During the recent fourth edition of the Lumbini Peace Marathon, Maya Devi temple, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, was packed with around 100 runners, along with journalists and hoards of tourists.
In contrast to the noise of cheers and applause filling the Sacred Garden where the temple is located, 28 km away from the garden, the place where Siddhartha Gautam spent his first 29 years before leaving the palace, was deserted.
Known as Tialurakot, the capital of the ancient Sakya Kingdom, was once the site of the royal palace of Suddhodhan, Gautam Buddha’s father.
The place where Prince Siddhartha lived before leaving for enlightenment looks like a small forest today, with the quiet temple and its walkways enclosed by a fence.
According to Lumbini Development Trust, more than 1.5 million foreign and domestic tourists visit Lumbini every year but, unfortunately, Tilaurakot receives just a handful of visitors.
Shivaraj Pokharel, who has been working as a local guide around Tilaurakot for the last few years, told Xinhua, “Tilaurakot is an ancient Sakya capital city, which has been mentioned in several Buddhist literature sources. It is a place of great research and significance but the state has failed to promote and manage such an important site well.”
There is no registration or entry fee system for the tourists in Tilaurakot due to which it is difficult to estimate the total number of visitors.
Pokharel explained. “Some days we receive dozens of tourists and don’t even have enough time for lunch, while on other days, we have nothing to do.”
The recent excavation work completed by the Department of Archeology and Lumbini Development Trust, with the help of a foreign university, found the remains of the old palace of King Suddhodhana including walls and bricks and suchlike.
Although Tilaurakot has been proposed to be included in the World Heritage Site list, efforts seem sluggish and it may take more time, according to tourism professionals.
The situation of Kudan, located 40 km away from Lumbini, where Gautam Buddha met his father Suddhodhana for the first time after returning from enlightenment, is similar.
Kudan, also known as Nyigrodharama, is also the place where Buddha’s son Rahula was ordained by Sariputra, Buddha’s chief disciple.
Pramod Prasad, a security officer at Kudan, told Xinhua, “Mostly tourists from Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka visit this historical site but the number is quiet minimal.”
According to tourism entrepreneurs, only 15 percent of the total tourists in Lumbini visit these sites, which are easily accessible by black-topped roads and comprises basic facilities.
“We have many religiously, historically and archaeologically important sites related to Gautam Buddha and the Shakya Kingdom, but they lack enough promotion. We need to promote all the sites to boost tourism,” Bikram Pandey, a tourism professional who has been promoting the inner Buddhist circuit through his company Himalaya Expeditions, told Xinhua.
According to Pandey, the places like Tilaurakot, which is also known as Kapilvastu, Kudan, and the birthplaces of two other Buddhas, Gotihawa and Niglihawa, among others, hold great significance in Buddhism. But the majority of the tourists are not yet aware about the sites which revolve around Buddha’s life.
“We held the spiritual marathon connecting all such historical but forgotten Buddhist sites as part of our promotion,” Pandey added.
The devastating earthquake of 2015 saw the number of tourists plummet to a six-year low, but the recovering Himalayan nation received nearly 1 million foreign tourists in 2017.
With the reconstruction efforts underway, Nepal has set an ambitious target of welcoming 2 million tourists by 2020.
With the country’s second international airport being constructed just a few kilometers away from Lumbini, many believe that the promotion of such historical sites will only help in achieving the target.
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