Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nepal - Lumbini

Lumbini is a very important religious site for Buddhists all over the world - it is the birthplace of Gautama Siddhartha Buddha.

I was hyped up for several days, looking forward to visiting this sacred site.

The most direct way to reach Lumbini from Kathmandu would have to be by domestic flight. However, in an attempt to save some cash, we decided to take the bus instead. The journey required us to change two buses and we were warned of the 8 hours butt-numbing bus ride. But never in my wildest dream did I expect to be caught in the middle of a Bandh - STRIKE!

The road was blocked due to demonstrations by two unhappy parties where accusations were hurled at each other for the assasination of a political figure. It resulted in a huge traffic jam where the vehicles were immobile for hours! To make things worst, there was no air-conditioning in the bus and in an attempt to let some cool air in, the passengers opened the window and made the fatal error of letting in the blood suckers! Mosquitoes attacked us from all sides and no matter how we fling out arms, we simply couldn't get rid of the constant buzzing around our ears.

After clocking a whooping 15 hours in the sweat drenched rear seat of the bus, we finally staggered towards a hotel in Bhairawa where we collapsed onto the bed and covered ourselves with bedsheet from head to toe from more blood thirsty little suckers buzzing around the room. I swear I never hated mosquitoes this much!

In the morning, we were confronted with trucks lined up along the road and were later informed that the Maoist government had imposed a curfew with no ends in sight. To make matters worse, food was running scarce in the hotel and just when we were fretting about our next step, Inma came up with the brilliant idea of riding in trickshaws through the village roads where we would still be able to make it to Lumbini in 2.5 hours' time! And it worked! We even enjoyed the scenaries along the way. :)

In Lumbini, we were surprised to find a quiet and peaceful town with a slow trickle of respectful pilgrims and tourists. There are several monasteries built from donation funds from different countries and the most well-kept and grand monastery would have to be the German Monastery.

The town centre is relatively small and we managed to cover it in a matter of 20 minutes by foot. Just outside the town centre, we found huts built from mud and a nearby condom advertisement added a stark contrast to the primitive village sight.

The Maya Devi temple was the sole reason for our visit to Lumbini. It sits on the exact birth site of Lord Buddha and we were within reachable distance to the sal tree where according to legend, princess Maya Devi grabbed onto a branch for support just before Lord Buddha was born.

Visitors had to remove their footwear before entering the temple. A boardwalk was built above the ruins and in a small corner, we noticed brick walls covered with gold films. Upon closer inspection of a particular ruin protected by a glass housing did we realised that we were actually staring at the foot print of Lord Buddha!

Excavation work surrounding the temple also uncovered numerous ruins and stupas. The place was exceptionally quiet and serene with Buddhist chants from groups of pilgrims seated cross-legged on the mowed lawn.

We had a nice dinner before retiring for the night.

The next day proved another challenge for us to find our way back to Kathmandu amidst the ongoing curfew. We managed to hire a jeep together with two more backpackers to Bhairawa. From there onwards, it was a long wait from morning till dusk for the curfew to lift before the convoy of vans and coaches began it's long journey back to Kathmandu. During the long wait, we snacked, played games, exchanged backpacking experiences, went goo-goo eyed with a baby and Inma even showcased her talent at sketching!

Sometimes in life, we just have to sit back, relax and go with the flow... :)

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