Queen Maya awoke from a fitful sleep and, feeling confined by the walls of the palace, decided to have a little walk through a nearby flower garden near Lumbini. She was so taken with all of it, and it was real hot in her queen garb, that she just had to take a swim. When she got into the pond she realized she couldn’t actually swim well at all and after quite a struggle she got herseslf to shore. Exasperated and embarassed by the whole episode, she grabbed hold of an Ashoka branch and birthed out the baby Buddha right then and there. Only his name was Siddhartha back then. Then all these superhumans made it rain to bathe the little fella. Seven days later the Queen was a goner. Probably drowned. Some people never learn.
We went backwards, starting where Buddha died. There’s a whole Buddha life journey that you can take: from the birthplace, to the first teaching place, to the enlightenment place and then the death place. We took a little side detour to the small town of Kushinigar.
There, Buddha gave his final teachings and croaked after flashing a whole bunch of disciples. His followers had him cremated and built a Stupa to mark the spot. To solidify the importance of the town, the Indian government has granted land to several Asian countries to build temples of Buddhist worship – a veritable international enlightenment center. We stayed in a squeaky clean dormitory of Tibetan monks, where each spends a few months doing monk stuff and cleaning rooms. They also do a lot of hanging out, internet browsing, and badminton. Some of our highlights include: the huge relief of cleanliness of the town (compared to the rest of India), the 24 hour loudspeaker chanting courtesy of the Burmese, and our sneak attack on the free buffet inside the grandiose Thai wat complex (also a huge relief from Indian food.) Sensing just a hint of enlightenment, we braced ourselves for the return to India proper and the extra long travel day ahead – into Nepal.
The bus seat cushions were no match for the terrible roads north to the border. The border town, Sunauli, took the cake for grimy, dusty, utilitarian centers of commerce.
But the crossing and visa were a breeze. Next stop, the birthplace of Buddha. Lumbini is like Kushinigar on spiritual steroids, apparently claiming birth more destination worthy than death.
There’s a huge complex of many international temples, a darn nice peace pagoda, and a whole buncha folks gathering from around the world trying to force their ideas of peace and togetherness on the rest of us. Sorry there’s no info about the actual life of Buddha. We didn’t make it to those towns.
We took a look at the Ashoka tree and were tempted to touch it, but unsure of what may come out, and having an unrelenting urge to get into some mountains, we thought better of it.