4 public buses, a taxi and 10 and a half hours later, I had arrived in Lumbini. I had been told that I was able to stay at the Korean temple within the temple complex, and with staying in a Buddhist temple being on my bucket list, I immediately headed there. Stepping away from the dusty street filled with a small amount of guest houses, internet cafes and restaurants, I felt like I had arrived into a new world. The level of frequency was completely different within the complex, everything moved much slower, smoother and calmer. Birds happily chirped in the background and I passed a canal with numerous Tibetan flags hung around it in hope. I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, that I could walk more comfortably, I felt at ease with my surroundings.
Arriving at the temple, I learnt that it was 500 rupees a night (free if your Korean), including breakfast, lunch and dinner all at set times during the day. The room was basic, with a squat toilet and bucket shower attached. Funnily enough, I have paid more money for worse rooms in other places. The Korean Temple is open 24 hours which means the temple is a perfect recluse to meditate, worship or organize your thoughts. The monks that live here worship at various points in the day and different monks dine at different times- I recommend going to one of the worship times, either at night or morning to see the mystical proceedings that will move you. The food is nice and plentiful- Korean Kimchee with a number of vegetables and rice, people fill their portion size with gusto and it is quite shocking to see how much food people eat, (especially after seeing how little people eat in India). I really recommend staying in the temple, I feel my entire experience within Lumbini has been down to my living within The Korean Temple, my eating and sleeping there. If I was able to escape the complex and leave Buddhism behind me, whilst I slept in the noisy guest houses and ate at busy restaurants outside of the complex, I do not feel I would have been as influenced as much as I have done.
Lumbini complex covers an area that is separated into 3 zones. The Sacred Garden– where the birthplace of Buddha is situated, The Monastic Zone and New Lumbini Village. Each area is within walking distance, although I would advise against walking due to the weather. Being so near to the Indian border, you will see the similarities of weather to India, the hot, humid sticky climate that is not in Pokhara. You will receive the same level of staring, being ogled as if risen from the dead, a ghost in human form- that you did in India. Nepali people here also characteristically look more like Indians than anywhere else I have been to in Nepal. In Pokhara, people are a mixture of facial features and skin tones that alter dependent on what area of Nepal you are from.
Bicycles can be hired outside of the complex or at The Korean Temple– where you actually rent a bike off a local person for the day, you see large groups of locals cycle in the morning, depositing their bikes for tourists usage and then reclaiming them later that afternoon. I advise choosing this option as this way you are helping the local community, respectively giving a wage packet to a family, rather than funding a solitary business. Paths are not well signposted in Lumbini and temple entrances can be quite difficult to find. I found myself as if in a maze with no map or sense of direction. In this respect, there are rickshaws for hire which wealthier tourists choose to opt into, this way you will be taken to all of the sights you want to see, rather than you find. Although, cycling around Lumbini is a pleasurable thing to do and reminds me of Khujaraho in India. The sleepy quiet town filled with historical cultural sights is a significant prevalence to the country itself, although many western tourists overlook both of these destinations. With the sound of the birds, the wind in my hair, the view of various monasteries and temples, as well as the atmosphere and mood of serenity and peace, makes the day enjoyable. Unfortunately, similar to Khujaraho, there a number of beggars and groups of young men lingering around the area, which with the latter, made me feel uneasy at times. On the one hand, I do not want to encourage begging, but, on the other, I am unable to turn to a cold shoulder to these old and wise women sitting on street corners in the blazing hot sun, asking for a little change, and so you may feel the same as well.
The New Lumbini Village has a Japanese Temple and a World Peace Pagoda, which is a magnificent structure and aesthetically and emotionally beautifully powerful to see. There is a museum in the new Lumbini Village, however it is appalling. There is obviously little funding towards this project as no real information or facts are in place about Lumbini or Buddha himself. Rather just odd bits of rock and stone, that obviously no big museums in Kathmandu or Delhi want. It is disheartening to see as Lumbini has the right (and deserves to be) a global international destination for tourists to visit and learn from, however the organisation or right arrangements have not been put in place.
Leaving the New Lumbini Village behind, you reach the main canal with the east and west monastic zones either side of the river. Take the time to explore the various temples and monasteries from all over the world, seeing how they differ in colour, size, architecture and design. It is fascinating to see, however like I noted before, there is little direction, information and instruction which lets the place down. There are a number of temples being built (and many areas of the world that are lacking in temples- Europe and the America’s I’m looking at you), so I’m hoping the construction of this area and the temples will improve in the many years to come. As much as I love the quietness of the area and the small proportion of tourists that visit, I want Lumbini to excel in its rightful place of importance in the tourist industry and recognition in the world.
The last area, is the Sacred Garden, (which isn’t really a garden), where you may find the Maya Devi Temple and the Asokan Pillar, marking where Buddha was born. I watched a cluster of monks sit beneath a shaded tree, chanting in unison and clutching their orange robes with pride staring out at the temple, hoping to receive guidance, inspiration and love. Although it was magnificent to see the Sacred Garden, (a Buddhist version of Jerusalem), I felt the lack of information really let the site down. I came here to be educated and develop myself, and with these sights, I learnt very little.
There are other forms of education within Lumbini that are on offer. Outside the complex there are various classes and a mediation village you can immerse yourself in. Whilst within the complex, there are two meditation centres, worldly renowned for their teachings in Vipassana. Making friends with a polish couple whom were meditation enthusiasts, I decided to go to a talk on mindfulness by the Yogi and to the meditation hall where other followers mediate for at least 10 hours a day. My only introduction to meditation had been going to a session held by The Buddhist Society at University with my housemate, which we spent silently giggling at each other. Here, I was thrown into the deep end. After reading two booklets on the instruction of meditation, I had got the gist of it, however with no real training, I felt a little out of my depth.
I decided to return to the Korean Temple where I sat in the quiet and cool darkness allowing myself some peace and quiet (which I never do). I allowed myself to pause, reflect and organise my thoughts. I thought of issues I had never really dealt with, wrote mental letters to those who had hurt me, verified what my real aims in life are and what I had already learnt about myself so far on the trip, that I had not known already. Although I ignored the traditional route of “meditation”, I found in the short time I was there, my own sense of enlightenment- which I can only put down to the calming serenity of temples and the peaceful presence of Buddha.
I recommend visiting Lumbini, even if you are not a spiritual person, you will feel something stir within you. It may be because of the Buddhist rickshaw driver who says, ‘pay me what you want, Buddha pays me well”, or the amount of love for Buddha on an international scale in one area. Whatever it is, make the long journey here and be blown away.