Lumbini, Nepal: Buddha’s Birthplace

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After our visit to Kathmandu and Chitwan National Park, we next are going to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, and one of the main pilgrimage locations for Buddhists worldwide.

Travel from Chitwan to Lumbini

It was about 140 km West of Chitwan. This was about a 5 hour trip by car.

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We head out of the Chitwan area. The morning is clear and bright.

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We have to drive through mountains, (naturally, since this is Nepal). Traffic does not always flow in these mountains. We had to stop and then go slow to pass by the site of a wreck. 

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Bus vs. truck. The truck lost.

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Along the road, here (and throughout Nepal) we see men and women carrying loads of wood and leaves.

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These wood carriers are taking a break.

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We stopped at a roadside place to get a Coke.

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Mountains surround us.

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In the kitchen, there is a wood stove, with a fire burning. Above the stove there is food for later today, slow-cooking in the fire’s heat.

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It looks like three or four chickens, hung on hooks together for cooking.

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Often we see new buildings under construction. The building technique is the same as in India: concrete casings over brick walls built upon concrete floors, supported by concrete and steel columns.

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As we near Lumbini, the land flattens out, and is covered with rice fields in the southern Terai plains of Nepal, a tropical climate. Buddha was born about 2600 years ago in Lumbini Gardens. In places the land looks much the same as it would have in the time of his birth.

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We enter a small city. It looks like it could be in India, except for the bicycle-rickshaw.

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We pass through something called “Lumbini Gate.” We do not see the World Heritage Site (WHS) anywhere near us, though.

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After we drive about 15 more minutes, we see a long brick wall to our right, and what looks like some kind of garden beyond it. Maybe this is it.

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This is it. After a few more minutes we get to the actual gate into the Lumbini World Heritage Site.

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We walk into the gate and onto the grounds. For such a major site, this seems almost deserted. It is a fairly long walk in the hot afternoon. It is about 3:00 .

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There is a beautiful lake on the grounds. I wonder if this was here at the time of the Buddha. The Buddha lived at the Royal Palace nearby for 29 years. Maybe he played at this lake when he was a child?

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The Pancha Sila, “Five Precepts,” the five principles of Buddhist morality. A good Buddhist will try to live up to all of these, for example by being vegetarian, to comply with the first precept, refraining from killing. 

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Below is a map of the Lumbini WHS.

  • At the bottom is the actual Buddha birthplace (the Mayadevi temple). Also located here are the Puskarni, or Holy Pond, and the Ashoka Pillar.
  • In the center is a long reflection pond, the Central Canal, surrounded by temples and monasteries built (and to be built) by many Buddhist countries around the world.
  • At the top is the World Peace Pagoda, and Buddha Museum. 

lumbini map

We start with the Mahadevi Temple. A sign lays out the basic history of the site.

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The Mahadevi Temple is ahead.

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A World Heritage Site sign, defining this as the place of the birth of Buddha.

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The entry into the birth site.

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What is seen on the inside of the white-walled structure are stone ruins. An actual stone that marked Buddha’s exact birth place was found, and can be seen by visitors that enter. There are enough people coming in to see the birth place that you cannot linger.

Birth of the Buddha

(From The Illustrated Life of the Buddha, Buddhism.about.com and other internet sources.)

According to legend, Queen Maya gave a birth to him on the full moon in May.

When the time for the birth grew near, Queen Maya wished to travel from Kapilavastu, the King’s capital (about 10 km west of Lumbini), to her childhood home, Devadaha, to give birth. With the King’s blessings she left Kapilavastu on a palanquin carried by a thousand courtiers.

On the way to Devadaha, the procession passed Lumbini Grove, which was full of blossoming trees, and she was captivated by the beauty of the flowering sala trees and stepped down from her palanquin to walk amongst them. As she reached for a branch of a sala tree, which bent itself down to meet her hand, the pangs of birth came upon her. While other women are depicted as giving birth sitting or lying down, the Buddha’s mother is shown delivering her child while standing and holding on to the branch of a sala tree in the garden of Lumbini.

