In what was greater India more than twenty-five hundred years ago, a young, pregnant noblewoman named Maya Devi was traveling home beneath a full moon, when she came upon a fragrant grove of sal trees. As she strolled through the grove, smelling the flowers and listening to the birds, labor pains unexpectedly came upon her, and in the garden of Lumbini that evening she gave birth to a boy, Siddhartha Gautama, heir to the Shakya clan. Not long after childbirth, Maya Devi and the newborn aristocrat continued on their homeward journey to Kapilavastu. Because it is considered the birthplace of the Buddha, and certainly not because it ranks high on anyone’s list of vacation spots, Lumbini, located within the borders of present-day Nepal, is an essential stop on any Buddhist pilgrimage in Asia.

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