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Places to visit in Nepal

1.Lumbini

 

Shakyamuni Buddha was born in Lumbini, in southern Nepal, twenty-five hundred years ago. Since his time, Nepal has been a sacred ground for Buddhists as the birthplace of the Buddha. Lumbini is a small town in the southern Terai plains of Nepal, where the ruins of the old city can still be seen. Shakyamuni Buddha was born to a royal family. His mother, Queen Maya Devi, had a dream foretelling his coming. In her dream, she saw a white elephant with nine tusks come down to her from the heavens and enter her body. When the time of his delivery approached, she left for her parental home, according to the practice of the time. En route to her parents' home, she gave birth to Siddhartha Gautam in the gardens of Lumbini.

The prince is said to have emerged from her right side as she rested her arm on the branch of a fig tree. And immediately after birth, he took seven steps in the four cardinal directions and wherever his feet touched the ground, a lotus bloomed.

After this powerful birth, Prince Siddhartha lived in his father's palace, shielded from the evil and the pain of the outside world. His father had been informed by the seers of the time that the prince would either become a great emperor or become a holy man. Fearing his son would leave the world for religious practice, the king took pains to see that Prince Siddhartha neither saw nor experienced suffering. Thus he hoped Siddhartha would become a great emperor and never dream of leaving the kingdom.

But Siddhartha - who had lived a life of isolated royal splendor -inevitably ventured beyond the castle walls one day. Outside these walls he came across sorrow, pain, death and a man whose life was devoted to releasing others from those sufferings. He saw a beggar, a cripple, a corpse, and a holy man. These encounters affected the young prince deeply, awakening a deep desire to find the ultimate cause of suffering and thus alleviate it. One night, when all were asleep inside the palace, he escaped. He cast aside his princely garments, cut his hair, and began the life of a wandering ascetic.

For years he fasted, meditated and spent his time in a rigorous and painful search to find a way to end suffering. On a full-moon night in the north Indian town of Bodhgaya, as he meditated under a tree, Siddhartha had a direct realization of nirvana, eternal peace. This transformed the mortal prince into a Buddha.

He spent the rest of his life guiding people towards nirvana, love, and friendship. When it was time for him to leave this world, he had thousands of followers to keep Buddhism alive. He left this world (a person who has attained nirvana is freed from the cycle of life and death) at the age of 84, having exhausted his human body for the sake of all sentient beings.

Lumbini has since been a holy ground for Buddhists all over the world. The restored garden and surroundings of Lumbini have the remains of many of the ancient stupas and monasteries. A large stone pillar erected by the Indian Emperor Ashoka in 250 BC bears an inscription about the birth of the Buddha.



An important part of Lumbini is the temple of Maya Devi. It has a stone image of Maya Devi giving birth to Lord Buddha as she holds onto a branch. It has been well worn by the strokes of barren women hoping for fertility. To the south of the temple is a pool where Queen Maya Devi is said to have bathed and given her son his first purification bath.

A quiet garden, shaded by the leafy Bo tree (the type of tree under which Buddha received enlightenment), and a newly planted forest nearby lend an air of tranquillity which bespeaks Buddha's teachings. Lumbini is now being developed under the Master Plan of the Lumbini Development Trust, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to the restoration of Lumbini and its development as a pilgrimage site. The plan, completed in 1978 by the renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, will transform three square miles of land into a sacred place of gardens, pools, buildings, and groves. The development will include a Monastic Zone, the circular sacred Garden surrounding the Ashoka pillar and Maya Devi temple, and Lumbini Village, where visitors will find lodges, restaurants, a cultural center and tourist facilities.

An important archeological site near Lumbini, Kapilvastu evokes the ancient palace where Lord Buddha spent his formative years. Scattered foundations of the palace are abundant, and archeologists have by now discovered 13 successive layers of human habitation dating back to the eighth century BC. A must for archeological and historical buffs!

Besides its religious and historical significance, Lumbini offers cultural insights into the village life of southern Nepal. If possible, try to coincide your visit with the weekly Monday bazaar when villagers come from miles around to buy grains, spices, pottery, jewelry, saris and various other items. It may appear as a scene out of the Arabian Nights, with colorful merchandise spread out under the mango trees and the air perfumed with incense. It's a chance to bargain for souvenirs while witnessing local life in Lumbini. Wooden ox-carts loaded with hay trundle by. Villagers dry cow-dung for fuel, and tea stalls serve sweet milk tea.

Today, Lumbini is beginning to receive travelers' and archaeologists' attention after centuries of neglect. Serious preservation work has only just been started in the latter half of this century and Lumbini as a slice of history is worth seeing and worth preserving. Royal Nepal Airlines and other airlines fly regularly to Bhairahawa, near Lumbini, and bus services are available from Pokhara and Kathmandu.

 

Courtesy: NTB,2001

To be contd other "places to visit".........

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