Our relaxing time in rural Chitwan came to an end and we hopped on a rickety coach with bad suspension for an 8 hour-feeling like I am going to throw up-journey to Lumbini. We very nearly opted not to go, we thought all the effort to see this place for two days and a night was just too much stress, we almost decided to stay in Chitwan longer or go straight to Pokhara and from Pokhara maybe go on a day trip to Bandipur. In the end we figured, being in Nepal is a once in a lifetime opportunity, we may never come back here again and so a little bit of stress to get to an interesting place is worth it, especially since Jon was creating a video and we both wanted to see the Buddhist side to Nepal.
It is on this journey we made friends with a lovely Austrian couple who were both really protective over their bags when all luggage had to be stored on the roof of the bus. This was a blessing in disguise because there have been reports of local Nepalese men jumping on the roof of buses to steal tourists belongings. I was obviously anxious about this so felt very glad these two Austrian angels appeared on our journey because at every pit-stop, they’d get off the bus and check everything was secure. Jon didn’t care, in his mind if his bag was stolen it was no big deal because all he’d lose is his clothes and he could buy cheap T-shirts and trousers in a Nepalese market somewhere. To my mind, I tried to trust the universe and did my little hippie prayer to watch over my things and this is only because there were important possessions in my backpack that I couldn’t fit in my rucksack.
It was on this bus that I nearly lost my nose stud because my hair had blown into my face and a curl wrapped around the stud and whipped it out onto the oily floor. Panic stricken I crawled on my hands and knees to find it and in scenarios like this I usually don’t mind, if I lose a stud I can nip to the nearest jewellery shop back home to replace the stud that is missing, but in the middle of nowhere, in a country I am not familiar with meant if I didn’t find this stud, I’d have to wait at least another week until back on UK soil and by that time my nose piercing will have closed up and I didn’t fancy having to pay for a re-piercing, because lets face it, piercings and tattoos are painful and nobody (unless you are an adrenaline junkie) wants to repeat such things. I found the stud underneath my seat, sat in a pool of grime, needless to say my hands were covered in black soot and with no sanitized wipes, I had to leave my hands like that until we reached Lumbini.
Finally sat in a cafe in a village just outside Lumbini, depleted and worn out. Jon left me with the bags to dash around this small place to find the best priced hotel. This local village is one of those places where, it’s very poor, there are more flies here than people, the hotels are unkempt and like they’ve been left to dilapidate but their prices for rooms are very high (for Nepalese standards) because the hotel owners know the only reason why tourists come here is to venture into the walled complex of Lumbini, which is just a 5 minute walk from this village; or to have an overnight stay before crossing over the boards to India. There are no other villages around and tourists literally have no choice but to chose from a very small selection of poorly kept hotel rooms that are over priced or sleep in the dirt with the mosquitoes. I am actually pretty sure this village never existed until Lumbini was built, it does look like a pop-up shanty town created by locals attempting to cash in on the tourist attraction.
That being said, Jon and I are people who don’t care for luxury, as long as there is a clean bed and running water for a wash then that is all that matters. Our hotel room was like a little cell and the most mosquito ridden room we have ever stayed in! Jon must have swatted at least 50 on the first night and there was no air conditioning and the bathroom looked like it hadn’t been cleaned properly in months. But it didn’t matter, we made do with what we had and as long as we had each other, nothing else was important, plus we knew we weren’t going to stay here long and tried to remember the reason why we were there and that was to visit Lumbini: the birth place of the historical Buddha!
We didn’t rest long in our hotel room. Wolfing down our meal we quickly walked to Lumbini to catch a glimpse of the place before sundown. We spent about 4 hours getting idea of what to expect and navigate our way around. We did not have long in Lumbini so we decided to visit the nearest temple and garden during sunset and on the second day to be up by 6am to explore the grounds and see meditation centres and other monastaries that were further afield. We had no idea that Lumbini was so vast! You can opt to hire bikes or a rickshaw driver but we walked around each complex. Lumbini is hotter than Chitwan so carry sun cream and lots of water!
Lumbini meaning “The Lovely” is a Buddhist pilgramage site and it is the place where, according to Buddhist tradition, Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama in 563 BCE. Gautama, who achieved Enlightenment some time around 528 BCE,became the Gautama Buddha and founded Buddhism. Lumbini is one of many magnets for pilgrimage that sprang up in places pivotal to the life of Gautama Buddha. Many Buddhist monks and nuns flock here all year round from places all over the world to dedicate themselves to silence and prayer. This place is a tiny world (literally) there are temples and monasteries built by all of the countries of the world, you can visit the Vietnam monastery, the British monastery, the German or the Austrian monastery and even the Canadian monastery to name but a few! And all are freaking beautiful and different!
