We’re so lucky to have Suman as our own personal driver. Although the driving here is treacherous, Suman’s reflexes are superhuman and we’re lucky (and relieved) to find he’s an extremely skilled driver. He got us to Sunwal, Nawalparasi without a hitch and we’re happy to be here in our new home at the Lotus Resort. Professor Van Teijlingen of Bournemouth University (BU) has visited here before and recommended the place to us. The staff are keen to ask if we know ‘Prof Edwin Sir’ – his public health work here in Nepal is known to many and they appreciate his hard work and keen interest to improve the health of their people. They show us photos of him on their mobile phones and take some of us too to add to their collection. People in Nepal have a real interest in public health, not something we hear many people speak about here in the UK – a sign that this is, for the most part, under control here. How lucky we are. The staff couldn’t have welcomed us more and are already keen to know us. The manager Gopal makes sure we have everything we need. Mosquito nets are a must. The rooms are laid out in small chalet’s around a leafy green campus and there’s even a swimming pool! Very welcome in the 35 degree humidity. There’s already a chorus of insects and birds and their volume has been turned up to max. Our neighbours, from India, have already come out to say hello. Namaste one and all 🙏🏻
Today is a day off, firstly as a recovery day after the long drive yesterday and secondly so we can get our bearings in the venue and practice for the 3 teaching days which start tomorrow. It’s agreed we’ll all head to Lumbini, birthplace of Lord Buddha in the Rupandehi district of Nepal – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’m trying to imagine how you’d ever find your way to the site as a tourist on your own. There’s so many twists and turns on the roads (some Tarmac, some dirt track) and Suman has to stop a lot to ask people for directions. Sampada tells us there are maps but there’s so many roads they’re too difficult to read so it’s easier just to ask locals along the way. I try to imagine the millions of people living rurally around Nepal and how cut off they are from services in Kathmandhu. As we head further south the temperature and humidity increases; yet only a 7 hour drive north and we’d be in the Arctic Himalaya gazing at snow capped peaks which boast 8 out of 10 of the world’s top ten highest mountains – what a country!
This holy place of pilgrimage is a far reaching maze of huge temples, some still under construction and strictly no shops, hotels or restaurants allowed. Many countries have built their own ornate monasteries here in honour of Buddha and the religion that came to be, based largely on his teachings. This place has many entrances but no signposts – but we are patience and mindfulness personified. Nothing else for it.
Buddha’s actual birthplace (rediscovered in 1896) comprises ruined palace foundations and a flat, glass covered slab which apparently marks the exact spot of Buddha’s birth (the ruins are now within a modern temple building which serves as a protective cover). People throw offerings of rupees, marigolds and coloured powder. According to Buddhist tradition, Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama here in 563 BCE when she came from India to Nepal to revisit her family home here. The midwife in me wonders what her experience was like and who were the midwives who attended her? We leave this sacred place and soak in the beauty of the manicured lawns and hedges and the shimmering trees seem to attract and emit a much needed breeze. I turn round and see a huge, sacred Bodhi tree adorned with colourful Tibetan prayer flags with an altar built into the trunk. We light incense and take photos in the hope we’ll capture this moment forever, already knowing it won’t.
We flit from temple to temple and marvel at the huge icons and statues in Chinese, Nepalese, Tibetan, Japanese and European styles. There’s opulence everywhere but it’s getting hotter and hotter and our bare feet start to scorch on the stone. Indian and Nepalese people stop us for selfies, and more and more join the crowd – even grandparents and children huddle in and Jilly even has a baby thrown into her arms. Apparently we’re pretty unusual round these parts and they consider it an honour to be photographed with us. We consider it an honour too and a monk returns the favour by posing for a photo for me in front of the World Peace Candle site.
Me, Laxmi, Jilly, Sampada and Dave at bodhi tree
When heat seems to shut our bodies and minds down, we head for home. A swim, a traditional meal and a quick practice before tomorrow … oh and 3 Gurkha beers Arjun please!