After a much needed break from classroom-learning, we made our way south to Lumbini, the historic birthplace of the Buddha. The plane ride was nerve wracking for me, and even more so considering the kind of plane we took…But, the view was spectacular and it only took us 45min to arrive safely. Once we landed we drove about an hour to our guest house at a monastery just minutes from the Sacred Garden of Lumbini. For the last 40 years or so there has been development in Lumbini to make the entire site more interesting for tourists and pilgrims alike. However, this development has brought about a great deal of change and displacement for the local community. From what we saw, it looks more like a sad Disney World for Buddhists than it does a beautiful pilgrimage site. At the Sacred Garden, where it is said that the Buddha was born, there is a large white building, called the Maya Devi temple after Buddha’s mother, surrounding the archaeological remains of the site. Just next to the building is an Ashoka pillar, placed there by Emperor Ashoka, the first Buddhist ruler, with an inscription stating that the Buddha was in fact born at this site.
After spending a few days in this area, conducting research for a small project and speaking to a number of renowned intellects on the topic of Buddhism and the archaeological sites, we departed for Chitwan. Chitwan is a natural reserve in south-central Nepal devoted to the preservation of the natural wildlife of the Tarai region. Here we took a quick boat ride down stream, hiked through the forest, and then the next day hopped on the backs of 6 very generous pachyderms. Although the ethics behind elephant riding are complicated, we all had a blast and the view was amazing. Unfortunately no rhinos or tigers were seen, but they are there. I promise.
But alas, “vacation” as we knew it is over. Today we boarded our luxurious tour bus and rode 7 hours back north to the Kathmandu Valley. It’s back to tourist cafes, ginger tea (yum…) and one beautifully large stupa (near my house that is). Class will start up again tomorrow, but in only 2 weeks or so we will be boarding another plane for Bhutan.
I hope this has been both informative and entertaining. Be sure to check out the pictures. I’ll try to post more, this time without any writing, later this week. As always, thanks for reading!