Lumbini is famous because it is THE Buddha’s birthplace. Bumper stickers on the small bus-vans throughout Nepal state “(The) Buddha was born in Nepal.” For a place people seem to be so proud of, and a UNESCO site the “town” wasn’t much to see! It’s a HOT place, located in the flat plains (terai) of Southern Nepal near the Indian border. It is a pilgrimage destination because of the Lumbini Development Zone, essentially a massive park sprinkled with Buddhist temples. I read there were a couple of entrances to the park, but the East side was the “main tourist area.” By this, they mean there are a couple of short dusty parallel streets that run perpendicular to the road surrounding the periphery of the park. These dusty roads have a handful of hotels and restaurants and a couple of shops. I looked at 2 hotels. One for $4, and the other for $6. I went with the $6 one because it had a sheet on the bed. For all the hype, I couldn’t believe there wasn’t more commercialism. Where’s my “Buddha was born in Nepal” T-shirt? Where are the statuettes? Where are the mala beads? Where are the mandalas? Major opportunity MISSED by the shopkeepers! Or possibly coming soon? Stay tuned? Maybe not tooo soon though since the park was created in 1978 and it hasn’t happened yet.
I dropped my bag into my small, poorly-lit hotel room and rushed out to get a bicycle. I’d read the Buddha park is massive, and that was absolutely true. My rickety bike squeaked from the first time I pushed against the pedals. I almost had to go back to the shop to ask how to use the lock because it was so stuck.
The temples were mostly new and very impressive, especially compared to the town. Many of them are still being built. As I bicycled around I felt like I was on a fly-by Asian tour! Or back at the 2010 world EXPO visiting the different countries’ pavilions. Many Buddhist communities from around the world have built their own temple halls and monasteries in the park north of the Maya Devi temple, the official “birthplace of Buddha” temple. I pedaled as fast as I could on the squeaky hot pink contraption I’d rented to see the various temples (regrettably, I only had one afternoon!). I visited the Myanmar Golden Temple and felt a little piece of home. Also, the fresh white Royal Thai Buddhist Monastery felt very familiar. I admired India’s hall with many different stages of the Buddha’s life depicted on the walls. I visited the Goutami Nun’s Temple, the Sri Lankan temple and the large, pure white World Peace Pagoda. I enjoyed the rich colors inside a Tibetan temple. I reached many of the other Temples too late. They were already closed. I marveled at the outside gates, architecture and paintings anyway. I was happy to find the Zhong Hua Chinese Buddhist monastery gates still open and the temple nearly empty so I could say ni hao and pay my respects to the massive Buddha inside. It really did feel like a piece of China, another one of my homes. I gawked at the sheer height of the Korean Buddhist Temple being built.
I made my way to the center of the park where there is a long canal and at the front, the Eternal flame. Along the path beside the canal there were some hand-painted signs nailed to trees and posts. Each one had some wise, inspiring Buddhist thoughts and principles.
The guards made me leave my bicycle near the Eternal flame. I walked past a shiny gold statue of baby Buddha and over a long bridge over a peaceful wetland full of water lilies and birds. I bought my ticket, paid to leave my shoes outside, and followed a group of tourist monks into the Maya Devi Temple.
It is believed that the Lord Buddha (Prince Siddhartha Gautama) was born to Queen Maya Devi here in 623 BC. A plaque marks the exact stones where the event occurred and the temple has been built around it. The Ashoka pillar outside has declared the importance of the site since 249 BC. There are also some stupa ruins just outside and a pond where the queen is said to have bathed before the birth. I sat by it for a bit, watching the turtles and fish. Beyond the temple, a small forest of Bodhi trees is draped in a rainbow of prayer flags. I sat under them for a while and tried to take in the peaceful scene before the sun set.
I turned in my bike, got snacks for my morning bus ride, and had a hearty mixed veg curry dinner at a nearly-deserted restaurant. In the morning, I climbed aboard an enormous bus. It went over bumpy roads through the rice fields and clung to the cliffs of the mountains en route to Pokhara. My visit to Lumbini was a memorable one even though it was short. If you ever get the chance to visit, don’t pass it up and learn from my mistake: leave yourself lots of time to immerse yourself in the various temples from Buddhist cultures around the world.