Nepali Times


RUPANDEHI Ė It was hard not to think of Siddhartha Gautam's first walk outside his father's palace in Kapilbastu as a passenger on our bus journey to Lumbini howled in grief. Her young daughter had passed away that morning.

But suffering is as real for the people of Lumbini now as it was two millenia ago. Despite the area receiving nearly 780,000 domestic and international tourists each year, according to the Lumbini Development Trust, the locals at the periphery of the top cultural destination of the Tarai remain mired in poverty.

Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, is a study in contrasts. Inside the three-mile by one-mile compound are a cluster of newly built monasteries ranging in style from Thai wats to Manange stupas. This is a part of an ambitious plan outlined by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange in 1978 to transform Lumbini into an international pilgrimage and tourism centre. Forty-two monasteries and meditation centres were planned: 14 have been completed and 12 are currently under construction. The result is a mix between a giant construction site and Disneyland.

This massive endeavour seems to have brought meagre benefits to the locals who live in the periphery of the compound in mud huts, toiling on fields for landlords. The construction itself is 14 years behind schedule, and the villagers who were displaced at the time are increasingly frustrated. †

"They said there would be lots of employment opportunities," says Birendra Mishra, who was 10 years old when his father was relocated. "Now, the only jobs available are for gardeners and security guards."

In spite of impressive visitor numbers, Lumbini is a transit destination, say local business owners. Most visitors start their journey in India, which hosts three of the four pilgrimage spots declared sacred by the Buddha: Lumbini, his birthplace; Bodhgaya, where he obtained enlightenment; Sarnath, where he preached his first sermon; and Kushinagar, where he passed away.

"They rent cars in India, use their own guides, stop over for a few hours and return to hotels in India," says Lila Mani Sharma, who runs a lodge. "Getting them to extend their visit is our biggest challenge."

Despite occasional riots and online campaigns to stop India from allegedly claiming the Buddha was born in India, the battle to market the Buddhist circuit may already have been lost. †

"I have been to Bodhgaya and it seems like they spend a lot of money to preserve their sites," says Prahlad Yadav, president of the 18-member Local Tour Guide Association. "What we could do is to promote the Lumbini circuit as a package deal."

The well-known but less visited Lumbini circuit includes other sites associated with the Buddha including Tilaurakot, the ancient capital of Kapilbastu, and the Ashoka Pillar, which bears a stone document marking the birth of the Buddha.

Yadav and Sharma blame government apathy for the failure to harness the pilgrims' goodwill into a source of income for the locals. A proposal to convert Bhairahawa's airport into an international airport, which would allow Buddhist pilgrims to start their journey in Lumbini, was scrapped in favour of an airport in Bara.

The Lumbini Development Trust is in charge of implementing architect Tange's master plan and runs a few promotional activities. In order to celebrate Buddha Jayanti, which falls on 27 May this year, it is holding a debate competition among local students. It also hopes to honour senior monks and lamas in Lumbini but that will depend on the president's schedule.

Buddhists might tell you Tange's plan for Lumbini and other promotional campaigns will do little reduce the suffering of human life. If successful, however, such campaigns to attract tourists would certainly ease this suffering for the people of Lumbini.†

Lumbini circuit

How to get there: A number of commercial airlines fly daily to Bhairahawa airport. You can take a cab to Lumbini at a cost of about Rs 700, and buses leave every 15 minutes. An information brochure provided by the Lumbini Development Trust says bullock carts are also available, if you so fancy.

What to see: Mayadevi Temple, restored and reopened in 2003, contains the foundation of the original temple dating back to the third century BC. The Ashoka Pillar bears the first epigraphic evidence mentioning the birthplace of the Buddha. Tilaurakot is the ancient capital of Kapilbastu and a museum holds artifacts depicting life in the Shakya kingdom.

When to go: Best to avoid the summer heat.†

Where to stay: There are a couple of high-end and many budget lodging options in Lumbini, as well as in Bhairahawa. Monasteries in Lumbini offer accommodation for a donation, including meals.

Renewal: a time for change, Tsering Gellek
The Buddha's message, Publisher's Note
Running on Empty
Himalayan Art revisited
Hunger looms, Rubeena Mahato

1. Chandra Gurung
Indu, you need to stop copying the writing style of western anti-development gang (mix of construction site and disneyland, yea? Does it ever occur to you that these epithets are blasphemous?).

And why do you always talk about  benefit to the locals? Is it a hydropower project? Do you identify someone who has profited from these venture? don't you understand that these sites were constructed in a place that was totally desolate? That lots of international goodwill had to be generated before something was even constructed?

Can you stop pissing at your own people in the name of sympathy? can you stop asking for money with monasteries? When will you start telling people that they need to work hard, be educated to be rich, and there is no easy way out?

2. Sanjeeta
Have u ever been to Lumbini, Chandra? It IS a mix between Disneyland and a construction site - it has been for years.

Is it because u are so incapable of empathy or even sympathy that this article gets to you? I think the tone is fine and the article raises some important points.

3. Chandra Gurung

 Let me ask you another question: have you ever been to Disneyland then? What is the goal of Disneyland? 

It raises some questions about livelihood of people (or is it about Lumbini being a part of Tourist circuit, and not an independent one)--but it can be addressed independently. The confusion is in lumping a long overdue construction of Lumbini and the question of life standard in the region. 

