When you travel, you can’t always plan where you’ll be during special holidays, even less when you are traveling for a long period of time. This happened to us for Christmas (2014), when we found ourselves fortuitously in Lumbini, Nepal. This might not sound too weird until you start thinking about it, and realize that we were going to spend the birthday of Christ in Buddha’s birthplace. Talk about religious mixes!
Lumbini itself is not a city but a holy site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where many buddhist countries have constructed monasteries honoring Siddhartha Gautama’s birth in 563 BCE. The holy site is surrounded by a small town where you can find accommodation, food, and all the buddhist paraphernalia you have ever dreamed of! Lumbini is located very close to one of the main border crossings between India and Nepal, a town called Sonauli, and we shortly visited on our way to India. The weather was cold and foggy but we hired a rickshaw and were headed out for some religious sites!
Nepali workers fixing the roof of the Thai monastery
Sri Lanka’s Temple
Besides the many temples, pagodas, and monasteries—all built in their country’s original architecture—the main attraction is the Mayadevi Temple marking the exact place of Buddha’s birth. There is a stone pilar commemorating the visit of the Indian emperor Ashoka that was erected close to 245 BCE, a holy pond where Buddha’s mother (Queen Mayadevi) took a bath before the birth, and a Bodhi Tree covered with prayer flags and surrounded by holy men in meditation.
Mayadevi Temple commemorates the place of Buddha’s birth
Barefoot holy men meditating under the Bodhi Tree
Los Monkeys surrounded by colors and prayers
Our time in Lumbini was short. We enjoyed it and braved the inclement weather but were ready to venture into a new land and start our Indian discovery. Our journey would take us from a holy birthplace to a city where death is most sacred: Varanasi.