Located 22km west of Siddharthanagar (Bhairawa), Lumbini was the birthplace of one of history’s most revered figures, Siddhartha Gautama – better known as the historical Buddha – in the 7th century BC. During the years following the Buddha’s lifetime, this was a teeming monastic complex and a major place of pilgrimage, but the site was lost to history until the discovery in 1896 of an inscribed pillar left behind by the Buddhist emperor Ashoka, amidst a sea of monastery ruins.

History moves in cycles – over the last few decades, a new complex of stupas, monasteries and temples built by Buddhist nations from across the globe has risen from the marshland surrounding the modest-looking but hugely significant Maya Devi Temple, located on the exact spot where Buddha was born.

For now, Lumbini sees more pilgrims than sightseers, and a contemplative mood prevails, but the opening of a new international airport at Siddharthanagar (slated for completion in 2018) is set to raise the profile of Lumbini and other sites linked to the life of the Buddha, including nearby Tilaurakot, where Prince Siddhartha lived a live of luxury before embarking on the path to enlightenment.