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Slow delivery for Buddha birthplac



Subject: Slow delivery for Buddha  birthplace project  (BBC)

Monday, May 10, 1999 Published at 18:28 GMT 19:28 UK 
             World: South Asia

             Slow delivery for Buddha  birthplace project 

             Lumbini has attracted the interest of archaeologists 

             By BBC Correspondent Alastair Lawson 

             The birthplace of Buddha is being turned into an
             international pilgrimage centre - a project which the
             authorities in Nepal hope will draw visitors to their
             country. 

             The village of Lumbini is one of Nepal's most famous
             landmarks, because Buddha was born there more than
             2,600 years ago. 

             But plans to develop Lumbini as a world pilgrimage
             centre for Buddhists have progressed painfully slowly -
             hampered by poor organisation and a shortage of funds. 

             The idea to turn the site into an international pilgrimage
             centre goes back at least three decades. 

             It was given a significant boost when the Buddhist
             Secretary-General of the United Nations, U Thant, visited
             the site in 1967. Then as now, the site of Buddha's
             birthplace was in a small village in a remote part of
             southern Nepal. 

             'Master plan' 


                                 In 1978, the Nepalese
                                 Government formed what
                                 they called a master plan to
                                 develop Lumbini within seven
                                 years. 

                                 The government said it
                                 wanted to implement plans,
                                 drawn up by a Japanese
                                 architect, that would
                                 landscape the site, providing
                                 it with a museum and
                                 research centre. 

                                 The idea was to encourage
                                 countries with Buddhist
             populations - such as Japan, Sri Lanka, India, South
             Korea, China, Burma and Thailand - to invest in the
             project. 

             All of these countries responded in different ways. They
             have either built Buddhist temples, shrines or
             monasteries near the site, or have constructed hotels for
             pilgrims. 

             At least five years to go 

             But money for the master plan was not so fast-flowing.
             The Lumbini Development Trust says that even by the
             most optimistic assessment, the plan will not be
             completed within the next five years. 

             That is the key reason why Lumbini does not have a
             great deal to offer the foreign pilgrim beyond being a
             place of prayer and veneration. Some argue that a
             pilgrimage site needs to be nothing more than that. 

             But others, including at least one former member of the
             trust appointed by the government to develop Lumbini,
             disagree. 

             They say that the site is not attracting enough pilgrims
             from abroad because there are no guidebooks for visitors
             to buy, and few restaurants nearby. 

             They argue that Lumbini does not have the infrastructure
             to cope with large numbers of tourists. There are not
             enough hotels, they say, and the area has poor road and
             air communications. 

             Archaeological interest 

             Most of the site is currently being dug up by
             archaeologists eager to find out more about the village
             where Buddha was born. 

             The area surrounding a stone that marks the exact
             location of the birth is covered by a tarpaulin. However,
             visitors can see is a stone pillar, erected by Emperor
             Ashoka around 249 BC, to commemorate Buddha's
             birth. 

             Estimates of the number of pilgrims visiting the site vary:
             The Lumbini Development Trust say that it is as many
             as 100,000 people a year, but some independent
             observers say the true number is half this figure. 

             Ultimately, the development of Lumbini will be
             determined by the Nepalese Government. The
             government currently allocates around $15,000 a year to
             the project, in addition to deciding who should head the
             Lumbini Development Trust. 

             Critics say that money provided by the government is not
             sufficient to fulfil the master plan. The government says it
             does not have the funds. 

             Political uncertainty 

             Whatever the case, matters are made worse by the fact
             that the leadership of the Trust changes every time a
             new government is formed. This lack of continuity can
             clearly be seen by the fact that Nepal has had seven
             changes of government since 1991. 

             Like many other key questions in Nepal, the
             development of Lumbini appears to have fallen victim to
             the country's ongoing political uncertainty.