Buddha's home Kapilavastu lies in dire neglect
The Uttar Pradesh government may be trying to project itself as a champion of Buddhism, yet the Buddha's original home Kapilavastu, along the India-Nepal border, lies in a condition of utter neglect.
Way back in 563 BC, Queen Maya Devi conveniently traversed the distance of 10 km from her husband Suddhodana's kingdom, Kapilavastu, to her parental home Lumbini in Nepal, where she gave birth to Siddhartha, who later became the legendary Gautam Buddha. But that may not be possible today.
Tens of thousands of foreign tourists exploring the Buddhist circuit have to take a detour of at least 53 km simply because of the absence of a barely 20 km good road link between Kapilvastu and Lumbini.
"What is worse is that this detour is usually packed with trucks as it is one of the main trade routes between the two countries," Shamim Ahmad, a cab driver, told IANS.
"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 exact location of Kapilavastu has become a matter of contention, with some regarding Tilaurakot in Nepal's Rupandehi as the site of the ancient kingdom. Currently, Unesco with funding from Japan is conducting a trhee-year excavation there.
But Nepal has not built a motorable road from the Indian border at Kakrahwa - barely 500 metres from the Kapilavastu stupa - to Buddha's birthplace at Lumbini, and neither have Indian authorities bothered to persuade Kathmandu to facilitate the easy movement of Buddhist pilgrims through the border, complain many.
It has not struck the Uttar Pradesh government to build a direct road link between Kapilavastu and Shravasti, both being part of the much talked about Buddhist circuit. "There is a narrow dilapidated road connecting Sonauli to Kapilavastu and further down to Shravasti; all that is required to be done is to build it into a proper highway," said Indrajeet Gupta, a local grocer.
An official said on condition of anonymity: "What I find strange is that the road - frequented by 80 percent of the commuters - remains utterly unattended while huge funds are spent on a route used by barely 20 percent traffic."
The absence of a proper road link to key Buddhist destinations is not the only reflection of neglect and indifference shown by various governments. The state government and the Archaeological Survey of India got together to build a stupa at Kapilavastu after archaeologists excavated a casket containing vital Buddha relics from the site.
However, the 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 Kapilavastu palace some distance away, there is nothing to keep a tourist there for more than a few minutes.
There is not a blade of grass nor very many trees to provide a green touch. And the poor lighting makes the place look desolate once the sun sets. A tourist bungalow built by the state government in the late 1990s exists only in name. With no electricity, the place looks haunted at night, so much so that even the caretaker prefers to stay in a rented home some distance away.
While local tourists rarely venture all the way to this remote destination, foreigners prefer 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 only place to stay in the vicinity of Kapilavastu.
But the narrow, undulated and muddy path leading to the retreat again speaks volumes of government apathy and the utter disregard for Buddhist tourism. "We have to fight against all 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," remarked Royal Retreat owner Deependra Singh, who left his cushy job in Delhi 15 years back to promote Buddhist tourism here.
A ray of hope has been shown by state tourism director general Avanish Awasthi. "I am in the process of preparing a blueprint for the development of Kapilavastu as an attractive destination on the Buddhist circuit," Awasthi told IANS.