No city would have any construction if this logic (that it must enrich its sorrounding first) is applied. People need to be realistic and not too critical. Those who are constructing Lumbini deserve categorical praise, and it will take years before locals may get some profit. In fact, it will depend on their own ingenuity, and if they live with the rent seeking attitude (that just because they live there, they need to get more money type), then even lord Buddha can't help them.

and what authority do you have to tell that the tone is fine?

4. npasl
if the Europeans have their way, it'll be turned into only a disneyland ... see here -
EU Nations funding for Religious Conversion in Nepal

5. Bhaddamanika

 "Leaving a comment" to articles in journals and magazines is an opportunity for every reader if we stand from a positive and balanced point of view.  After reading this article together with the previous comments of the respected readers before me I feel joy for the enthusiastic generation talking in the article for Lumbini the place they greatly admired.  Some of them want to develop the place and no one can deny the status of present Lumbini is very much developing  and still it is heading towards the positive way.  The stakeholders of Lumbini are trying their best to protect this place where Buddha was born.  They are trying to preserve it as much as they can together with the international stakeholders.   According to the different views of different people it is one's own rights to comment Lumbini is this and Lumbini is that. However the Birththplace of the Buddha, Lumbini,the one and only place in the world which is a pride of Nepal is benefitting the local people spiritually and economically.  No one can deny it if one wants to make a comparison between the last ten years and the present situation. Depends on the monastic or buddhist organizations in Lumbini there are a lot of Nepali citizens who have jobs  ranging from labourers, construction workers, gardening workers, security guards,  house keeping, chefs, assist.chefs, electricians, plumbers up to the very polite office staff and managers.  Where are these people from?  They are from the nearby villages.  Yes most of them are from 5 by 5 mile Lumbini development area as designed by the late architect Prof.Kenzo Tange. Apart from their jobs, they get rewards, scholarship funds for their children, health funds as well as compassionate funds.

6. Chandra Gurung
The problem in this article is in lumping together Buddhaland and poverty in the region. The writer could have written on poverty of the region independently. Could have critiqued on the quality of monastery, their aesthetics etc independently. But to write a sentence like this:
[["They said there would be lots of employment opportunities," says Birendra Mishra, who was 10 years old when his father was relocated. "Now, the only jobs available are for gardeners and security guards."]]
reflects the shortcoming on her own logics, she didn't even bother to tell us what Mishra's qualification was, and whether Mishra was expecting to get the job of pilots, aeronautical engineer or electrical engineer upon the completion of temple. Temple is a temple and expecting lot from it is injustice to those working to develop the barren place.

7. Bhaddamanika

 Lumbini which is located in Terai plains of Nepal is one of the four main sacred sites (according to the buddhist scriptures), the sight of which should arouse the sense of urgency in the faithful.  It is a remarkable place in the world where the holy child was born who became one of the leaders of the world's great religions.  The place where he grew up, the place where he renounced the world, the place where he visited (after His Enlightenment)  by the request of His father are the places connected with the life and history of this Sacred Sage.

For all these reasons the buddhists from various countries came and invested wholeheartedly and work tirelessly, and happily for the development of this 'Historical Sacred Place'.

Visitors and pilgrims have an opportunity to stay in and around Lumbini by studying the different buddhist cultures and traditions, and the cultured individuals have a great chance as a next step to calm down their restless minds at the meditaion centers to understand the essence of the Teachings of The Buddha.  The essence of the Prof.Kenzo Tange's Lumbini Master Plan has covered all these meanings.  Based on the moral conduct one can practice concentration and insight meditation to achieve wisdom.  By following this practical teachings  these people come to understand and see the importance of one's life.  As one understands oneself it is easier to understand and value the others.  This is justice and peace is there!  It is an origination for inner peace to develop.

It is a pity for some people who still has not have a clear vision whether Lumbini is a place where one can achieved spritual knowledge, as well as a place which enables a visitor to feel peace and serenity or Lumbini is a place for fun doing funny things. 

All the major stakeholders of Lumbini are dare to say Lumbini has a potential to grow into an excellent place of pilgrimage that arouses spiritual energy and inspires the educational and recreational visitors.



8. om

Buddha ko desh ma basanta chauda gurans hansdathiyo

Himal ko desh ma sisir ma pani danphe nachdathiyo

Shanti ko khoji ma dukha ma pani nepali hansdathiyo

Atall biswas ra bhaichara ma nepali nachdathiyo


Tara satya ko desh ma aasatya ko rajai kasari machhiyecha

Aasatya ko birudh nepal ma aadhi nai chalecha

Chandra ra Surya aankit jhanda badal le chekecha

Banai bhari phuleko gurans bhooi ma jharecha

Nachdai gareka ti hamra danfe, jogina uudecha

Aakas ko raja cheel ko aakha danphe ma parecha

Aadhi ma rumdai tamasa herdai mayur po nachecha


Aachanak aayeko tyo adhi ma, aakha bheejecha

Himal ko kakh ma bagne ti khola ma ragat po bagecha

Dukha ma pani hasne nepali aasu ma doobecha

Nepal ko aashu dekhna nasaki mitra haru aayechan

Shanti ko lagi uniharule koselee lyayechan

Koselee kholda nepali le goli po payechan


Shanti ko lagi payeko koselee le haso chayena

Mayur ko naach ma hamro daphele nachna payena

Pahad bani nepali le aadhi lai rockne cha

Basanta ko pratikchya ma jhareka gurans feri phulnecha

Aakanta tyo himal ko kakh ma danphe nachnecha

Banai bhari phuleko gurnas heri feri hasnecha

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)