In my last couple of years of travel, I have come to realize that I don’t do as much research as I used to before arriving at a destination. Nowadays, I more often than not choose to rely on word of mouth and the advice of other travellers when comes time to choose my next destination. It is a method that has served me well the last couple of years by allowing me to remain flexible and see new places I might not have even thought about before.
And there are times when that method, of relying on others’ advice, has grotesquely backfired.
The last time this happened, it got me stuck in the small town of Lumbini, which has got to be one of Nepal‘s most boring and underwhelming towns.
I had heard about Lumbini a few times from some travellers who happened to pass by there, most of them on their way from India into Nepal. While no one was absolutely raving about it, I was still told that Lumbini was “worth a day or two”.
Lumbini is best known all over Nepal for being the birth place of Lord Buddha. It is regarded as the most sacred site in all of the country, where several temples and monasteries are located a short walk from one another, all surrounding the ancient site. Lumbini also serves as a base for travellers crossing from or to India, with buses and trains departing from various points near Lumbini every day.
After spending a few days being blown away by the scenery surrounding the small town of Tansen, I thought that an even smaller place would pack at least half the charm. But oh boy was I ever wrong.
THE ROAD TO LUMBINI
I had spent a few days in the beautiful small town of Tansen when I ultimately decided to go to Lumbini. While trying to figure out the best way to get there, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy trip.
There were no direct buses from Tansen, and the only option was to take three different local buses in some of the worst roads in the world. At the beginning, this made me doubt my intentions to go all the way there, but it ultimately ended up strengthening my resolve to go. After all, I had come to Nepal with the intention of at least scratching the surface of whatever non-tourist trail the country had to offer.
Despite Tansen and Lumbini only being about 45 Km apart, the journey took close to four hours. During this time, I shared my seat with goats, a lady carrying a live chicken that kept poking me on the arm through her purse, and a teenager riding out the window of the bus (seemingly this was a better option than being crammed inside with everyone else). Once I made it to Lumbini, I let out a sight of relief, only to realize that I had debarked two kilometers away from the town and now had to walk with all my belongings under the scorching sun.
My first thought upon arriving in town was a mere “what did I get myself into?”
To say that there was anything attractive about Lumbini would be a blatant lie. The “town” consisted of two pothole filled dust roads with a line of equally unattractive guesthouses and restaurants on each side. I eventually sat down at one of those said restaurants and ordered myself a beer hoping to meet other like-minded travellers, but no luck. It was as if everyone but I had gotten the message about deciding to avoid Lumbini for the present time.
The following morning, I went to visit Lumbini’s only real attraction: its many many temples – all of which were undoubtedly beautiful.
I was cussed by some of the touts hanging around the main gate when I refused to take their services, a decision I would come to regret later as I realized that the distance between temples was larger than any map showed. My mind was set on seeing all of the temples on that day, partly because I didn’t want to spend another day in Lumbini, so I manned up and walked around the complex seeing each and every one of them.
Lumbini is filled with Buddhist temples from around the world, the most beautiful ones, in my opinion, being the Thai, the Chinese, and the Cambodian temples. There are at least 20 different temples and monasteries within the site, and it can take a few hours to visit them all. It is also easy to get templed out, like I did, so do some research prior to going to make sure you know which ones you want to absolutely visit.
My problem with Lumbini is how basic the town is. For a place that is touted as a “destination” and “a place to see” in Nepal, it lacks the grasp and infrastructure other small towns have. While I admit that I should’ve done more research to see exactly what I was heading towards, I still gotta say that I’m glad I got to visit Lumbini and that now I get to write about it.
GETTING OUT OF LUMBINI
My painful Lumbini experience would stretch all the way until the end, as leaving Lumbini proved to be just as dreadful as getting in. As it results, the options to get out of Lumbini were not many, and those that were available were at the most inconvenient of times.
My intention was to leave Lumbini for the small town of Sauraha, to visit Chitwan National Park. My only option then was to take a bus headed to the capital – Kathmandu – disembark halfway, and figure out a way to make it there. Not only was this already inconvenient, but the bus was departing at 6:00 AM, which meant that I had to be at the bus stop at least at 5:45 AM.
Leaving the guesthouse was already an odd experience, having to wake up the owner to get the front door unlocked. As I walked ahead on the pitch black street all I could see was the figure of a rundown rust bucket that happened to be my bus. It wasn’t long after we departed that the driver decided to blast local music and turn the A/C on for the duration of the trip.
At least, I was on my way for what it was going to be one of my favorite places in Nepal: Sauraha.