After his birth the infant Buddha is said to have take seven steps. This is the place of his birth, and would have been the place of these seven steps. After these steps he is said to have proclaimed “I am chief in the world, I am best in the world, I am first in the world. This is my last birth. There will be no further rebirth." The child was named Siddhartha-"he whose purpose is accomplished." Seven days after his birth his mother died, and he was raised by his mother’s sister, Mahaprajapati, who was also a wife of the king.

Because no child can immediately walk or talk, let alone make proclamations at birth, it is by these acts that the Buddha’s prodigious nature, even as an infant, is revealed. We are told that he was already the size of a six-month-old child and had the "thirty-two marks of a great man." According to Buddhist tradition two destinies are open to one who possesses these marks: either he will become a great "wheel-turning" king ruling the four quarters of the earth in perfect justice, or he will become a buddha. His father, the king Shuddhodana, was determined that his son become the "wheel-turning" king, and did everything he could to prepare him for this.

So King Shuddhodana arranged that Siddhartha should have no occasion to become unhappy and disillusioned with his life at home, the palace Kapilavastu. As long as he stayed at home, the prophesy of the "wheel-turning" king was in effect. If he ever left home, it would be to become a buddha. This approach worked fine until Siddhartha was 29 years old.

This brings us to Siddhartha’s disenchantment with his life of pleasure. The young Siddhartha would leave home and ride with his charioteer, Chandaka. As he leaves the confines of his luxurious apartments, he encounters for the first time in his life a decrepit old man, a severely ill man, and a corpse being carried to the funeral pyre by mourners. The experience is traumatic, and when he afterwards sees a wandering ascetic with serene and composed features Siddhartha resolves that he will leave his home and take up the life of a wandering ascetic himself.

Seven days before Siddhartha was to be crowned king, he was determined to leave home to become a buddha. He was married at the time, and his first child, a son named Rahula, had just been born. That night, on his way out of the palace, he stopped by to see his new son. His son was asleep in his wife’s arms. At the doorway in he stopped, and thought to himself, "If I lift the Queen’s hand to take my son in my arms she will awaken and thus my departure will be hampered. When I shall become Buddha I will come back and see him."

To escape from the palace, with all entrances and exits guarded against his departure was no easy task. To aid in his departure, it is said that thirty-three gods descended from the sky and put all of Kapilavastu’s inhabitants into such a profound sleep that no sound whatsoever would awaken them. And to be even safer they held the horse’s hoofs in their hands to soften their pounding on the ground and helped him jump over the wall of the palace. According to traditional reckoning he was then twenty-nine years old and this was the beginning of a six-year quest for awakening.

Buddha’s Birthplace today

Here is what you can see inside the Mahadevi Temple today—ruins, with a walkway over them, so visitors do not disturb them.

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There are also more ruins outside the Mahadevi Temple. Some seem to be the remains of old stupas. I don’t know if these are from the same period, or are from the many temples built afterward, and long ago decayed into ruins. There were a number of these built from the 3rd century BC to the 6th century CE.

Note that these stupas were built because the Buddha expressly forbid the worship of images of himself. So stupas were used instead for worship of the Buddha.

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Ashoka Pillar

Beside the Mahadevi Temple is the Ashoka Pillar, erected in the 3rd century BC. This marks the spot of Asoka’s visit to Lumbiní.

The following inscription, in Bramani script, was placed on the pillar to commemorate his visit in 249 BC, (Translation made by the Department of Archaeology of Nepal) as follows:

King Piyadasi (Asoka) the beloved of Devas in the twentieth year of the coronation himself made a royal visit; Buddha Sakyamuni having been born here, a stone railing was built and a stone pillar erected. The Bhagavan having been born here, Lumbini Village was tax-reduced and entitled to the eighth part (only).

Twenty years after his coronation, King Priyadasi, the beloved of god, visited Lumbini in person and offered worship there because the Buddha, the sage of the Sakyas, was born there.

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Puskarni Pond

Next to the Mahadevi Temple is a tank, in which Queen Maya is said to have bathed before the birth.

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Looking at the backside of the Mayadevi Temple from the tank.

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Teaching under an ancient tree

Next to the Puskarni Pond is an ancient tree. Though it is very old, it cannot be from the period of Buddha’s birth. I don’t think these trees live that long.

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Under the tree is a saffron-robed monk, teaching and answering questions. Not in English. About 50 people are sitting around him.

