Since at least the visit of the Emperor Ashoka in 249 BC (who left a pillar to mark the spot), Lumbini has been recognized by the devout as the fifth-century birthplace of Buddha and now it draws pilgrims from all over the Buddhist world. Coming from elsewhere in Nepal, though, you get dropped off at the nearby village of Buddha Nagar, inhabited mainly by Muslim traders and farmers. In language, culture and cleanliness, this is identical to the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh just across the border a few kilometres south, which after my last trip in the Subcontinent I’d nominate as The Worst Place in the World.
The government of Nepal has set aside an area 6 km long and 2 km wide around the birthplace of Buddha as a park. There is a lot of plastic thrown away here, and air pollution rolling in from across the border, but it is clean enough to provide a refuge for exotic birds and there are some monkeys. Besides the actual birth site, which has a pool that the Buddha’s mother is said to have bathed in, Ashoka’s pillar and some ancient buildings that are currently being excavated, space has been set aside for monasteries representing various Buddhist traditions. Thus there is a Chinese monastery, a Burmese one, a Vietnamese one, etc. In spite of the presence of a handful of foreign Buddhist monks, the staff performing menial tasks at these monasteries or selling trinkets outside are the aforementioned Muslim locals. It’s a strange symbiosis.
Some of the monasteries offer space for guests. I stayed in the Korean monastery for 300 rupees a night. One must sleep on the floor on a raised platform, with a minimum of bedding provided, and showers are cold, but three meals a day are included that surprisingly turned out to be authentic (if very simple) Korean cuisine. My travelling companion and I were the only Westerners present, while the vast majority of the tourists staying here were Koreans in their late teens and early twenties.