Well if you will insist on rocking up to Lumbini in April then the first thing you’re gonna notice is how fucking hot it is. Seriously. It’s oppressively hot. It’s like someone smothered you with a blanket and you’re forced to breathe hot, stale, still air. Except someone set the blanket on fire. It’s really, really hot. I felt like I had all the hair in the world attached to my head causing all of my brain cells to boil so once me and Annemiek had located a suitably cheap place to crash for a couple of nights I asked a chap in a little wooden shack on the side of the road to remove the offending mane. I’ve never had such a precise haircut before. He asked me what number I wanted it shaved to and after quickly arranging all of his tools in straight lines he used clippers to shave my head with the greatest care I’ve ever experienced. God that felt better. Clearly he finished with what he called a head massage which was 40% quite nice and 60% basically being beaten around the head a bit. A few people I’ve spoken to who’ve had their hair cut in India or Nepal have reported free brain damage with every style. I’ve no idea why they do it but I let him get on with it and when I asked him how much he wanted he shrugged, smiled and said, “What ever you want.” Oh for fuck’s sake! I hate that. As soon as someone says that I want to instantly hand over my cash card and PIN number and tell them to help themselves. In the end I kinda just pushed ₨200 his way, breathed a sign of relief when he seemed happy with that, then off we went in search of momos.
So the reason people flock to Lumbini is on account of the fact that Siddhartha Gautama was born here in 623BC and he turned out to be the Buddha so that’s kind of a thing around these parts. It is said that when he was born he took seven steps though I’ve no idea how, he’s not a fucking goat, human babies generally aren’t much use til they turn old enough to go the shop and pick up a bottle of vodka and twenty fags. But everywhere he stepped a lotus flower appeared and after the seventh step he raised his finger skyward and proclaimed that he was the last rebirth or something. And no one thought this was any manner of weird because his mum had had a dream about a white elephant. Religion is bizarre.
So we rented the world’s worst bicycles and headed off to the Maya Devi Temple (Maya Devi being his mum) to check out the birthplace which is swathed in prayer flags. It looks pretty awesome. I do love an abundance of prayer flags. You buy your entrance ticket and head to the Sacred Garden which is covered in ruins and has a pond which is where it’s believed Maya Devi bathed before spawning her son. The main ruins are protected by a white brick building and you’re not allowed to take photos inside but it’s basically more ruins which you walk around on a raised boardwalk until you get to a small sheet of bullet proof glass where a sign casually lets you know that this stone underneath this glass is the exact – the exact – stone that the Buddha was born onto. Right. How do they know? Did they find traces of divine placenta on it or something? A sign outside of the temple says this stone was excavated in 1996. That’s over 2600 years since he was born. There is surely no way to tell if this was the exact stone or not, right? I mean, right?
Once you’ve either marvelled at or raised a skeptical eyebrow at, whatever your leaning, the birthplace of the Buddha there are a metric fuck tonne of monasteries to check out which is why we got the bicycles. Kiiiinda wish we’d paid a bit more and got contraptions that didn’t seem like the last thing to ride them was a drunk rhino. They were a bit of a mess but it beat walking so off we went around the monasteries which had been built by Buddhists from all over the world. I believe you can actually stay in the Korean one but for the same price you could get somewhere much more comfortable and wouldn’t have to eat rice twice a day. It’d be one of those “for the experience” things I think. The monasteries are mostly lavish affairs too which is something I’ve come to expect based on the few I saw in Darjeeling. This always makes me a bit… uncomfortable? Is that the word? It’s the same with churches, and even the wonderful Sikh Gurdwaras which feed any one who walk through their doors without question. All of those riches crammed into a building when huge populations of the followers of the religion live in abject poverty. But anyway. Here to observe, not to judge and all that. Which is probably too late, I’m a judgy little fucker at the best of times.