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The tree has been garlanded with innumerable prayer flags, blowing in the breeze, and wrapped around the tree trunk.

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Carol and Richard with Buddha’s Birthplace in the background.

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Women walking by the Puskarni Pond.

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After visiting the place of the Buddha’s birth, we walk to a place where we can get a bicycle rickshaw to take us to the rest of the Lumbini WHS.

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Sayings from the Buddha

Along the way are a number of signs with sayings from the Buddha.

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Central Canal Area

We near the Central Canal area. There are bicycle-rickshaws waiting, and a few souvenir stands. It is more than 2 miles to the end of this area, so we decide to hire a rickshaw. The driver who brought us from Chitwan negociated a price of Nepali rupees 500 to be taken to all the monuments. This is one of the few times we have been carried in a human powered taxi.

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On the rickshaw.

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The Eternal Flame

We first encounter the Eternal Flame, expressing the highest aspiration of this World Heritage Site, peace.

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On the other side of the canal is a large bell.

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Beside the canal is a series of signs to various Site buildings, erected in the last few years, since this became a World Heritage Site in 1997.

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A graceful bridge over the canal.

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Signs to more stupas and monasteries.

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In the distance we can see several of these.

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We see signs for even more.

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We ride by colorful statues showing some scene from the life of Buddha. Does anyone know this story?

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The Japanese World Peace Pagoda

At the far end of the Central Canal is the World Peace Pagoda.

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We approach on the rickshaw.

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Signs mark the spot.

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We approach the Pagoda.

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On the four sides are scenes that depict the four major events in the Buddha’s life: birth, enlightenment, first teaching, and death. (Only three are shown below. I did not get a good photo of the forth. They are shown in the order in which they are encountered during a normal clock-wise circumambulation of the pagoda. )

Buddha’s Death.

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Enlightenment.

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First Sermon.

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Lumbini Buddhist Museum

Nearby was an interesting museum with relics and many photos of famous Buddhist statues and locations. Unique architecture too.

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Next to the museum are large Tibetan prayer wheels.

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Sign stating the purpose of the museum: The saga of the Buddha’s life and his message.

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Inside the Museum

The photos taken in this museum include several of images behind glass. There are sometimes reflections on the glass. My apologies, they were the best I could take.

Also I have not been able to find out comprehensive information about the exhibits here, so many are unknown to me, and I may be mistaken on others. Please add to our information and correct any errors that you see by making a comment.

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Carol, reflection, looking at pictures of Buddha and pilgrimage sites.

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Poster, telling of Buddhist pilgrimage places.

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Primary Pilgrimage Places

Lumbini, Buddha’s Birthplace, with old Mahadevi Temple.

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Ruins during excavation.

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Tiles from excavated ruins.

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Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya, said to be founded by Ashoka. This marks the place of Buddha’s enlightenment.

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Buddha’s sermon to Indra, Bodh Gaya.

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Carving showing the worship of the Wheel of Dharma, Bodh Gaya.

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Sarnath (also known as ‘Deer Park’) Buddhist temple, the Dhamekh Stupa in Uttar Pradesh, India. This site marks the place of Buddha’s first teaching.

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In this first sermon, he taught the Four Noble Truths: (from Readings in Buddhist Philosophy: The First Sermon of Buddha.)

This, monks, is the Middle Way the knowledge of which the Tathagata has gained (Tathagata is how the Buddha refers to himself. It is thought to mean "one who has thus gone" {tathā-gata}. This is interpreted as signifying that the Tathagata is beyond all coming and going – beyond all transitory phenomena.), which leads to insight, which leads to wisdom, which conduces to calm, to knowledge, to perfect enlightenment to Nirvana.

This, monks, is the Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha): birth is suffering; aging is suffering; illness is suffering; death is suffering; presence of objects we hate is suffering; separation from objects we love is suffering; not to obtain what we desire is suffering. In short, the Five Components of Existence are suffering.

This, monks, is the Noble Truth concerning the Origin of Suffering: verily, it originates in that craving which causes rebirth, which produced delight and passion, and seeks pleasure now here, now there; that is to say, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for continued life, craving for nonexistence.

This, monks, is the Noble Truth concerning the Cessation of Suffering: truly, it is the complete cessation of craving so that no passion remains; the laying aside of, the giving up, the being free from, the harboring no longer of, this craving.

