Each monastery symbolises the country’s heritage, culture, the colours, style, architecture, it was different and yet connected, very interesting!
The Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa or German monastery
Adjacent to the French stupa is the German monastery, much more elaborate than the French one. Each person had to wash their hands and feet under the hand pump before entering the temple, even the gardener was spraying water to keep the entrance sparkling clean
A skilled man painting various deities on the walls of the monastery, and isn’t it amazing – the vibrant colors and each minute detail made with such precision, really needs some talent.
The statue of Buddha is elevated and below is the photograph of Dalai Lama, and the upper half of the monastery is adorned with mural paintings depicting events from Buddha’s life.
The spiritual Buddhist art of Mandalapainted on the ceiling.
Buddhist followers offering prayers which is similar to Jainism, of joining hands, getting on your knees and bowing in front of the idol.
The surroundings of the monastery were quite pleasing and peaceful.In the next post I will take you through the East side of the Monastic zone, there is much more to come, stay tuned for more on Lumbini!
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