I was instantly interested. I had been curious about Bodhagaya for a long time and this was a good opportunity to check it out. We closed the deal and left early morning by taxi. Getting to a taxi is an interesting experience here, btw - we were staying right on the riverside itself, and the only access there was through tiny labyrinthine gullies, where there was no question of a four wheeler coming through. Thus we had to walk through gullies and gullies till we got to the main road. I loved it - it was fascinating to see the life of Varanasi at such close range.
As it turned out, it was fortunate that we decided to go on a road trip that day - because it rained and rained. We were comfortable inside the car - but we would have been cold and wet on the river.
It was a long way to Bodhgaya - about 260 KM - and took more than 5 hours each way. The roads were amazing though - beautiful wide cemented highways - probably part of the golden quadrilateral. India Shining! Never thought roads in UP and Bihar would be so awesome! I would say that they are much better than Maharashtra roads! Inspite of heavy truck traffic - must be part of a great industrial corridor - we made good time and didnt get stuck in any jams.
At Bodhgaya the driver handed us over to an E Rickshaw guy, as petrol vehicles are not allowed to ply there. The E rickshaw took us to all the major points - the various statues, temples and monasteries built by all the Buddhist countries around the world. Japan, China, Korea, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Mongolia - there was even one from Bangladesh! The whole place was clean and neat and orderly.
The giant Buddha statue (Japanese) was clearly the main show - but each temple had its own nation specific charm.
The piece de resistance of Bodhgaya is the place where the Buddha went click, and said - Oh, I see! That is the whole point!
The 4 main points in the Buddha circuit are
1) Lumbini in Nepal - where he was born
2) Bodhgaya - where he said 'Aha! Eureka!'
3) Sarnath - where he have his first sermon
4) Kushinagar - where he copped it
As you can see - Bodhgaya is no. 2. He sat under a peepal tree and meditated till he saw the light, and that tree is called the Bodhi tree. The original tree is long gone - this tree is the 4th generation of that tree. There is an ancient temple built by Ashoka and various Buddhist kings in front of it, and there are many other places around....
the tree was where the Buddha sat, then there is a place where he walked around for a bit, then a place where he stood for a while, then a place where he took a bath, then a place where he....well - you get the idea.
Having come such a long way, the devotees want value for money, so they go around worshipping everything in sight.
The interesting part about Bodhagaya for me was the international range of devotees - there were faithful from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, Bhutan, China, Korea...all sorts...and also a handful of firangs. Each of them seemed to be praying in their own style, in their own language and with their own rituals. I found it fascinating!
There was a tibetan yagna going on, with a whole bunch of robed monks sitting and one guy rumbling out prayers in a very deep bass. There were some guys who were prostrating their way around. They would stand, then prostrate themselves, stand where their head had been while prostrating and then again take a dive! There was a whole bunch of people on a package tour from Sri Lanka - all looking like Indians...but not exactly. I smiled at them and they smiled warmly back.
It was a lovely place, and we spent a lot of time there.
So much time that our E rickshaw fellow was cheesed off. We were not allowed to carry phones inside the complex and had put them in safe deposit - and when I redeemed it, I saw 40 missed calls from the poor guy.
We had a bite to eat from a roadside rollwala and then left to get back - because it was a 5 hour journey back.
It was lucky that we left in time, because we got stuck in some ridiculous jams on the highway, and had our driver not gone off the road and into some really deep detours in deserted dark places where I thought he was going to rape and loot us - we might be in the jam still!
But alls well that ends well and we were back in the Palace on Steps and enjoying a last night looking out on to the Ganga.