This, monks, is the Noble Truth concerning the Way which leads to the Cessation of Suffering: verily, it is this Noble Eightfold Way, that is to say, right views, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right means of livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, and right meditation.

Teaching Buddha. This generally depicts his first teaching, at Sarnath, one of the four main pilgrimage sites.

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Reclining Buddha. This posture usually stands for the death of Buddha, in Kushinigar, Kasia, in Uttar Pradesh.

Buddha’s last words were: "Now, monks, I say to you – all conditioned things are subject to decay; strive on with diligence.”

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Another reclining Buddha. Is this Tibetan?

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Buddha Relics

Transportation of the relics of the Buddha.

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These are some of the containers used for Buddha’s relics.

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Rangram Stupa, Nepal. In Parasi, near to Lumbini. Old photo. Location of some Buddha relics.

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Nalanda

Nalanda is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site. The site of Nalanda is located in the Indian state of Bihar, about 88 kilometers south east of Patna, and was a religious center of learning from the fifth or sixth century CE to 1197 CE. It is credited with being the place where Mahayana Buddhism originated. The Tibetan Buddhist traditions are said to have started here. At its peak, 10,000 students studied here. Its libraries were so extensive that when they were destroyed by the army under the Turkic general Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193, they are said to have burned for three months.

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Stupa, I do not know where this is.

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Images from the Buddhist World

Standing Buddha.

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Head of Buddha, 6th Century, Uttar Pradesh

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Female figure. From the voluptuous figure, maybe Indian? or Thai? 

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A Buddha figure, with some kind on tonsure (special haircut). Do not know origin. Can anyone help?

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Ajanta caves, painting. These are in Maharashtra, India, and date from the 2nd century BCE to about 500 or 600 CE

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Tibetan Buddha, perhaps from Ladakh, a high mountainous area of Kashmir, heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.

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Buddha’s Feet, old stone carving.

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One of the monasteries under construction.

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Chinese Monastery

The rickshaw driver, passing up other locations, took us to the Chinese Monastery. Maybe the time is getting past when these places close. I saw a sign giving hours until 5:00 PM.

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In the entrance is a large “Laughing Buddha” (Ho Tai). He is often confused with Gautama Buddha. Some Chinese Buddhists associate Ho Tai with with Maitreya (the future Buddha).

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Giant figures are on both sides of the entry hall. Are they guardians?

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The ceiling and walls are ornate.

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One more warrior figure, I think.

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The grounds and other buildings seem out of another day and age and culture. It is getting late in the day.

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Instead of visiting any of the other places, our rickshaw driver took us back to the main entrance of the site. Even though we had not seen most of the places, he still wanted a tip. We did not get any explanation, and were upset about the abrupt end of our tour. Now I think maybe that the places had closed for the day.

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We stayed in a hotel that night. We both had terrible night’s sleep, due to problems with the hotel. The place we stayed was Buddha Bhoomi Guest House. The room was way too hot, there was no power to move the ceiling fan, (even though they had a generator and had to be asked multiple times to activate it) and the beds were too hard. I recommend not staying at this place.

The next day we were so tired and cross from the poor night’s sleep that we just wanted to get out of there. We did not see most of the many temples, pagodas and monasteries at Lumbini.

We left feeling that if you were not specifically on a Buddha pilgrimage, this place was not worth the visit. However, looking through the photos now, I don’t feel so bad about the visit. Maybe there are good places to stay and eat. We did not find any. We were disappointed in this World Heritage Site, and felt that it needed better guest accommodations to be worth the visit.

Related Posts

Nepal Trip

Kathmandu
Chitwan National Park

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3 Responses to “Lumbini, Nepal: Buddha’s Birthplace”

  1. smallpebbles Says:

    HI Carol and Richard,
    Would like to put a link to your blog on my blog site. Let me know if that is okay. Enjoying your travels vicariously. We are in Chiang Mai but head to Tiru soon. See you there!
    Om Shanti,
    Kai
    smallpebbles.com (take a peek if you like)

  2. babita2008 Says:

    Thanks so much Carol and Richard for sharing your travels with us. Thanks for taking us on this virtual pilgrimage! Blessings upon you both. Love, Babita

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