Short post due to high-cost/slow-speed internet (combined with ever-decreasing wallet-size makes a bad combination)...
We made it to Lumbini yesterday morning, after a lengthy 2-day travel stint from Pokhara. We ended up riding four buses in one day, while still on one ticket/route, due to continual bus switches. So at least our long, hot ride was broken up, with different seat positions and heat intensities. Our fourth bus ride, around 12 km, was on the roof of a bus at night, since down below was crammed full, with no room for two sweaty white tourists with large backpacks. The roof was by comparison uncrowded, although we were sharing space with a space-hogging bicycle.
The best part of our journey was that we didn't even make it to our final destination, instead having to stay in the India/Nepal border town of Bhairawa, which is pretty awful from the little bit we had to see. Our dinner was sub-standard, and our lodging even worse: we stayed in a large cardboard box essentially, the thin corrugated wood walls barely held together; the door was broken and stuck every time; the sheets almost covered the pad on a wood frame that was being passed off as a bed; the squatty-potty toilet absolutely reeked of stale urine, while the sink was merely a faucet with a basin attached, water spilling out underneath...
Fortunately our listening to the amazing new Hunab CD - Random Coincidences, drowned out the blasting Hindi/Nepali pop music that was blaring from below, although nothing accept Liz's yelling would discourage the peeping Tom who kept staring in at her through our window.
Definitely one of our worst night's yet, and yet at $2 it was still a total ripoff (they refused to bargain for less than 150 NRs) - but what can you do late at night in a crap town with no other options within visibility?
Whine about it on your blog the next day, I guess :-)
Our morning bus ride to Lumbini was fast, however, and although yesterday was obscenely hot, over 100 degrees for hours (and the heat was accented nicely by the continual lengthy power cuts all afternoon), this is a very relaxed place. "Shanti" as cheese-off subcontinental tourists of a certain new-age vibe might say, but Lumbini, the historic birthplace of Buddha, is indeed peaceful. The village, where we are currently staying, is very small, with only a few hundred meters of modern development before housing materials turn to the traditional mud and bamboo combination that we lived in while teaching at Thakurdwara. Across the road, where we went biking this morning, is the massive complex of temples, monasteries, dharmasalas, etc., spread out over a sprawling natural area, many square kilometers in size. At one end are the historical ruins, which we will visit this afternoon, including a pool at the site where Buddha's mother Mayadevi gave birth, as well as an ancient temple in her honor. Around a lake, set past a burning Eternal Flame and a Taj Mahal-esque waterway (currently dry), are over a dozen modern Buddhist temples/monasteries, built by international Buddhist organizations. The two main schools of Buddhism (one believes that enlightenment can only be obtained individually, the other "softer" belief is that all of humanity can be enlightened through the efforts of enough believers) are on separate sides of the waterway, so this morning we went to the "hardcore" Eastern side. Temple highlights were the Thai and Myanmar sites, though the Thai's white walls, with simple carved stone dragons around the pillars, was certainly less indulgent than Myanmar's circular golden building, with an enormous spire at the top. Certainly what Buddha would have wanted... haha.
We also visited the World Peace Pagoda (our 2nd, 1st outside Pokhara), set at the end of the main Lumbini compound, next to a bird sanctuary. We were the only tourists (of any nationality :-) there, so it was a very peaceful beginning to our day, after a several kilometer bike ride of course.
Larger and more powerful than the WPP in Pokhara, though the nearby grave of a Japanese monk killed during construction was sobering - where are these people who don't want world peace, and what is wrong with them? And who kills a Buddhist monk anyways, that's just terrible...
Anyways, we are going to try and find a silent meditation program later this afternoon (the heat of the day makes doing just about anything unbearable - at least its only 3 days until the monsoon is supposed to strike), as well as see some more temples, both modern and ancient - another day touristing :-)
Anderson's eye is pretty much back to normal, still dousing it with eye drops pretty constantly - like right now - so hopefully that medical annoyance has been dealt with!
Our Nepali visa expires on June 14, so we have about 10 days as a maximum to stay in Lumbini, depending on how silent meditation goes (assuming we can find it, it is still happening during the "tourist off season," etc.), and then we will return to India, going first to Varanasi. Which may be "Varanasty" due to the monsoon (hot and wet climate, combined with an overflowing filthy Ganges doesn't sound all that inviting), we shall see!
Not to sound redundant, but