Lumbini: the birthplace of Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama)

After I am no more, Ananda, men of belief will visit with faithful curiosity and devotion to the four places – where I was born … attained enlightenment … gave the first sermons … and passed into Nirvana. The Buddha (c.543 – 463 BC)

On Monday 17th March – Holi in the Terai region – Freya, Sam and I headed to Lumbini along with 2 guys from the nearby monastery, Julian and Oscar. The journey consisted of a 3 ½ hour microbus to Chitwan and a further 3 public buses to get us into the main part of Lumbini. About an hour out of Besisahar we ran into a petrol strike. Our driver stopped as benches were laid out in the middle of the road right in front of us. We asked one of the soldiers how long we would be staying here and he said the strike would go on for an hour. A few men stood on the benches and were shouting in Nepali about the Government raising the price of petrol but the crowd was very small and the actual protest was run by students of the local university. After an hour, we were again on our way. When we got to Chitwan we stopped for dahl baat in a local bhojanalaya (restaurant). On the next 3 buses through the flatter, straighter roads of the Terai region we saw so many celebrating Holi. I was jealous of those who were dripping in cold water as the temperature was rising rapidly and the buses were getting increasingly hot and stuffy and we were getting more and more sweaty and uncomfortable. 9 ½ hours after we left home, we arrived on the main road of Lumbini and found a hotel, the Lumbini Garden Lodge. There was no power when we arrived but at least there was hot water and Freya and I jumped in the shower one after the other. We didn’t feel refreshed for long as even at night it was very humid and muggy and we had to try and cover up so we wouldn’t be eaten alive by the numerous mosquitoes around. When everyone was ready we headed out for dinner but soon realised that most of the restaurants were closed for Holi. We ended up bumping into an Irish lady and her husband who we had met on our last bus and they managed to persuade the waiters at their hotel to let us have dinner with them. The food was delicious and the couple were very interesting – I hope to be like them when I’m older. They are both retired engineers and every year they travel the world between January and April. They have literally been everywhere so there was never a boring moment. After food, we headed back to our hotel and we played Nomination Wist on the balcony now that it was a bit cooler. We agreed what time to meet for breakfast and then headed to bed.

