Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Leveraging Brand Buddha


LUMBINI: A month ago, I visited mesmerising Angkor Wat in Cambodia. As I walked through the 12th century ruins, I thought of our historic Lumbini. As the birthplace of Lord Buddha, Lumbini has not just religious but economic value as well. But we cannot even begin to compare the number of visitors in Lumbini to the two million that Angkor Wat plays host to every year. Great guidebooks are available on Angkor but very little information exists on Lumbini that is traveller-centric. Lumbini has become an extension of the Buddhist circuit tours out of India, rather than the other way around.

The Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) was formed in 1985 to consolidate activities in the area, under the patronage of a royal family member. The objective of the Trust was similar to that of other such trusts during the Panchayat era Ė to control a money-spinner. The LDT leased out land in Lumbini on the cheap to different organisations to build monasteries. These organisations were not required to contribute to any other infrastructure development, so have now become very profitable. Some of these monasteries, constructed by non-Nepalis, are open only to pilgrims of their own nationality while others are in effect guesthouses in monkish garb. Although the LDT has no official way to link this income to their own, it is quite clear that the Trust isn't running on small change.

While it is good to see domestic tourism picking up in Lumbini, some of its negative aspects cannot be ignored. There is limited visitor management or a code of conduct to prevent irresponsible behaviour that damages the monuments, which can start from something as simple as scribbling on the walls. We need to take a leaf of learning from the temples in Bangkok, which have been able to enforce strict codes on silence, photography, and on touching the artifacts or damaging gardens.

Further, private enterprises, especially the hotels that have been set up around Lumbini, are focused on squeezing tourists for the maximum. These enterprises are keen on short-term returns rather than building customer relations for long-term business. They do not even consider that a customer may perhaps come again or refer another customer.

However, the potential is tremendous and one needs to move away from the myopia of the master plan of 1978. We need to change our thinking, and embrace the idea of a conservation area of more than 600 square kilometres that will encompass many heritage sites. The area can then be developed under public-private partnership. Local and even international business firms would be interested to invest if the brand Lumbini is marketed well. Ownership can remain with government and the communities who live there, but professional firms can manage the area and share revenues. An airport is a must and the business challenge is to keep tourists for at least two to three nights in the area. Lumbini can be a centre for international hotel chains, learning centres, rehabilitation and healing centres and other avenues of business.

If Vatican, Jerusalem, Mecca, Kumbh and other religious sites can draw such large numbers of people, why can't we get our act together?

Branded brew, PAAVAN MATHEMA

1. Traveller
The problem with Lumbini is that besides the Asokan Pillar there is no significant archeological site extant, so it can never attract the same numbers of visitors like Angkor, Pagan or Borobudur.

2. Phurpa Tamang


Nepal is a small country but very beautiful. The diversity is our identity which is the beautiness. No one can imagine that having so many varieties within a small country. The diversities in Socially, culturally, geographically, religiously and so on. While looking and visiting different parts of the country one can see it in real life. Lumbini can attrack many people from outside as well as withing the country if we develope this area according to modern development way. Because the place is not important from the religious point of view but also a historical point of view too. Lumbini which is the real birth place of Lord Buddha (Sangey). So that this place must be preserved. Building huge numbers of Gumbas in Kathmandu is not sufficient to promote Buddhism practice in real life. Making huge numbers of Hindu temple can not preserve Hindu religion. These two religions are like twins. It must be treated equally. Buddhist Lama guru Rimborchhe, Hindus guru and concern authorities should take seriously  to promote the religious tourism in Lumbini.  

Phurpa Tamang

Thulobharkhu, Rasuwa

3. Siddartha Gautam
"If Vatican, Jerusalem, Mecca, Kumbh and other religious sites can draw such large numbers of people, why can't we get our act together?"

You tell us! Answer why.

