It took a 35-minute domestic flight on Buddha Air to get to Lumbini, and we only needed to arrive one hour before flight time. Security was the most casual we’d ever experienced. In the domestic terminal, instead of separate gates for each destination as in our large American airports, there was one waiting room for everyone. When they called our flight, we boarded a bus and were driven out to the plane on the tarmac. Efficient and simple!
It was a beautiful flight, with the western Himalayan range out our window the whole way. What a jolt it was, upon arriving, to find ourselves surrounded by flat land as far as the eye could see. But what did we expect? This was the Terai, the breadbasket…rather, ricebasket…of Nepal! We were struck with how it felt more like India than the Nepal we were familiar with.
Here we could see up close the burned fields of rice straw, an agricultural practice that contributes to the polluted hazy air throughout Asia every winter.
The road from the airport to Lumbini had recently been upgraded for both tourism and ease of transporting agricultural exports to the new air cargo center. It was smooth and had two lanes with a median strip the whole way. Ample room for the light traffic that now included bicycles and animals. Right away we felt a relaxed and unhurried atmosphere.
Our room at the Buddha Maya Garden Hotel was complete with balcony and view of palm and fruit trees, and could not have been better.
Click on photos to enlarge.
Minutes after we arrived, we decided to go see the Maya Devi temple. It seemed so simple…walk one kilometer along the road to Gate 5 of the Temple Complex, then turn left and walk another kilometer to the temple. Besides, once we turned off the highway, there would be no vehicles allowed on the beautiful wide stone walkway through the wetlands and native forest.
When we arrived at the Maya Devi temple, we discovered that not only did foreigners have pay a husky fee to enter, but everyone had to remove their shoes and leave small backpacks behind. Plus the sun would soon be setting….better to head back to the hotel!
On the return walk, the realization dawned that one km in Lumbini is a lot longer than we imagined. Could it have been the unexpected steps, drainage holes in the sidewalk you could pitch into if you weren’t attentive, and other uneven surfaces? You bet! Walking took time and, to coin a phrase, extreme mindfulness. We were used to this in Kathmandu, but didn’t expect it in Lumbini. Our dreams of doing a walking tour of the temple grounds soon dissolved.
The Indian cooking which was heavy on oils and spice laid Cary out for about a day. Once again we had to be wary of the mouth-burning tendencies of this area. Thus began the training up of numerous helpful waiters with whom we formed friendships, to help us communicate our need for “no spice! no pepper!”
Saturday is like our Sunday when schools are closed and many people have a day off. Not a good day to visit the temples! Fortunately this coincided with the day Cary was down for the count.
Sunday morning, the hotel connected us with Sanu Chaudhary, an electric tuk-tuk driver who became our superb guide. He knew his way around and was able to expedite our journey through the complicated labyrinth of temples.
Many countries in the world have built temples at Lumbini in the style of their Buddhist tradition. Read more info HERE. Sanu started our tour in the Eastern Monastic Zone.
We had to take our shoes off before we entered every temple, and I was really nervous, having had new shoes stolen in Dharamsala at the Dalai Lama’s teachings in 2007. So far, so good…I still have my shoes!
Click on the photos to see captions.
The Cambodian temple was one of the most enthralling and stunning in the complex. The design, artwork, carvings, and colors were exquisite.
Last temple of the day was the Thai temple.
On Monday, we finally returned to the Maya Devi Temple. Sanu knew a back way where we could get close without a long walk. First to see was the oldest temple adjacent to the Buddha’s birthplace, a Shakya temple with connections to Mustang, where there was a day-long ceremony for lay people to take the Pratimoksha vows. A Nepali temple was next to it.
It was only a short walk from here to the Maya Devi Temple, the actual site of the Buddha’s birth.
First we needed to purchase a ticket (600 Rs for foreigners, only 20 Rs for Nepalis), and then stash our shoes with someone who gave us a number for safekeeping. This removed my concern about losing them. I must admit, however, I found it uncomfortable to walk over some of the walkways in my stocking feet.
In ancient times, a temple was built around the spot where Maya Devi gave birth to the Buddha. The white structure was constructed to enclose and protect the site in 2003. For more details on the archeological history click HERE.
A wooden walkway went around the inside, and it was fascinating to look down and see the original temple walls that had been built around the holy site. Several people were busy cleaning the rocks and collecting money that was thrown as offerings onto the foundation. There were long lines of people waiting to see the stone marking the Buddha’s birthplace, and view the bas relief of Maya Devi. No photos were permitted inside.
Neither Cary nor I understood the exterior design of this special place…it looked like a hotel or an ocean liner. But the deep peacefulness of the grounds and the actual marker stone rendered any architectural questions insignificant.
Next to the temple is a sacred pool, marking the place where the Buddha was first washed after birth. To the north of the building is the pillar set by Emperor Ashoka in 249 BC memorializing the Buddha’s birth place.
Sanu told us that dusk was the best time to visit. Many pilgrims would be chanting and worshiping. We took his advice, and, indeed, it turned out to be our favorite time.
I think you’ve had enough temples for today! So, we’re saving the last batch, plus our final days in Lumbini, for our next post.