Nepal: After the Covid pandemic, Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, is again crowded with tourists

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
6 Min Read
Nepal: After the Covid pandemic, Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, is again crowded with tourists

By Binod Prasad Adhikari

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After remaining silent for two years due to the Covid pandemic, the Maya Devi temple in Lumbini, believed to be the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, is once again witnessing a rush of tourists.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the southern plains of Nepal is slowly regaining its charm as religious tourism has picked up pace again.

Gyanin Rai, Senior Director-Administration, Lumbini Development Trust (LDT), told ANI, “Everything was going well till 2019 but then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Around 1.6 million tourists used to visit the place annually, most of whom were domestic tourists, followed by Indians and tourists from several Buddhist countries – Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and China. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of tourists was very low; at times, barely a handful of tourists would visit.”

He said, “Currently, the number of visitors coming to us is increasing rapidly. In 2023, we will have around 1.2 million visitors. We have extraordinary guests these days, especially from India.”

Lumbini welcomed around 70,000 Indian tourists in the first quarter of this year.

According to LDT records, 19,360 Indian tourists visited the UNESCO-listed World Heritage site in January 2024, followed by 20,489 in February and 30,670 in March. These figures show an increase compared to 2023, when the number of Indian tourists stood at 61,122.

Indian tourist Ashik Jadav told ANI, “Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, is famous all over the world. Nepal maintains and preserves this Buddhist heritage, which is globally famous. Knowing that Gautam Buddha was born here, all the relics related to him are preserved here. Other countries have also joined hands to develop this place. Hearing all this, I got a desire to visit this place and I came here.”

There has also been a significant increase in the number of tourists coming from other parts of the world to visit the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, known as the light of Asia. According to LDT records, during the first quarter of 2024, 11,668 tourists came from Thailand, 8,986 from Sri Lanka, 6,915 from Myanmar, 2,155 from South Korea and 2,419 from Vietnam, most of whom came from India through border checkpoints.

In comparison, in the first quarter of 2023, the number was 7,760 from Thailand, 5,158 from Sri Lanka, 4,342 from Myanmar, 2,911 from Vietnam, 2,885 from South Korea and 369 from China.

Tanzania's High Commissioner to India Anisa K Mbega told ANI during her visit, “Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhist teachings, is a very serene and peaceful place where one can find inner peace, contemplate the beauty of the earth and focus on the teachings of Buddhism.”

Lumbini has many stupas representing different nations, making it a center of Buddhist studies. The Mayadevi Temple in the center of Lumbini is a major tourist attraction. It houses a marker stone, birth statue, and structural ruins associated with the birth of Lord Shakyamuni Buddha. The marker stone identifies the exact birthplace, while the birth statue depicts the birth scene of Prince Siddhartha.

Archaeological excavations have revealed that the structural ruins belong to various phases of construction and restoration of the Maya Devi temple. Emperor Ashoka during his visit in the 3rd century BC built a platform using baked bricks to protect the marker stone and the birth tree under which Maya Devi gave birth to Prince Siddhartha.

The temple, painted completely white, was rediscovered in 1896 by General Khadga Shamsher and Dr. Anton Fuhrer, who identified Lumbini as the birthplace of Lord Shakyamuni Buddha in reference to the Ashoka pillar. Later, Keshar Shamsher excavated the mound of the early Maya Devi temple and reconstructed it in 1939. The present Maya Devi temple was reconstructed in 2003 by the Lumbini Development Trust.

Born in the royal family of King Shuddhodhan and Queen Mayadevi, Buddha renounced his kingdom for penance at the age of 29. He is also known as the 'Light of Asia'.

Buddhist philosophy is taught at internationally acclaimed universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. Additionally, in Nepal, master's level programs on Buddhist philosophy are offered at Tribhuvan University, Nepal Sanskrit University and Lumbini Buddhist University.

“We appreciate the ambiance and environment of Lumbini. Lord Buddha was born here, and we come here to pay our respects and bow down to the place where Siddharath (Gautam Buddha) was born. We are always excited to visit this place. Not just me; people from Maharashtra also want to come here,” Hansraj, who was part of a tourist group, told ANI while standing in front of the Maya Devi temple.

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