4. Prajnaparamita
Thank-you for this article, Artha Beed. I was in Lumbini for the first time last year, in my 7th visit to Nepal. I liked it despite getting there in a very quiet season (very early Janaury), with the place enveloped in fog; in fact,  the fog to an extent added to the spirituality of the place. But the infrastructure is abysmal. The guest houses are few, of really low standard, and, as you say, overpriced. There's one restaurant only worth the mention; now, I am type who will cherish eating samosa at the corner chai stall with the locals, but not every other Westerner is. In particular the mom-and-pop "eating place" close to the shirne is as basic as you can get. Pity, because, as you say, you want people to stay for longer than one night. I stayed two, but only because I was travelling by bus from Pokhara and then back to KTM. That Nepali roads are substandard is known to Nepalis better than anyone else, but as for those only the Government can do anything, and maybe the airport will make them unnecessary. But as far as local development is concerned, it can be done by private initiative, consortia if necessary...? If you want business, you've got to mean business. Otherwise people will end up staying at monasteries, and their money will not generate local economy.

While it is stretching it a bit to compare Lumbini with Angkor Wat, it is not to compare it with Bodhgaya. Even Bodhgaya, with its many imperfections and one single sight, offers more. The temples built on the area become then the additional sights to keep the tourists busy and interested. A decent, metalled cycle path linking one to the next would be a great addition.   

5. AB

Hope the author will analyse further incorporating the parameters that led the historical/religious sites such as Ankor Wat, Vatican, Jerusalem, Mecca, or Kumbh to more sucess in harvesting economic values. The  recommendations  are adhoc, and better would it be if they are related to the Lumbini parameters.

6. Dr B
#3 No, he asked you first!

7. Dr B
#3 Here's a few more questions about Nepal that may give you a clue:
Why are Nepali politicians so corrupt?
Why are Nepali politicians so inept?
Why is TIA so toxic?
Why is Kathmandu so crowded/overpopulated?
Why is Nepal the poorest country in Asia?
Why does Nepal have the greatest infant malnutrition rate in the world?
Why are most Nepalese monuments crumbling?
Why are there so many hours of load shedding?
Why are their no railroads in Nepal?
Why is the garbage not collected?
Why was the constitution not completed?
Why does Nepal not have an elected PM?
Why is discrimination still rife?
Why, oh why, oh why?

8. Sarath G
Well, yes we could develop the whole Buddhist circuit and mint money like there is no tomorrow. If only inferiority complex suffering Indians and lackeys like Fareed Zakaria stopped claiming Buddha was born in their side of the border... 

9. Anonymous
One can attract as many pilgrims, scholars, architects, historians and tourists from Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, China (e.g. Tibet) and India to visit Lumbini, the birthplace of The Buddha. The place could be developed like an "International Peace Garden" for citizens who oppose the proliferation of the nuclear weapons and who are looking for an alternative paradigm in the growth and development of  humankind. The rising quest for spiritual liberation in the West (e.g. Buddhism is third most popular faith in France) could be tapped as yet another source for such pilgrimage. What we need is to create a truly spiritual (rather than a materialistic!) center in Lumbini, where people can learn about world peace, inter-faith dialogue, the Buddhist philosophy and religion, ancient language (such as Pali), and a place for the practice of meditation. We can even creatively link the southern plain (Lumbini) with the famous monasteries situated on the northern mountains (Lomanthang). As Nepal has more than 15% of population who actually practice the Buddhist faith, Buddhism in a real sense could be the "brand" just like Mt. Everest or the famous Gurkhas that could help boost our international image and create unique identity for our Native Land. Let the world recognize Nepal as the Land of 'The Buddha' and 'The Braves'! Yes, we need cooperation at the state, private and the international levels to materialize that dream. It is not the royal patronage of a "Prabhoo" rather an inner self-awakening  as a citizen ('Swaymboo") that will salvage our Nation.

10. Arthur
Dr B, #7,

Because Nepal is still dominated by a semi-feudal elite incapable of actually developing the country.

11. Dr B
Arthur #10
 ........................... and because the ingrained national ethics and values are all centred on concepts like "self, take, today, retain as well as chakri, jagir ...." instead of " others, give, tomorrow, change, and whatever the opposites of chakri and jagir actually are" 

12. Arthur
Dr B #11, I think we are in basic agreement on this question.

What you call "ingrained national ethics and values" I would call the "dominant ideas", which as Marx said are naturally the ideas of the dominant class. Being dominant is not quite the same as being ingrained, because dominance is more easily removed by rebellion.

Both jagir as the modern practice of corruptly buying jobs and chakri dependent sycophancy and gossip clearly have feudal origins. I would also add a third term, "punditry". Not sure if I understand correctly but I would guess the opposites are "be open and above board and don't intrigue and conspire" (Mao).

