Wedged between the giants of India and China, Nepal lies along the southern slopes of the Himalayan mountain ranges, and is a country with a rich history. Nepal is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, and multi-cultural state, with its existence being documented alongside the emergence of Hinduism. The famous Kathmandhu Valley, located in the centre, was once a central trading point along the Silk Road.
Today, tourism in Nepal focuses on the famous Mount Everest, as well as its UNESCO World Heritage Sites that offer a stunning insight into the country’s past. Here’s a selection of 5 sites worth visiting in Nepal.
Lumbini in Nepal is one of the most sacred of Buddhist sites, it being the birthplace of Gautama Siddhartha Buddha. Thought to have been born in 623 BC (sources vary), Gautama Siddhartha Buddha was the founder of Buddhism.
In addition to Buddhist monastery ruins, the main attractions are the third century BC Ashoka’s Pillar, the Maya Devi Temple on the site of Buddha’s birth and the museum. There is also a small museum which chronicles Buddha’s life and houses a series of artefacts from excavations of Lumbini. Lumbini has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997.
2. The Lumbini Museum
The Lumbini Museum is a small museum which chronicles Buddha’s life and houses a series of artefacts from the site. It is a worthy accompaniment to other attractions in the site, such as the Maya Devi Temple, where it is thought is the location of Buddha’s birth.
A pillar found at Rupandehi in 1896 by General Khada Samsher Rana and German Indologist Alois Anton Führer, was believed to mark the spot of a visit to Lumbini from Ashoka, a great Indian emperor who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BC. The inscription on the pillar described the purpose of Ashoka’s visit to Lumbini was to see the Buddha’s birthplace.
3. Maya Devi Temple
The Maya Devi Temple is an important and much revered temple in Lumbini in Nepal. Said to be located on the exact site where Gautama Siddhartha Buddha, founder of Buddhism, was born in around 623 BC (sources vary), the Maya Devi Temple is dedicated to his mother.
Today, the Maya Devi Temple is undoubtedly one of the most revered sites in Buddhism, and therefore a popular site of pilgrimage. Visitors can go inside the current temple to view the original temple platform dating from the 3rd century BC. Surrounding the temple in the sacred garden, you can also see ancient ruins of stupas, the sacred pool and maroon- and saffron-robed monks congregating under a Bodhi tree adorned with prayer flags.
4. The Ashokan Pillar
The Ashokan Pillar is one of the oldest and most revered monuments at Lumbini. It is a stone column erected by the Emperor Ashoka when he visited in 249BC. The Ashokan Pillars are a series of columns throughout the Indian subcontinent, and are among the earliest known stone sculptural monuments in India. They were built or at least inscribed by the Emperor Ashoka during his reign from 268 to 232 BC. The pillars were built at Buddhist monasteries and places of pilgrimage as well as many important sites from Buddha’s life. The pillars are important monuments of India’s architectural past, with most of them exhibiting the famous smooth and shiny Mauryan stone polish.
The Ashokan Pillar now stands outside the Maya Devi Temple, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Combined with the temple, the Pillar is a hugely popular tourist attraction for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
5. Boudhanath Stupa (Bodhnath)
A UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most popular attractions in Nepal, The Bodhanath Stupa, situated just outside Kathmandu, is one of the largest stupas of its kind in the world. It lies along the old trade route to Tibet and dates to the 6th century, possibly earlier.
The stupa itself is a symbol of enlightenment, and is laced with elemental symbolism, with different shapes representing earth, water, fire, air, and sphere, which are also the five attributes of the five Buddhas.