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Irene's Adventures

India - Bodhgaya

INDIA | Wednesday, 15 September 2010 | Views [611]

This is where the Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree and became enlightened. Mahabodhi  Mahavihara is a world heritage site and  a Buddhist pilgrimage site.  A sapling of the original tree sits in the exact spot.  The entire town is built around various temples from various Buddhist countries.  If you don’t like temples and are not interested in Buddhism, this is not the place for you.

Mahabodhi Temple

However, a town takes on a life of its own, and this one is no different.  There are still the push cart vendors selling the appropriate trinkets; in this case, mala beads, Bodhi leaves and Buddha statues.  Of course there are the ever present fruit vendors, as well as bangles, sweets and other stuff.  The town has created its own industry to service the pilgrim.  There are shoe repair guys lined up and tailors in every 4th shop.  Cooking pots seem to be another hot item.

shoe repair guy  market

We spent part of Len’s 33rd birthday sitting under the Bodhi Tree, hoping that some enlightenment would wear off on us.  It is a beautiful complex with exquisitely carved murals and engravings.  Most people tend to observe the silent tranquility of the grounds.

Len Bellemore  Bodhi tree  intricate designs

Some small children wanted us to buy them ice cream.  They were pointing to each other saying “ice cream, ice cream”.  Len started shaking their hands and saying “hello ice cream”.  They pointed to the ice cream cart then to themselves saying “ice cream, ice cream”.  Len kept shaking their hands and calling them ice cream as he kept walking away.  Eventually they were holding both his hands and he was swinging them about, much to their glee.   They forgot all about the ice cream.  (zoom in on this little girl’s face)

kids wanting us to buy them ice cream   

 Again India proves to be the teacher of all patience and equanimity.  The front doors of the post office were chained shut and one has to go around the corner and up a flight of stairs.  We could not buy stamps at the post office because the stamp man was not there.  We tried to book our train tickets on-line but there were connection problems, so we had to go through an agent.  We knew more about the train schedules than the men at the ticket agency.  It took 3 men in 3 different offices and over an hour to book our train and bus tickets.  The bus tickets were dated 2 days ago.

carrying grass

It was Len’s birthday on the 9th.  While at breakfast, I went to the owner and explained that it was my son’s birthday and in Canada it is custom to have a candle.  When they bring breakfast, can they bring a candle.  A few minutes later, one of the servers comes over to our table and asks me what name to put on the cake.  Well, I never ordered a cake, and the cat was out of the bag.  Another kid brings in this girly heart shaped cake with Len’s name on it and a package of candles.  We all had a good chuckle, cut up the cake and gave it to the servers, as it was very sweet.

no plastic bags

The point of the story is every transaction involves numerous people, sometimes in numerous locations. You can’t buy stamps at the post office because the guy whose job it is to sell stamps is not there, no one else can do it.  As a result it is never what you wanted.  We ended up having to leave a day earlier on the later train.   It reminds me of an old party game where the first person whispers something into the second person’s ear.  The second person then whispers what they heard into the third person’s ear.  By the time it reaches the last person, it is nowhere near what was originally whispered.


I did have one very nice thing happen.  While in Varanasi, I had bought some linen fabric.  I was told there were very good tailors in Bodhgaya and wanted to get some dress trousers made.  I selected a tailor who said he could have them ready in a day, and to come back at 8:00 that night to collect them.  Well, my stomach was still a bit dodgy and as a result I never went to pick them up.  The next day we wander over to the tailors shop and it is locked! They use huge padlocks, even for hotel rooms, so the message was really driven home.  Initially, I had told the guy that we were leaving on Sunday, but now we were leaving that night.  It was Eid and he was Muslim.  (Eid is a huge holiday after 40 days of fasting for Muslims, it is akin to our Christmas.) I was hooped.  Oh well, I had only lost the cost of the linen, which was only about $9; no big loss.

As we were walking back to the guest house, the owner of the shop comes zipping up on his motorcycle.  He was going by and spotted me – for once I was glad I stuck out like a sore thumb.  He gave me a ride on his motorcycle to the shop to collect my trousers then gave me a ride back.  I thought that was really going out of his way, on the biggest holiday of the year, for him.

off to get my trousers

When we arrived at another hotel to catch the 4 hour bus ride to the 14 hour train ride, we were told the bus was cancelled due to some strike.  HUH??  How were we go get to the train?  We were told that we could take a tuktuk to the next town, Gaya, 14 km away, and catch a train from there to Patna, where we had reservations on the 14 hour train ride to the town that would see us on another bus to Darjeeling.  Ok, fine.  We got to Gaya in plenty of time; however the only space available on the train was General Class.  YIKES!  This is the class that you see on TV where they are squashed in like sardines and even riding on the roof.  (I've seen guys on the roof of buses, but not on trains.) What choice did we have? 

You know the saying, “The other side of the tracks”?  I think it came from India.  Platform 8 was the farthest one from the station.  You have to go up and over the trains to get to the various platforms.  The steps to get to platform 8 sort of got worse and worse, the further from the station we got.  Finally, down the steps to platform 8.   Well, there was no 'platform',  only dirt and piles of garbage to walk around.  There were people cooking over open fires beside the tracks.  We found a carriage that seemed to have some room, and, surprisingly, had a very pleasant journey.  The seats were hardly padded, but it was not overly crowded and with a fan every ½ meter on the ceiling, it was quite airy.  It turned out to be faster and better than the bus :)

endless knot

We certainly were the highlight of the journey for the locals.  They kept staring at us and our belongings.  I brought out my e-book and the fellow next to me just kept staring at it.  Finally he asked me “TV?  DVD?”  I said “book”.  He had a totally confused look.  The Japanese fellow, who was also thrust onto this General Class due to the bus strike, had guys practically on his lap looking at his i-phone.  Michaela made the mistake of taking a picture of the gawking men, instantly they all had their cell phone cameras out to take pictures of us.  Served us right....   

We had 5 hours to kill in Patna.  Patna has to be the most contradictory of cities.  The train station has beautiful tiled mosaics covering the walls and had benches.  The smell is what gets you.  It reeked of urine!!  Once we got outside we knew why.  Rather than cross the street and go to the toilets, men were going beside the building in a small alcove.  There was a river of piss.  We dropped our big bags at a cloak room and headed off for some food. 

drying cow pies

We turned right at the main street and it was littered with street vendors, selling everything but food.  We asked a shop owner where was a good place to sit and eat.  He pointed in the opposite direction and gave the name of a restaurant.  We crossed the street and headed that way.  We found a restaurant, we think it was the one recommended, and had some food.

We still had several hours to kill, so we thought we'd wander further up the street to see if we could find an internet cafe.  The further we went the nicer it got.  There were posh shops, brand name shops (Reebok, Levi's, TATA jewellers) and even a proper restaurant with waiters in white suits bustling in and out of the kitchen reminding me of a bee hive, and proper ice cream served!  Not one person in the restaurant stared at us.  But they had no bathroom – makes you wonder where the countless staff goes....  So we went back to the first restaurant, where we met up with the Japanese fellow, and decided to sit and have tea until our train time.

I am writing this on the train.  The sleeper cars are quite comfortable and even have a place to plug in to recharge our computers.  We have a 3 hour jeep ride ahead to take us to Darjeeling.


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