Sunday, December 19, 2010
Since I was so close, I decided to make a stop at Lumbini, even though it wasn't on my original plan, and neither was Tansen now I think of it. Lumbini is one of the most important places in human history. Much like Bethleham, one of the most influential people of all time was born there. For those who haven't guessed, Lumbini is the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautma, the man who would become the Buddha. If I was in Israel, I'd check out the home of Jesus.
It was four hours to Lumbini from Tansen, but I needed to take three separate buses. After my first shot trying the Indian breakfast, which was some fried bread, similar to a corn tortilla, and some potato curry, I left for my first bus of the day. I changed over in Butwal then caught a small packed bus, on which I needed to stand, or rather crouch because of the short ceilings. I didn't see anything for the one hour to Bhairawa. The final bus was the best, for the first time on my trip, I was allowed to ride on the top! Technically, this is illegal, so most buses won't let people on top unless the bus is completely full, which is a shame, since it's the best seat. You get a full view of the surrounds as the wind blows through your hair, so much room, you can sprawl. Now, it can get dusty up there and really, it's not the safest place to ride, but if the bus swerves off the road over an embankment, which is a real risk in Nepal, I'll put my bets on the survival of the top riders. Plus, I'd like to think that if Buddha rode a bus, he'd totally sit on top.
The scenery was not so great. After a month in the great Himalay, to see the vast empty plains of the Terai was a bit of disappointment. It confounded me that more than 20 million people live in Nepal, yet only four million in the Kathmandu valley. The mountains and hills are all rural. I quickly found out that all the population of Nepal was hiding in the Terai, which seemed like an endless expanse of towns that blur one into the other.
Lumbini was actually quite nice. Much of the area was a giant wetland with cranes and other birds hanging about. The village revolved around the Lumbini Development Zone, a sprawling park of temples on monasteries stretching North from the Maya Devi temple, built upon the exact spot of Siddhartha Gautma's birth. This has been confirmed in 1896 by the discovery of a pillar erected in 249BC by King Ashoka, the great emperor who spread Buddhism throughout the subcontinent. There seems to be a cycle to things at Lumbini. Near the Maya Devi temple are various monasteries that had been built but fell to ruin. Hopefully, this current settlement will actually stick.
The plan is to have a giant flooded area, with many temples and monasteries scattered as islands which can only be reached by boat. The Nepali government recently pours millions into the project, which will include a giant 300ft high statue of the Buddha. The complex feels like a work in progress, temples being half built, construction everywhere. The complex is an international project by many countries, including Thailand, India, and Germany, to encourage world peace. Most are contributing temples, showcasing architecturally their own spin on Buddhism. It was a great cultural experience to see so many different types of temples for a single religion in such a small place. I can't wait until it is finished.