Sunset over Lumbini
The journey from Kathmandu to Lumbini by bus lasted about ten hours. Finding a bus headed from Kathmandu’s bus park to Lumbini was very easy. When I got off the microbus, two men came in front me asking me where I was going. They were the driver and bus leader of the minibus bound for Bhairahawa, 22 kilometers east of Lumbini. I took the bus to the birthplace of Buddha.
As I got off near one of the gates of the complex, there was a man offering accommodation in his guest house. The price of 500 rupees per night did not seem high. But I had a tip on a bed in a Korean monastery right in the area of Religious Park. Three of my friends slept there and were satisfied. In the same 500 rupees as the Guest House plus you get three meals a day free of charge.
So, I entered the religious park, which includes both the place where the Buddha was born, a number of temples and other related structures. The park is really huge and its perimeter is several kilometers. It was designed by famous Japanese architect Kenzo Tange in 1978. I was, of course, most interested in the exact spot where the Buddha Shakyamuni was born. I asked some people where to find it and with the setting sun, I came to the Sacred Garden. There a person was allowed to enter only barefoot.
A simple-looking white temple of Maya Devi had the remains of building from the 3rd century BC, beneath which were the remains even from the 6th century BC, that is, from the time when Buddha Shakyamuni was born. This is the oldest known building in Nepal. Around the middle of this is a 70-cm long stone, which indicates the exact place of Buddha's birth. It is kept under bulletproof glass.
The oldest monument in Nepal
Right next to the temple is a water tank in which the queen Māyādevī bathed just before she gave birth to Buddha. And on the adjacent west side of the temple rises the Ashoka Pillar, which is engraved on the oldest preserved inscription in Nepal. The Pillar was built in 249 BC. The inscription states: "King Piyadasi (Ashoka) the beloved of the Gods, in the twentieth year of his reign, himself made a royal visit. Shakyamuni Buddha was born here, therefore the (birth spot) marker stone was worshipped and a stone pillar was erected. The lord having been born here, the tax of the Lumbini village reduced to the eight parts (only)."
The Sacred Garden is the most important place in Lumbini. Beside it, in the whole area of Lumbini, you can visit numerous monasteries that have been constructed by Buddhist communities from around the world. And more are being added. Worth a particular mention is Royal Thai Monastery -- this is entirely white. Burmese temple has abreast stupa of the same stylelike Shwedagon Pagoda. Other temples include Japanese, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Korean, Cambodian and Nepalese, of course. At the far end of the whole area rises 41 meters high World Peace Pagoda, which was built in 2001.
The whole area is really impressive. Some critics have reportedly said, however, that it resembles something between large building site and Buddhist Disneyland. It is unreasonable; however, for inexpensive fun here is definitely no any space. I'd, at the most, compare the temple complex to a kind of Buddhist Expo, where you can, during one afternoon visit, see several temples from different countries, featuring both Theravada and Mahayana strands of beliefs. Even so, it is a courageous parable, however, because here is a peaceful and religious atmosphere.
Thru the Eastern gate for enlightenment
Information signs near the Sacred Garden attract visitors to other interesting historical places around Lumbini. I decided to go by bus to the Kapilavastu, just over 20 kilometers from Lumbini to the west. At this site there are the remains of the royal palace of Shakya family. In it Shakyamuni Buddha spent his childhood and youth until the age of 29 years. Then he left the palace secretly thru the eastern gate, to set out on a journey of enlightenment.
It is really fascinating to stand on the spot where the gate had become. Its original wooden form had obviously not survived, but in its place are the remains of the brick fortifications from later periods, which it copied. Buddha set out from the gate southwards accompanied by charioteer Channa and horse Kanthak. All this was explained to me by a likeable young guide. He is a teacher and earns some money by doing all this. I found that in some places it is definitely a good splash out and pay for a guide. This will give you much more information instead of just walking around alone.
From Lumbini I then went to Pokhara. However this tourist center did not overcome my experience of the birthplace of Buddha and of the place where he had spent his childhood.
(JAN KLIKA is a journalist from Czech Republic)