Whilst sitting on a wall for a rest and a quick drink, a lady approached us and pointed to a Buddhist monk in a wheel chair, she said “This man is 81, this is his first pilgramage and he is from Tibet, he would very much like a photo with you.” Jon and I looked at each other in disbelief, usually it is the tourist asking for photographs not the other way round, this was an absolute magical moment for us, we actually met a real life Tibetan monk on a pilgrimage in Lumbini!
Some sites are still in the process of being built but Lumbini is probably the most peaceful and safest places I have ever walked through. There are grounds and gardens where you have to walk barefoot and for all monasteries you do have to leave your shoes at the front gate before entering. This is heaven to me because I dislike wearing shoes, however because of the midday heat the concrete floors scorched my feet and you do have to do a funny tiptoe dash to the nearest shaded area.
Lumbini was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1997 and you can visit the Mayadevi temple dedicated to Buddha’s mother and you can see the exact spot where she gave birth to him.
The holy site of Lumbini has ruins of ancient monasteries, a sacred Bodhi tree, an ancient bathing pond, the Ashokan pillar and the Mayadevi Temple, where the supposed place of birth of Buddha is located. From early morning to early evening, pilgrims from various countries perform chanting and meditation at the site.
I think you can opt to stay within Lumbini and there are retreat and meditation centres that offer courses in Vipasana and other forms of devotional meditation for anything from 10 days up to a month, maybe more but you would have to do some research on that.
Here you can see numerous Buddhists and monks from all walks of life leisurely walk around this holy site. Some monks can be found chanting in the gardens or in huge groups praying by the sacred and ancient bodhigara tree shrine. Or you can walk around the numerous temples and marvel at the quietness of it all whilst the colourful Tibetan flags of devotion dance in the humid breeze.
Visiting each monastery is near impossible and there were some we could not reach because a lot of them are quite far apart from each other. Unfortunately my absolute favourite temple can not be shown because photography wasn’t permitted but I adored the art work all over it’s walls and ceilings depicting epic Buddhist tales of God, deities and humans surrounded by sky and clouds. The entire complex of Lumbini is beautifully modest and serene and you feel like the weight of the world or your personal worries have fallen from you as you walk around this place. There is definitely a holy presence in the atmosphere and the monks show nothing but love and a quiet friendliness towards visitors.
Towards the end of the second day, Jon & I ventured into the main garden to watch the Tibetan monks pray under the sacred tree and then the monks encouraged him to take their photographs. Because these monks dedicate their lives to Buddhism and live in a secluded monastery they very rarely meet people in the outside world, so interacting with Jon and getting to see themselves in a photograph was great fun for them. A lot of these men have probably never seen white skin, a westerner or even a woman! So it was a delight for Jon knowing everyone was happy to have their portrait taken and he managed to snap some beautiful shots of these monks for his travel portfolio and they enjoyed talking to me about many things.
We also met two lovely ladies who were traveling together, one was a student of law from Sweden and the other was retired and from Germany, both ladies traveled with us to Pokhara where they were originally based and helped us find a decent hotel room. It just goes to show, whilst traveling and in life, the right people at the right time show up in mysterious way to guide you through to the next step (or keep your luggage safe) and to my mind, it really does prove there is such a thing as divine timing and that the universe has it’s ways of bringing people and situations in your life to help you or continue your spiritual growth. Because that is all life is really, it’s a huge classroom and our souls are here on this earth to learn, to grow and to understand the complexities of the human experience in order to develop compassion, mercy, love, self love, peace and forgiveness for yourself and all living things which in turn breaks your karmic wheel and enables you to transition into your next soul journey.
Lumbini is a quiet refuge from a world of chaos and if you are seriously into yoga or meditation do consider spending time here, you won’t regret it. This is what world peace looks like.
Next up our last destination: Pokhara! We stayed here for 3 days before heading back to Kathmandu to do our last bits of sight seeing and shopping before jetting back to the UK. Tune in next week for the final story of our Nepal adventure!
If you missed previous blog posts about Nepal click on the links below.
Five days in Chitwan