Set against a pastoral landscape 53km east of Gorakhpur, the small village of Kushinagar is revered as the site of Buddha’s death and cremation, and final liberation (Mahaparinirvana) from the cycles of death and rebirth. During his lifetime, Kushinara, as it was then called, was a small kingdom of the Mallas, surrounded by forest. It remained forgotten until the late nineteenth century, when archeologists began excavations based on the writings of seventh-century Chinese pilgrims.
Today Kushinagar is rediscovering its roots as a centre of international Buddhism, and is home to several monasteries sponsored by Buddhists from Tibet, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Japan. The strikingly simple Japanese Temple consists of a single circular chamber housing a great golden image of Buddha, softly lit through small, stained-glass windows. In stark contrast, the recently constructed Thai Monastery is a large complex of lavish, traditionally styled temples and shrines.