The other terms you mention "take, today, retain" are common to bourgeois as well as semi-feudal ideas as well as not needing special Nepali terms because they more widespread. It will take longer to eliminate them.

I was struck by this connection between the "old" semi-feudal fatalist ideas ideas supposedly rejected by Nepali Times and many of its readers and the more "modern" and "Western" outlook they still hold, as described by Dor Bahdur Bista in "Fatalism and Development" p155-156:

"While not all high caste Hindus are orthodox, even the irreligious ones can remain the victims of their hierarchic upbringing and be greatly affected by fatalistic beliefs. Some as a result of their personal experiences and reflections, develop a strong opposition towards fatalism itself but it with something that at an abstract level has remarkable similarities to many of the features of caste hierarchy and they continue to behave as pundits. They may be atheistic, international travellers with an education abroad, having professional degrees, but their orientation to development and their way of action remains influenced by caste principles. They are passive defeatists, who see an impoverished Nepal and lose any hope for the future (see Khanal, 1987). Many are embarassed by things Nepali, which they think are inferior, and they look to the outside world as the source for sophistication and cultivation. They intellectualize problems and subject them to endless debate, while passing on any real responsibility for decision making to some higher level. Their new superficial membership to the world culture becomes an opportunity for self-distinction from the uneducated and unsophisticated common mass. They make use of chakari and when in privileged positions, with their perception that the country cannot be greatly helped, use the opportunity to help themselves and their afno manchhe."


13. jange
Many are embarassed by things Nepali, which they think are inferior, and they look to the outside world as the source for sophistication and cultivation. They intellectualize problems and subject them to endless debate, while passing on any real responsibility for decision making to some higher level. Their new superficial membership to the world culture becomes an opportunity for self-distinction from the uneducated and unsophisticated common mass.

Congratulations, Kamred Arthur, this is a very good description of the Maoists and their followers. Looks like you are now beginning to get a semblance of understanding of your kamreds.

Having memorised the formulas of Marx, Mao and endless other names they have no real understanding of Nepal or Nepalis. They can only follow the formulas and wonder why it does not work.

If it is any consolation to you Kamred Arthur, the NT and the Dixits are not much better. Of course, they take their inspiration from different sources having styled themselves as romantic leftwing pseudo liberals (of the North American variety).

14. Arthur
jange #13, another characteristic of these wise pundits is that they simply echo back any accusation against themselves...

The anti-Maoists here take special pride in denouncing Maoists for their unsophistication and crudeness and insististing that the rest of the world should help them defeat these "common" people. I doubt that any of them, including yourself, had any difficulty understanding who is best described by saying:

" Their new superficial membership to the world culture becomes an opportunity for self-distinction from the uneducated and unsophisticated common mass.

15. Dr B
Arthur, jange and others.
Whilst I am willing to debate the politics of Nepal at length with most folks, but not ad nauseum, the subject under discussion here is in the economic category, not the political.
Maoists, monarchists, communists, congressies all have a vested interest in the development of Lumbini but it just hasn't happened. 
What HAS happened though over a roughly 35 year period is a transformation of the country to one filled with citizens of all backgrounds, castes, shades of brown ......... where self, mine, take, today etc predominate. I realise this is only one facet, but to the average tourist now Nepalis are grasping, grabbing, cheating and corrupt, rather than they way they were described 35 years ago as friendly, peaceful, tolerant, ..............
Oh dear, more abuse coming my way I suspect.

16. lakchya

The current state of Lumbini is the outcome of the fear from Hindu domintated power elites that the development of Lumbini  would be a challenge to their Hindunisation. 

Instead of letting those huge gompas and monastries being built in Kathmandu, they should have been built in Lumbini, western money would have been of good use and Lumbini would have flourished. Redirect any new development plans to Lumbini. Kathmandu will regain its cultural grandeur.

We must encourage to build a center of Buddhist learning by opening International University and other cultural centers and the affiliations.

We must work together with prominent Buddhist nations to develop Lumbini for Buddhists like Mecca for Muslims and Vatican for Christians.

17. Arthur
Dr B #15, the "economic" context is the article by Artha Beed on how to make money from the "spirituality" of religious tourism.

