After returning to Pokhara from our Poon Hill trek, we visited Helping Hands spa for a massage – this is a place where people who are deaf and blind work, and we especially enjoyed our massages knowing that we were supporting this community. Afterwards, we made a short hike up to a giant gold Buddha tribute, nestled on a hillside behind town.
We met our newest friends from Shanghai who stayed at our same AirBnB. They are on their marriage trip and had just returned from a trek the day after us. The husband is Chinese and the wife is originally from Kyrgyzstan. Lucky for us, they speak English very well. In fact I also want to express my gratitude for all the people – both locals and foreigners who we meet as we travel who speak English, which makes our Journey so much easier to navigate and more fun. We enjoyed several conversations in the common area of our AirBnb home together and, as they too were heading to Lumbini the day after us, we exchanged emails and made plans to meet up there. We then bade our beautiful, kind, family hosts farewell, and took our 8:30am Tourist bus to Lumbini.
This bus was the fastest we have ever ridden on such a long, bumpy and curvy road. Our driver had brakes squealing and horn honking nearly all seven and a half hours. We were told it would be a six to seven hour trip, I wonder how long it would have taken if he had had gone slower? But he was adept and we arrived safe and sound.
Between congregating before departure and during three brief rest stops, we noticed some of our fellow Tourists. Once in Lumbini, we would recognize each other as the tourist area in town is small and we took meals at the same restaurant that served food prepared with safe water for Tourists. The restaurant has a creative Earth friendly way of providing candles on each table. Here we shared a few chats with couples from France, and the couple who we talked with the most – beginning on the bus, were from Bangalor, India. These two are platonic friends and retired co-workers. He had been on a long trek before she joined him in Nepal for to visit other parts of the country.
Lumbini is birthplace of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who during his lifetime became the Buddha or Shakyamuni Buddha. The name Shakyamuni or Sakyamuni is a tribute to Shakya or Sayka, the name of the tribe into which he was born. We learned the sweet story of how Queen Maya, dreamt of an elephant under the full moon, which announced Siddhartha’s conception. Later, while on her journey to deliver the baby in her parents home which was tradition, she stopped in Lumbini to bathe. This is where she felt her labor come on. This site, reported “lost for centuries,” is now a vast park. It has a very long, central mall, with most of that designed for water deep enough to allow for boat shuttle. It includes an eternal flame at the Maya Devi end – the actual birth site, and a Peace Pagoda at the far other end.
Monasteries, temples, pagodas, stupas, meditation centers, a museum, and other offerings built by Buddhists from different countries are situated on either the eastern or western sides of the mall. Loren and I rented bicycles to visit many of these sites. We began at Maya Devi where we saw the largest tribute of prayer flags imaginable. I learned how the colors in the flags represent 5 elements: yellow for the earth, green the water, red for fire, white for air, blue for sky.
Finding all the memorial sites was a bit challenging given the park size and layout, and poor maps to little signage, so we visited the ones we could find in random order. On our first day we only had time before dusk to see temples built by Buddhists from Singapore, and another for Germans, where Loren spun one of their four giant prayer wheels.
We had met our Bangalor friends in passing a couple of times during that first day. When we saw them at the side of the boat dock at the end of the day, we learned that she had taken a fall. Her friend appeared unable to comprehend that she could not stand or walk on her left leg due to severe pain, and she remained seated on the bench that the locals had provided for her. It felt fortuitous that we could help a little. Thankfully a rickshaw was readily available to take them to their hotel, across the street from our restaurant in town. We settled in there for a beer after following them back. At the hotel, she was attended by a doctor who referred her for an x-ray in the larger city of Butwal. While she and her partner, who was more solicitous to her needs sorted their belongings, I had a meaningful conversation with her before their taxi arrived.
The next day, Loren and I visited the Sri Lanka site, a monastery devoted to International Nuns, the extensive Myanmar site, and the tributes from Cambodia, India and Thailand.
We had planned to stay 3 nights in Lumbini, and on the recommendation of our hotel owner in Kathmandu, had hoped to spend one night at one of the monasteries. However, easily finding someone to talk with about that possibility never materialized, so we abandoned the plan to cycle around during the days and sleep at our hotel. Near the end of our last full day though, we befriended a Monk at the Swiss/Austrian monastery, with the grand name, The Mother Temple of the Graduated Path to Enlightenment. Loren then resurrected the plan and soon we were rearranging hotels, bus, dinner date, and bicycle hire, to return to a guest room there overnight. We joined in their meditation and prayers, fulfilling meals, and, gained a much better understanding of Buddha’s life and the concept and practice of Buddhism while there.
The next day we learned that our friends from Bangalor had flown by helicopter to Kathmandu, and were intending to soon return to India by plane. I am keeping her in my heart for a full recovery. Loren and I set off on this day to see the temple of Vietnam – where we saw two Sarus cranes – the largest in the world, and tributes of Nepal, France (not pictured), and China. Loren decided to forego this last site, feeling a little “templed out” but more so wanting to avoid the crowd, and a young Nepali girl engaged me here.
When I returned to join Loren at our bicycles, I saw a peaceful mob of Nepali children. It turned out that they were all gathered around him! So much for avoiding a crowd. These youth too were visiting the temples of China, then Korea, and were enthusiastic to walk and talk with us. In fact, several adult Nepali have also sought us out in Pokhara and Lumbini to talk and take selfies. While we snap our photos to remember what we are seeing, we are also being photographed – sometimes obviously, sometimes slyly. It seems they want to remember us, for our novelty in their culture.