After a breakfast of Tibetan bread and hot chocolate we hired bicycles and set off to discover some monasteries. After 5 minutes of cycling I was already uncomfortably hot and we soon realised we hadn’t brought enough water with us. Our first stop was the Royal Thai Monastery. It was definitely one of the most impressive monasteries. It was completely white and looked stunning. The next stop was the Japanese Monastery which was a lot smaller. We then headed to the Cambodian Monastery which was still under construction but the inside had been completed and it was very beautiful and clean despite all the dust outside. Next door was the Myanmese Monastery where we managed some bottles of water off a big tourist bus. It was from here that we visited the International Gautami Nuns Temple. The next stop was the Sri Lankan Monastery which was by far my favourite. It was so peaceful and I ended up falling asleep in the shade of a pillar and it was just so quiet. We also met a monk whose English was incredible and who knew a lot about Scottish Independence as there had been a Scottish man volunteering at the monastery for 2 years who had taught him a lot about it. We then stopped outside the Austrian Monastery and peeped in but it was closed on Tuesdays so we didn’t get the chance to look around properly. We then waited until 1pm for all the monasteries to re open after lunch and I headed to the Stupa Complex whilst the others visited the UN’s Monastery. I wouldn’t mind being a monk there. The setting was idyllic and the monks all seemed very content. There were statues of animals scattered everywhere and the whole place was very beautiful. I particularly liked the giant prayer wheels and sat by one for some time. I then saw another monastery but I’m not sure quite which one only that it was up one floor and had the biggest statue of Buddha that I have ever seen. I met up with the others and we headed to the Korean Monastery which was enormous. We then searched high and low for the German Monastery for Julian but for all our efforts we couldn’t find it so headed home. We met up with Oscar who had decided to walk around by foot and had lunch across the road from the hotel. Once we were replenished we headed to the Maya Devi Mandir, Ashokan Pillar and the Sacred Garden. The Sacred Garden is supposedly were Buddha was born. It was lost for over 600 years and was rediscovered by accident in 1893. The Maya Devi Mandir (Maya Devi was the Buddha’s mother) contains brickwork that dates back to 300 BC which makes it the oldest known structure in Nepal. In 2003, it was restored and a building now surrounds it so you can now walk around it. The “exact” location of Buddha’s birth is marked by a reddish-brown, 70cm-long stone that is protected a bullet-proof glass case. It also contains the famous nativity scene sculpture that depicts Maya Devi and the new born Buddha. The Ashokan Pillar is the oldest monument in Nepal and records Ashoka’s (the great North Indian emporer and Buddhist evangelist) visit in 249 BC. The inscription on it provides the best evidence that Buddha was born there. The square pool just behind the Ashokan pillar is reputedly where Maya Devi bathed before giving birth to the Buddha. It is now filled with turtles! As we sat under a tree near the pool, a Nepali monk gave Freya, Sam and I a blessing before he left. Freya and I sat for a while and then left Oscar and Sam to meditate and we stumbled upon a group of Thai Buddhists who were in the middle of some kind of conference. One of the monks had a professional camera and wanted to take our picture and then a man from Quebec, a friend of one of the nuns, came over to talk to us. It was odd to see so many monks with such high end technology. On our cycle back to the hotel earlier in the day we had bumped into so many monks cycling around listening to iPods and going shopping – it was very surreal. When Sam and Oscar had finished meditating we sat on some grass and chatted until there were too many mosquitoes around. On our walk home we visited the oldest monastery in Lumbini and were blessed and given holy sweets. When we got back to the hotel Freya and I sat on the balcony and watched some of the monks having skidding competitions on their bicycles in the streets. We then started dancing much to the amusement of the children in the street below and we eventually went down to dance with them. Only one girl would actually dance with us so we went with them to watch the cricket match that was being projected onto a wall on the street. It was really fun watching the cricket game – Nepal vs. Bangladesh (unfortunately they didn’t win) – with the locals and they were so passionate and proud of their country’s effort. We then met the boys for dinner at the 3 Fox Restaurant before retiring to the hotel to play Nomination Wist. I got eaten alive that night – there must have been holes in my mosquito net. Very frustrating. I was doing so well.

By 9am on Wednesday we were on our first bus of the day. There was only standing room for Sam and I so luckily it was a short ride, around 40 minutes, before at Bhairahawa we changed for a small but relatively spacious bus to Butwal. At Butwal we were lucky enough to find a bus to Dumre, therefore bypassing Chitwan. Freya and I ended up sitting under the speaker and had to ask the conductor to turn down the music several times. We also had to switch seats every hour as the window seat was so hot – the glass magnified the sun and it felt like I was burning even though I’m constantly wearing Factor 30. We stopped at a bhojanalaya for dahl baat and arrived at Dumre about an hour later. At Dumre we found the biggest and most comfortable public bus we have ever seen. The driver was still eating so whilst Freya pretended to drive the bus, I pretended to be the conductor much to the amusement of the Nepali people that were getting on. The boys sat at the back of the bus looking highly embarrassed by us but we had a lot of fun and it was one of the best bus rides yet – we had so much leg room and the bus wasn’t full! A storm was brewing as we headed back to Besisahar and we saw some of the most amazing lightning bolts that I have ever seen in my life. When we got off the bus we headed straight to Pop In – a cheap but nice restaurant – for dinner. Julian and Sam had 50 Momos between the two of them and I have never heard a group of people talk so passionately about one food stuff for such a long time. All the boys could talk about were Momo puns and Freya and I said there bored out of our skulls. Ironically, I was eating Momos at the time! We headed back home exhausted but I really enjoyed our trip to Lumbini both because of the company and because the place is so amazing and interesting.

I hope all is well.

Emma xxxx