On a bright and sunny afternoon, a group of friends started their pilgrimage in Lumbini, the Birthplace of Buddha. They entered the Sacred Garden and started walking towards Maya Devi temple, a place full of spirituality, a feeling of peace and surrounded by natural landscapes.
After paying homage in Mayadevi temple, the group continued their journey towards Shanti Deep (World Peace Flame), when upon arrival, one of the visitors asked the tour guide about the two monumental buildings situated on both sides of the flame.
The buildings were designed by Kenzo Tange, as part of his 1978 master plan in coordination with the United Nations and the Government of Nepal to develop Lumbini into an international tourist destination. However, until recently, the buildings have mostly sat empty and unused.
Continuing their visit, the families enjoyed traveling from monastery to monastery on their bicycles and even on a boat ride stretching along the monastic zone. After their time exploring Lumbini, the group inquired about restaurants and cafes nearby, to relax and get some refreshments on the hot day. The guide told the visitors, “There are no cafes in the sacred garden. There are a few restaurants outside the premises, or we can go back to the hotel.” The confused visitors responded, “Where do visitors get to relax and get water on such a hot day?”
Visitors have been asking the same question since the Lumbini was introduced as a World Heritage site in 1997. To help answer the calls of the visitors, the World Bank is assisting the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation through the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) in the designing and refurbishment of Amma’s Cafe located in Lumbini Sacred Garden, Nepal.
Amma cafe is a pilot program of the Buddhist Circuit in South Asia, for the development of a model women-led business. The business will serve the purpose of generating employment and economic opportunities for the poor women of Lumbini, building upon the rich local arts and crafts culture, the site’s history, and the region’s cultural landscape.
The Café, located in the existing pavilion designed by Kenzo Tange near the World Peace Fame, will be refurbished in a modern style using local materials and traditions, such as Dhaka fabrics, that showcase the local artistry to maintain the ethnicity of the area. The interior of the café will be a mix of wood and concrete to resemble the original structure.
The project team is working in coordination with LDT for the refurbishment of the pavilion to not damage or cause any irreversible changes to the original structure, as well as ensure that the design is in accordance with environmental and conservation principles – considering its proximity to the sacred Mayadevi temple.
The cafe, with its limited space, is small in nature but will look to maximize its area by utilizing the two floors of the pavilion. The ground floor will consist of the serving area and a cash counter, while the first floor will be an air-conditioned area that will seat 48 people. Orders will be placed from the ground floor either from inside the cafe or from the outside serving window, while customers will sit on the first floor enjoying their meals with excellent views of the water canal and the sacred area. To ensure that the guests not only enjoy the view but also the food, the cafe will be equipped with all the modern equipment needed to run a successful cafe anywhere in Nepal.
The refurbishment work was provisioned to begin during the last week of March 2020. However, due to Covid-19, the refurbishment was delayed and began in October 2020, after the relaxation of Covid protocols in Nepal. The refurbishment work is scheduled to be completed in June 2021 with approximately 95% of the work completed as of May. However, a lockdown was imposed in Lumbini at the beginning of May 2021, which will further delay the work. The café will display items including snacks, beverages, and local delicacies. The café will not only serve people to eat, drink and relax, but also aim to enthrall people to explore the local ethnic crafts of the area produced by local women.