Road to Lumbini

  • Developing Lumbini requires tapping donor expertise and resources into one master plan

May 15, 2014-

Every year, the birth anniversary of the Gautam Buddha is celebrated across the country with much fanfare. Amid professions of eternal peace and harmony are strident proclamations asserting that 'Buddha was born in Nepal'. This year was no different. On Wednesday, the 2558th Buddha Jayanti, devotees flocked to the Boudha and Swayambhu stupas in the Capital and to Kapilvastu in Lumbini, the Buddha's ostensible birthplace. On the same day, the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) announced a plan to construct various infrastructures at Tilaurakot, the ancient capital of the Shakya kingdom into which Siddhartha Gautam was born. These include a trail connecting Tilaurakot from east to west, four rest stops and a bus stop for pilgrims and a new information centre for tourists. The objective is to promote Tilaurakot, an area of immense archaeological importance, as a tourist destination.

This is a welcome plan; one that Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has vowed to implement. Koirala's assurance comes in light of the government's failure to implement Japanese architect Kenzo Tange's 1978 master plan for Lumbini's development. This plan was further expanded by South Korean architect Kwaak Young Hoon in 2012 and is now in the final stages of planning. Despite the lack of a consolidated development plan, individual donor countries, including Japan, South Korea, China, Thailand and Sri Lanka, have established an exclusive monastery zone, along with research and archaeological digs into Lumbini and its surrounding areas. Still, one only needs to look to the scale of promotion and investment in India's numerous Buddhist sites to recognise the inadequacy of Nepal’s efforts. The state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have invested much in preserving and developing major Buddhist sites like Bodhgaya, Kushinagar and Sarnath. And despite the vocal nationalist rhetoric of Nepalis on social media and urban centres, many foreign visitors still infer that Buddha's birthplace falls in India, as Lumbini is part of comprehensive Indian guided tours and Buddhist circuits. In contrast, just a few years ago in 2010, the Lumbini Protected Zone, a Unesco World Heritage Site, was replete with cement industries, brick kilns and steel and paper mills. While many of these have now been shut down, a few remain.

Now that plans to develop nearby Bhairahawa as a special economic zone and upgrade its airport to an international hub are underway, the government will have to ensure that economic activities do not impinge on Lumbini's status as a World Heritage Site. This will mean keeping industries, factories and residential complexes out of the Lumbini Protected Zone while simultaneously ensuring that tourists and pilgrims have adequate facilities for food, rest and transportation. The LDT's plan is a decent step towards this end. Furthermore, the government must be able to tap the expertise and resources of the many donor countries keen on developing Lumbini. For a region so rich in history, religion and culture, tourists often complain of a lack of knowledgeable guides and study centres. Lumbini must capitalise on the fascinating history of Kapilvastu and the Buddha by training professional guides and establishing more information centres.

Published: 16-05-2014 07:55

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