Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, later known as Gautama Buddha, is situated in Rupandehi district of Nepal. It is a sacred pilgrimage place for Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike. This was the place where Gautama Buddha was born and lived for almost 29 years. The Maya Devi temple is believed to be the spot where Queen Maya Devi gave birth to Gautama Buddha. The place also has Puskarini pond where Gautama Buddha is said to have taken the first bath. In 1997 UNESCO declared Lumbini as a World Heritage Site and included it under the international World Heritage program.
In sixth century B.C.E Lumbini was situated between Kapilvastu and Devadaha. It is said that Maya Devi, the Shakya Queen had a premonition that she would soon give birth to a Holy child. Expecting the child she left for her maternal home. During the travel, while resting in Lumbini, she felt labor signs and according to legend, without any pain she gave birth to Lord Buddha.
In 247 B.C.E, the Mauryan emperor Asoka visited the place and erected a pillar to mark the spot where Lord Buddha was born. The pillar was inscribed stating that Lord Buddha Shakyamuni was born here.
Later pilgrims from all over the world like Fa-Hsien and Hsuan Tsang visited this place between the 5th and 7th century C.E. They wrote detailed and descriptive travelogues during their visit to India which provide the description of Lumbini during those times.
However, during the 14th century Lumbini was forgotten in the wilderness and the place laid hidden until in 1896 General Khadga Shumsher discovered it. Then Dr. A. Fuhrer rediscovered the sacred site.
In 1970, Professor Kenzo Tange of Japan was assigned with the task to create a master plan which would lead to the development of Lumbini as an international Holy site for Buddhists. An International committee to manage Lumbini was formed to oversee the development.
The holy site of Lumbini is bordered by monastic zones where only monasteries can be built. No commercial shops or hotels are allowed to be built in this area. Further these monastic zone is separated into eastern and western monastic zones. The eastern zone consists of the Theravadin monasteries while the western consisting of monasteries of Mahayana and Vajrayana sects.
The sacred site of Lumbini has ancient relics like The Bodhi tree, Puskarni pond, Asoka pillar and Mayadevi temple. Pilgrims from all over the world visit these places and perform chanting. This place is not only sacred to Buddhists, but also Hindus as they consider Gautama Buddha as an incarnation of God Vishnu.
This is the place where Mayadevi shrine is located. There are items like marker stone marking the spot where Gautama Buddha was born and a terracotta image depicting Buddha leaving for enlightenment. These can be seen at the archaeological office.
Apart from these there are annual fairs which are worth visiting the most prominent one being held on the day Gautama Buddha was born i.e. On ‘Vaishaki Purnima’ which according to Roman calendar is somewhere between April and May. The other notable festival is held around December when Lamas from all over the world visit this place to collect the qualities of Buddha. The highlight of the festival is lighting of oil lamps which is held on the last day. The sight of burning lamps is spectacular. This festival lasts for around 10-12 days.
The master plan divided Lumbini into three zones, namely the Sacred Garden Zone, the Monastic Zone and the New Lumbini Village. The monastic zones are further subdivided into eastern and western zones.
This zone is dedicated to the construction of Theravada monasteries. Countries from all over the world have constructed the monasteries here. The prominent one is the Thai monastery built by Thailand. There is also a Nepalese temple and monastery built by Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
The west monastic zone is allotted for Mahayana monasteries. There are fifteen monasteries in different stages of construction the prominent ones being the Chinese and Vietnamese monasteries. Another majestic temple is the Korean temple which is in front of the Chinese temple.
This zone has all the hotels, restaurants, museums and libraries. There is also the highest peace pagoda in this zone, which is built on the place where the Japanese monk was murdered. This place has become a reminder of the hideous crime that was committed and since then has become a place for pilgrims and tourist to visit and realize the importance of no violence and peace.
The best time to visit Lumbini is during autumn i.e. Between September and November. There are many festivals organized in these months. The air is clean and the atmosphere is peaceful. During this season you get a clear and picturesque view of the Himalayas.
Those who like snow and cold weather will find the months between December and February to their liking. The weather is cool and there is snowfall in the mountains. Tourists can trek to the base camp of the Himalayas.
Apart from autumn and winter Lumbini can be visited any time of the year.
The international airport at Kathmandu has connecting flight to Bhairawaha. The flight takes around half an hour. From there you can either take a bus or car to reach Lumbini which is 15 minutes of drive form Bhairawaha.
Another way to travel is through India. You can take a train either from Delhi or Kolkata to Gorakhpur. From Gorakhpur you can cross the border to reach Lumbini. Buses also frequently run from Kathmandu, Pokhara, Gorakhpur and Varanasi to Sunauli.
You can stay in Bairawaha which is 22 Kilometres from Lumbini. The hotels have reasonable price and accommodation but it is advisable to stay nearby the Dae Sun Suk Gu Sa monastery in the village. This will save you a lot of commuting time from Baiarawaha to Lumbini.
The currency used in Nepal is the Nepalese rupee. Current rate of Nepalese rupee is 0.0099 US dollars.
Although Lumbini is a prominent Buddhist pilgrimage centre, the place is flocked by people from many religions and spiritualities. It is a place which has a vibe of peace and harmony and should be visited and felt by everyone at least once in the lifetime.