Where animals prowl and pilgrims dare not rest
By Frances Bulathsinghala
The pilgrims rest in Lumbini, Nepal, built by the Sri Lankan government in the mid 1980s lies abandoned and neglected as confusion surrounds over who is responsible for its upkeep.

A gift to the Nepal government by Sri Lanka during the regime of President J. R. Jayewardena, the pilgrims rest, situated about three kms from the Lumbini monastic zone has apparently been giving rest only to birds and other creatures that prowl the area for the past 10 years.

The building had cost about 50 million Sri Lankan rupees. When The Sunday Times contacted the Buddha Sasana Ministry Secretary D. W. Abeywickrema he admitted that the building had been totally neglected but said he was not aware as to who was responsible for its present state of neglect.

"It was built with the purpose of benefiting Buddhist pilgrims visiting Lumbini. Under the direction of President Jayewardena, as a goodwill gesture, it was handed over to the Nepal government. Unfortunately, few pilgrims benefited from the venture as Nepalese authorities had charged exorbitant fees from the pilgrims. It was later reportedly used for nefarious illegal activities," said Captain D. A. Wickremesinghe, President of the Nepal-Sri Lanka Friendship Association adding that he had been refused entry into the premises a few years ago when he had sought accommodation.

"It is a pathetic state of affairs. It was a memento by Sri Lanka so that the country would be remembered for its services to Buddhist pilgrims of all nationalities. But for the past few years the place had been neglected and Sri Lankan and other Buddhist pilgrims were forced to sleep on the floor of temples," Captain Wickremesinghe said.

According to him, there had been no supervision by the Sri Lankan government regarding the maintenance of the pilgrims rest and blamed the two Sri Lankan representatives appointed to look into its maintenance for not carrying out their duties.

"There had been a committee appointed with two representatives from Sri Lanka and two members of the Lumbini Development Board. They were supposed to meet once a month. Apparently this did not happen," Captain Wickremesinghe said.

When former Sri Lankan ambassador to Nepal, Pamela Deen was contacted, she re-affirmed that the building had been gifted to the Nepalese government and that therefore its maintenance lay with the Nepalese government. She also said that she had alerted Nepalese authorities to the neglected state of the building.

Meanwhile, Buddha Sasana secretary Abeywickrema claimed that the Ministry was looking into renovating the building. He said the ministry had received complaints from various tour operators that there were no facilities for pilgrims to lodge in Lumbini.

"We admit that the building is in a bad shape. We have received many complaints from tour operators and the Nepal Buddhist Society. We cannot be held responsible. It should have been attended to by the previous government," he says.

Asked what the present government would do about the matter, he said a draft form of an agreement to be formulated with the Lumbini Development Board in Nepal had been sent to the Attorney General's Department for approval.

According to Mr. Abeywickrema a Sri Lankan monastery is to be built at a cost of Rs. 90 million not far from the pilgrims rest and it would be opened by the end of this year. He said the monastery would also revive interest in renovating the dilapidated pilgrims rest.

Meanwhile, most of the tour operators we contacted, said they were not aware of any government-run pilgrim’s rest and they always made their reservations with hotels and guest houses for pilgrims who travelled through them.

They also said they felt the lack of a well maintained guesthouse directly linked with Sri Lanka where local pilgrims could feel at home. Aitken Spence Manager of Overseas Tour Operators, Nishantha Senevirathne also reiterated this point and said that Lumbini would get more attention from tour operators if there was a well maintained pilgrims rest.

Meanwhile Garbo Travels Director, Savithri Peiris told The Sunday Times that she had never heard of any pilgrims rest that was affiliated to the Sri Lankan government. "We have been operating for 13 years and I had not heard of such a place," Mrs. Peiris said.

Commenting on this Captain Wickremesinghe said, it was not surprising that tour operators were unfamiliar with the pilgrims rest as it had not been made available to the pilgrims. Meanwhile, Prasanna Jayasuriya, a member of the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust who had visited the location recently, described the pilgrims rest as having gone to the wilds.

"It is a sad state of affairs. The Sri Lankan government should look into it as the name board of the building carries Sri Lanka on it," Mr. Jayasuriya said.

Top  Back to News  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.