Keshab Man Shakya on Downsides and Developments in Lumbini

Features Issue 89 Jul, 2010
Text by Amendra Pokharel / Photo: ECS Media

When Rahula, the son of he Buddha, asked for inheritance, hoping to get in blessing the Lord’s destiny to become a world ruler, the Buddha handed him a begging bowl. It was his way of inviting Rahula to join the ranks of monk, to live the life of Dharma. As a ruler of the world, Rahula could have willed whatever he wanted, but as a monk he would have to be satisfied with whatever he got.

Keshab Man Shakya, vice-chairman of the Lumbini Development Trust that oversees the implementation of Lumbini Master Plan, wants that act of a message, which occurred in Lumbini 2500 years ago, taken seriously. In the world full of greed, deceit and selfish motives, Keshab Man Shakya wants Lumbini to become a place where everyone is magnanimous, honest and altruistic. All that sounds like a heap of an ideal, but if we carefully look at what is happening in Lumbini, we will realize that we are in fact already half way across to attaining that ideal.

“The Lumbini master plan began with King Mahendra persuading then Secretary General of UN U Thant, in 1967, to help develop the place where the Buddha was born. Immediately after he returned from his visit to Lumbini, U Thant helped form the International Community for Developing Lumbini (ICDL), a panel that comprised of 17 countries,” says Keshab. The work began soon after the UN sanctioned funds to carry out development activities and hired world famous architect Kenjo Tange of Japan to chart out the plan.“Today there are many more countries who have joined hands to support the activities, and the development zone is already bustling with monasteries belonging to different countries of the world,” he says.

he place has become symbolic of the over marketed term ‘global village’, though one with the touch of Dharma. Lumbini Development Master Plan defies the very character of our world as it is today. Countries that have given up hopes of living together as neighbors, have their monasteries built so close in the monastic zone that they can see, hear and even feel each other’s presence all the time. Yet, they live in peace. “There are examples like the dani baba (generous saint) of Korean Monastery providing free accommodation and free meals to the students and visiting monks not only from Korea, but from other countries as well,” says Shakya. And there are already several monasteries built with generous donations of Buddhist communities of different countries.

Keshab wants to keep that spirit of altruism and cooperation alive and make a living example of Lumbini to tell the world that the spirit of Dharma can be preserved, despite all the evil happening around us.

“But the mentality of our own people may be a great hindrance to that effect,” says Shakya. We have to develop Lumbini to boost tourism, but at the same time not forget that it is looked at as a sacred site by millions of people. Hinting at the harassment the visitors and monk have been facing from hotel and guest house operators in Lumbini, Shakya says, “Our mindset that all foreigners coming to Nepal have lots of dollars to spend and we should find out ways to rip them off should change,” and, then he goes on to add, “Those coming to Lumbini are mostly Buddhist and they carry with them the tradition of giving, but this giving has to be of their own willingness. If they realize that we are trying to rip them, they will not only be more reluctant, but also never visit the place again which will also result in negative publicity.” According to Shakya, already there is a trend of many visitors, who are actually coming to visit Lumbini, staying in the hotels across the border on the Indian side.

“Most of the monasteries in Lumbini are not built by governments, but from the donations provided by Buddhist associations, voluntary organizations and individuals. When those foreigners who have contributed to the construction of monastery visit Lumbini, they are accommodated in them,” says Shakya. “This is what has been a bone of contention for the hotel owners.” Shakya said that building dormitory inside the monastic zone was not in the original plan, but somehow the construction of dormitory by the Korean monastery was over looked in the past, and that it is the only monastery inside the monastic zone. “But even then, the dormitory inside the Korean Monastery is mostly occupied by Nepalese students visiting Lumbini from other places of Nepal. Some time the Buddhist guru who is also called dani baba  feeds those who stay in the monastery for free,” says Keshab.

“The Sri Lankan guest house, built by the Sri Lankan government, had one of the best dormitories. But due to the neglect and mismanagement by the person contracted to maintain the place and collect money, the guest house is in complete ruins,” says Keshab. “The Sri Lankan government is willing to reinvest in the building, but they want to be sure that this time it does not meet the same fate,” he adds.

“We already have land demarcated for building guest houses and dormitories were monks, religious tourists and visitors in general can stay at rates much cheaper then hotel rooms. The land located in the Northern end is called New Lumbini Village, where the Sri Lankan guest house is located in a derelict state,” he says.

Keshab expects the flow of tourist to Lumbini to shoot up after the construction of the Bhairahawa airport. “Last year there were 82000 visa holders and more than six million coming from India and other parts of Nepal. After the construction of the airport we expect 2 million visa holders and 8 million tourists from India and within Nepal,” said Keshab. “Personally I would not want the number of visitors to go beyond that because then the flow would be difficult to manage making the tourism unsustainable,” he says.

“Once we reach the target we can make the Lumbini Development Trust autonomous. Currently we receive NRs 50 million in grants from government to meet the administrative expenses. We have already collected NRs 20 millions from internal revenue which will increase in future with the increase in the flow of tourists,” says

Most of the Buddhist gurus who live in the monasteries say that Lumbini can be Nepal’s diamond mine, but Nepalese have failed to tap it properly. “There is a guru from Korea who alone brings almost 8000 tourists every year. If we don’t hound and harass the visitors they will come again and bring more people with them. That will what make Lumbini a mecca of Buddhism, which it ideally should be,” says Keshab.
Keshab Man Shakya is a Buddhist himself and, therefore, when he was offered the vice-chairmanship of Lumbini Development Trust, he jumped at the prospect, not because it was a well paying job. The salary he gets from LDT is much lesser than what he used to earn as a high ranking official in an INGO. He says the master plan would be ready in its basic form by three years, but that he is not happy with interference and carelessness shown by other parties.

“The receding tourist flow due to political instability in the country, local politics, lack of security and harassment has hindered the progress of the Master Plan,” says Keshab. Lumbini is a very important jewel of our country. International communities of Buddhists feel very strongly for the place. Nepalese government should enact a law making the place violence free zone and make a provision to ensure that no tourist is harassed. “There are lots of areas in which the  international community is willing to invest to improve the tourist facilities and infrastructure, but our government has not been able to create an environment of trust,” he says.

“Hotel operators should not forget that Lumbini was not built for them to make money. Those who come to visit Lumbini, particularly the monks, come with a very different frame of mind. They should not be treated as a regular tourist, at least not in Lumbini. We will ruin the atmosphere if we let the place go Thamel way by allowing private investors to build random hotels here and there,” Keshab says.