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Seeking Enlightenment in Bodhgaya

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Our first overnight train was the next experience, we arrived (good and early) at Howrah Station Kolkata to take the Jodhpur Express towards Gaya. Indian stations are an experience in themselves with many people living there… Our train was in station 45 mins before departure time, which was fortunate as it took almost that long to walk the length of the platform to our carriage – Indian trains are long! Must be around 40 carriages. The journey went without issue, we found it surprisingly easy to sleep, the sound of the moving train is rather relaxing.

Our train was due in the Gaya at 610 but alarm was set for 530 as our friend Rajesh (owner of the company who ran the Sundabans trip), advised we should be sure to watch the sunrise form the train as it is very beautiful on that journey – he was right. Photos to be added (a note on photos, we have not been able to upload Sundarbans photos yet as we’ve had v slow internet connections recently, so much for IT Capital of the World, the web doesn’t work when it rains… Anyway should be done today).

We arrived in Gaya on time and, as we had read, it was not much to look at; so we headed straight for a tuk-tuk to Bodhgaya, 12kms down the road. Bodhgaya is the place Siddhārtha Gautama gained enlightenment after sitting below a Bodhi tree meditating for 3 weeks and became the Buddha. A descendent of the tree still stands in its place by a temple which is holy to both Buddhists and Hindus (who believe the Buddha was an incarnation of Vishnu).

We were heading towards a guest house that we had heard was good and cheap (a family home with extra rooms therefore also v clean). En route we met Rames who asked if we wanted a room, we said no as we knew where we were going then he said “Rahul Guest House” and we thought, “ah! You’re from there – that’s where we’re going!”. So we went with him, turns out he’s a tout and will have got commission, which is annoying as we could’ve found it on our own, but anyway he was interesting enough so didn’t mind too much.

We were able to check-in even though it was 7am which was great after the overnight journey. Refreshed and showered the nephews of the owner offered to take us out for chai on their motorbikes. It was a good way to see around town (Bodhgaya is small, only 3 main roads) and we enjoyed a couple of chais then had a go on their bikes (only on small road with no traffic, mums!). They then took us to see a giant 500 year old Banyan tree which was cool and we also visited a local school, The Tortora Noki Free School, run by volunteers. We stayed a while and did some activities with the kids as it was break time (skipping and football with a deflated ball mostly) then stayed for the start of lessons and checked their Latin alphabets. It was really great to see (and we didn’t mind giving a small donation since schools like this are giving the opportunity of education to village kids that would not otherwise have any.

After this we went back to our room to chill and try to upload the Sundarbans photos (see above!). Otherwise Bodhgaya is small and has many temples built by Buddhists of different countries, including Japan, Burma, Bangladesh etc. Our favourite was the Nepali one which was playing loud music and had children dancing outside, good fun, think we will like Nepal. We also went to see a ‘Big Buddha’ – a statue 25m high which was quite impressive. The thing to do seemed to be to walk around the statue and look at all Buddha’s disciples along the way.

We needed to book our train tickets for Varanassi and Darjeeling and at first we were not sure where to go. Rames kept telling us that he would sort it for us and eventually he took us to a ‘travel agent’. Being quite wary and cautious we went along and just got information about train times, not parting with any money. We then decided that we would try to find the government run ticket office which we had read about. This was hard to find (most of India so far has been a challenge-simple things that we do at home are definitely not simple here!) but eventually we found a small counter under a green roof. We asked about the tickets and it turned out that we needed to get photocopies of our passports – the bureaucracy continues! So we trot off to the Xerox place across the road only to find that the electricity in the whole of Bodhgaya has gone down. In our time there this ended up being a very regular occurrence – black outs were happening all the time but people would just get on with it and set generators up (if they were lucky enough to have one). This reminded me of Spain 20 years ago when electricity would be cut off during storms. Much of India rather like Europe in the 1970’s/80’s or even further in many ways... So we waited 5 mins for the photocopier to work again and went back to the train man who was very helpful and we got the tickets cheaper than the ‘travel agent’ was going to sell. So we are learning quickly – never follow touts as you will be fleeced and they will get a commission. We have both decided that we are clever enough (most of the time) not to have to follow strange men everywhere!

As with everywhere we got lots of attention being two western girls, everyone wants to know where you are from and where you are going, and take you places, they don’t seem to get that sometimes we are not going anywhere but just want to wander! Boys on motorbikes were especially keen on taking us to see “the mountain” (in exchange for money of course), which we had read about but almost didn’t bother as everyone was quite annoying about it. Eventually we bumped into a nice guy called Sankar who was not irritating and said he would take us for 400 Rps which seemed fair enough. We learned he was a farmer and since it is currently between harvest times he supplements his income with that type of thing. The mountain visit was a worthwhile experience, as we arrived a downpour came so we took shelter in a small stall with a comedy old guy Sankar knew, they smoked a chillum (Indian pipe) to pass the time until the rain stopped (Rach also had a puff, since it seems the thing to do in Bodhgaya!). There is a small cave where Buddha spent 6 weeks with a shrine, we lit some incense and left it for good luck. Also from here were great views out over the plains and we could see back to Bodhgaya around 10 kms away.

That night was not fun for RK who was a bit ill and up most of the night, almost certainly caused by two large dollops of chilly-sauce in her soup – should’ve heeded the advice to avoid sauces as they are usually made with tap water! We spent 3 full days in Bodhgaya which is more than required to see it but gave us time to get to know it and chill out. Plus it was a useful contingency for ‘ill time’!

Next stop is the important Hindu town of Varanassi...

Posted by TessAndRach 02:30 Archived in United Kingdom

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