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The road Buddha's mother traversed is no more

February 18, 2011 12:53 IST

Way back in 563 BC, Queen Maya Devi might have conveniently traversed the brief distance of 10 kilometers from her husband Shudodana's kingdom Kapilvastu to her parental home Lumbini (now in Nepal), where she gave birth to little Siddhartha, who later became the legendary Gautam Buddha.

But thanks to the apathy of today's rulers -- in Lucknow, New Delhi and in Kathmandu -- that may not be possible any more.

Neither the Nepal government has cared to build a motorable road from the Indian border at Kakrahwa (barely 500 metres from the Kapilvastu stupa to Buddha's birthplace at Lumbini) nor have the Indian authorities bothered to persuade the rulers in Kathmandu to facilitate easy movement of Buddhist pilgrims through this border.

Tens of thousands of foreign tourists exploring the much talked about 'Buddhist circuit' have to take a detour of at least 53 kilometers simply because of the absence of a barely 20 kilometers road link between Kapilvastu and Lumbini.

"What was worse that this detour was usually packed with trucks since it functioned as one of the main trade routes between the two countries," complained Shamim Ahmad, a local taxi driver.

"Often, the long wait at the Sonauli border is so disgusting for foreign tourists that they choose to give up one or two places on the Buddhist circuit," he added.

The Mayawati government in Lucknow might be busy proclaiming itself to champion the cause of Buddhists by naming Noida on the threshold of New Delhi as Gautam Buddha Nagar. But it has never struck the Uttar Pradesh government to build a direct road link between Kapilvastu and Shravasti, both being part of the Buddhist circuit.

"There is a narrow dilapidated road connecting Sonauli to Kapilvastu and further down to Shravasti; all that was required to be done was to build it into a proper highway," pointed out Indrajeet Gupta, a local grocer.

"What I find strange is that the road frequented by 80 per cent of the commuters remains utterly unattended, while huge funds are spent on the route used by barely 20 per cent traffic," remarked a local official on the condition of anonymity.

Absence of a proper road link between Kapilvastu, the original home of Lord Buddha, and other key Buddhist destinations in the vicinity was not the only reflection of neglect and indifference shown by various governments.


state government and the Archaeological Survey of India did get together to build a stupa at Kapilvastu after archaeologists excavated a casket containing vital Buddha relics from the site.

However, less said the better about the state of the stupa and its surroundings. Other than a crudely built stupa and equally shabbily constructed walls to mark the Kapilvastu palace some distance away, there is nothing to engage a tourist for more than a few minutes.

Neither do you see a blade of grass nor very many trees to provide a green touch. And the absence of lighting makes the place look dark and desolate once the sun has set.

A tourist bungalow built by the state government in the late 1990s exists only in name as it remains non-operational to this day. With no electricity, the place looks haunted and scary at night, so much so that even the caretaker prefers to stay in a rented home some distance away. He however refused to make any comment.

While Indian tourists rarely venture all the way to this remote and neglected destination, foreigners who make it a point to trudge all the way, find it convenient to park themselves at a 150-year old British manor, converted by the owners into a Victorian heritage hotel, widely known as the Royal Retreat, which is the one and only place to stay in the vicinity of Kapilvastu.

But the narrow, undulated and muddy path leading to the retreat , (better known as Neora kothi) again speaks volumes of official apathy and utter disregard for Buddhist tourism.

The sole tourism official stationed at the Siddharthnagar district headquarter, some 22 km away from Kapilvastu, was not available for comment.

Royal Retreat owner Deependra Singh who left his cushy job in New Delhi to return to his family roots and make some difference, feels somewhat let down.

"We have to fight against all kinds of odds to make this work; a little facilitation by the government in the form of better road connectivity and availability of power could make all the difference in realising our long cherished dreams," observes Singh.

Some ray of hope has been shown by UP tourism director general Avanish Awasthi, who told, "Well, I am in the process of preparing a blue print for development of Kapilvastu as a attractive destination on the Buddhist circuit."

Sharat Pradhan in Kapilvastu, Uttar Pradesh