I’d never noticed that the Buddhist monasteries always have seven bowls of water set out somewhere, usually in front of a statue of the Buddha. These represent the seven steps he took when he first fell out of his mother’s vagina. This was a running theme throughout, as was a statue of the Buddha just after he was born and took those perfectly reasonable seven steps and pointed skywards. Obviously they couldn’t make statues of any old baby. No one knows what he really looked like and let’s face it, all babies look like bulldogs chewing a lemon. So they’ve just gone for mini versions of Buddha as we know him best, stood up, finger aloft, with a full head of hair and wearing clothes, but proportioned as a child. There is literally no non-creepy way to do this. If he really did pop out looking like that then damn right his mother deserves to be worshipped as a goddess! Some of the buildings stand out more than others. The Thai one, that was my favourite. Big, spiky white thing. One of the monasteries, I forget which, had walls covered in murals and I guess pilgrims would know what was going on but for the most part they just raised questions for me. Such as, why is that elephant drunk? Why is that man trying to push a rock on Buddha’s head? And why is that bloke wearing a garland of thumbs?? Some of them I understood, I know Siddhartha Gautama grew tired of his riches and left home to live in complete poverty. Eventually he realised that this wasn’t any bloody good either and that’s when he started preaching the Middle Way. He became enlightened in Bodhgaya under a bodhi tree then went off to preach his first sermon in a deer park, which is why there’s always a lot of deer imagery.
After the Thai monastery it all got a bit much. The searing heat was getting to us both. I’d doused my cap in water from a pump and now my head smelt like I’d decided to wear a rotting fox as a hat, our feet felt cooked from padding barefooted around floors exposed to the sun, and my arse was killing me from riding this shit bike. Annemiek told me they have a word in Dutch for that kicked-in-the-cunt feeling you get when you’ve been riding a bicycle all day. Of course they fucking do! It’s fietskont. Apparently this literally means “bike arse.” I had fietskont good and proper so we decided to take a break underneath a tree which apparently isn’t the done thing because every time I opened my eyes there’s be a group of Nepalis or Indians, sniggering at us. Yeah, that’s fine. They’re way more hardcore than us feeble Westerners. Obviously you have to take your shoes off to enter the monasteries and by the afternoon the floors were scorching. They were casually strolling round like their feet were made from asbestos as me and Annemiek made mad dashes for the tiniest bits of shade cast from walls barely a foot high, or plants, or whatever stupa we happened to be putting in our eyeholes at that point. After our nap we tried again but the fun had been taken out of it for me. I said I was going to head back and Annemiek decided she’d had enough too so we pedalled back to town and handed our bikes in and I re-hydrated with Tuborg.
Another thing I wish we’d spent more money on was our accommodation. I mean, no one can help the blackouts. Basically Nepal can’t make enough electricity to power itself all the time so it has scheduled rolling blackouts and you can easily get hold of the timetable. Except we didn’t have one for Lumbini. The first night in our cheapy cheap hotel wasn’t too awful. There was definitely something in the piece of sponge that passed as my mattress that liked a nibble but the power came on at around 10pm so at least we had a ceiling fan and I stood under a cold shower in my bed clothes and lay very still under the fan. Sleep was broken but hey, I slept. The second night though? Oh my god. The power went off at 10pm. Have I mentioned how fucking hot it is here? It wouldn’t have mattered where we stayed, no power would still mean no ceiling fan, a lot of places will have back up power for one light and the wifi because everyone knows tourists can’t function without a connection to the outside world, but you’ll still lose the wall sockets and the fans. It would have been difficult but bearable if I wasn’t being attacked by thousands of tiny biting things. Maybe bed bugs, I don’t know, but you can usually see bed bugs and I saw nothing, and Annemiek’s bed seemed untouched.
At one point I threw myself in a huff down onto the concrete floor in the hope that I’d be cooler and not so low down the food chain. Then I realised that concrete wasn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep either. Fine. I’ll just go back to the seething bit of flesh eating micro demons. At least it’s a little bit soft. As I lay there wondering if I’d have all my limbs left by morning I realised that it would have literally cost us the equivalent of a couple of dollars a night each to stay somewhere infinitely better. You would have thought I’d have gotten my head around the zeros on the currency here by now. I lay awake, cursing my tendencies towards being a tight arsed idiot, and promised myself I’d maybe spend a little more on accommodation in the future if it meant I’d still have all my skin left by the end of this trip.
Lumbini, Terai, Nepal
Stayed at: I can’t remember but I wish I could so I could warn you away from it