In a fully developed capitalist society the inherent contradictions of that can be concealed by well trained staff who can cater to the "spiritual" needs of the customers while extracting as much money from them as possible while actually delivering this fake "spiritual experience". (This tends to result in a decline of religion in most such countries).

In a more semi-feudal society like Nepal the grasping, grabbing, cheating corruption etc is much less sophisticated and highly organized and prevents even "normal" capitalist profits being made because they cannot actually deliver a fake "spiritual experience", but can only grab the payment without the delivery.

18. a. r. shakya
Answer to the comment no 7: because the most of Nepalese like blablabla and blaming other people.  Many sentences have been written and said in the name of Budhha's birth place but the fact is that Nepalese do not care about the birth place of Buddha. Our society is a hypocritical society.

19. Bibek
Buddha for business! Is it fair to Buddha?

20. R RAI

If lakchya's (16 above) first paragraph is right, the elites were being very narrow-minded and paranoid.

My understanding is majority of Hindus are proud of Buddha- who was son of hindus and some even believe he was Bishnu's avatar.

I think nobody should feel threatened by Buddha and Lumbini but instead try to seriously understand what Buddha said- because it would make you more humane and compassionate-any paranoia would evaporate.

As regards Bhuddha and business, my understanding is he was not against business as long as  it is done properly and in moderation.


21. never mind
You are right R Rai, No 16 is wrong and there is nothing that can be done about it. Nevertheless, since we are mixing gods and money and all that sort of thing is this figure  8,981,760,000.00 89 billion or 898 crore? Because, you see, that is the amount being spent on the Maoist cantonment (has been over the past four years) + a few lakhs in overheads. Do some sort of math like ((601x45000)x12))x4 = (1,298,160,000.00) + Other Expenses. Or travel bills * 601 etc. 

The reason I talk about this is that I find all this God and money mixing a bit disconcerting and frankly a deliberate stunt to divert attention probably because the beed is trying to garner favours from the new power elite. 

I would have expected Beed to highlight things like productivity loss and get us some numbers, do a credible article on how even now if things were to be brought on track, at least, the economy could improve from its current rut. 

22. Tenzing
I wonder all the time the same problem. basically, Lumbini has been raped in the name of archeological excavation. That starts with King Gyanendra and many others being alike who is head of Lumbini Trust Fund. Only people who have developed Lumbini are Tibetan Buddhist followers in mountain regions and foreigners. Govt of nepal and corruputed leaders have done nothing. They cant keep up their own holy places like Pasupatinath. Forget Lumbini. Leaders alike who are Hindu and brahmins are not even interested in discussing.

But Lumbini and Buddha Brands bring lot of money. that is what they are interested.

My statement may hurt few people, but fact is fact. Everyone knows but nobody wants to admit it. This is very similar to political situation in nepal. leaders mentality thinking is same.  Unless there is change at the top, nothing will change else where.

23. kamal
TO: 20. Mr. Rai. Buddha is not a son of hindu nor is a Bishnu Avatar.  You have been Brainwashed by Bahun just like they have done so for the last 400 years in whole region of Nepal. Statement like yours is a way to dominate minorities and natives by brahmins.

24. nirmal
PUNDITS, all are PUNDITS!! The authour here is very genuine and clear!! NEPALIS like passing comments only. Lets say good thought a good thought, lets make the discussion result orientated!!

25. R RAI

@ no.23: I must admit I have very limited knowledge about Buddhism.I am not a Buddhist either-therefore sincere apology if I got it wrong.However, I am correct in saying some even believe he was a Bishnu Avatar ( I appreciate the fact that Buddha is being embraced  rather than excluded).

I personally believe message is more important than messenger-therefore for me it is less important who he was than what he actually said. Let's work towards inter-dependence,respect and Karuna.

26. Prakash
Although many factors will affect the number of tourists to Lumbini, it is sure that if Nepal is pro communist, it can never attract large number of tourists and remember Chinese Buddhists are hardly interested in Budhism. They have been brainwashed and Nepalis are probably soon going to be.

27. kamal
For sure, only stupid follows communist. We have tons of those in Nepal. But Chinese Buddhist are the core group who supports Buddhist centers in Nepal very strongly. They could be Singaporean chinese, Malaya chinese, Hong Kong, Mainland or any other Chinese. Their faiths are unshakeable. Unlike many natives in Nepal, Chinese have not been brainwashed by BAHUNS.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)