Buddhist Holy Site
Trip Start Sep 18, 2004
69Trip End Jun 05, 2005
Written on May 19th, 2005 in Calcutta
To get to Bodgaya, we first took the train from Varanasi to Gaya. From Gaya, we shared an auto rickshaw to Bodgaya which is only 13 km away. Out of all the working rickshaws in Gaya, we happened to jump into one that had mysterious mechanical problems. The driver would drive for about 300 meters, then he would jump off to tinker with the engine. We'll then start moving again. I would have not minded so much if it was not so hot out (41C) and if I had some water with me. People sharing a rickshaw with us were all very friendly, it made me wish I spoke some Hindi. The only Hindi we know, sadly enough, are "hello" (Namaste) and "go away" (cello). In Gaya and Bodgaya we met quite a few people who helped us without wanting anything from us
As a Buddhist, I was rather excited to visit Bodgaya, where Buddha obtained enlightenment under a bodhi tree. At the site stood the Mahabodhi Temple, which was built in the 3rd Century BC. A descendent of the original Bodhi tree is behind the temple. At dawn and dusk, Buddhist monks from different parts of the world circulate the temple. On the temple grounds are stupas and more Bodhi trees offering shade to people who are meditating. There is just something really magical about the Mahabodhi temple. Since we are here in the low season, most of the Tibetan pilgrims are long gone, leaving behind plenty of shady spots in the temple to sit and contemplate. To sit under a tree in the temple and listen to the birds chirping has a wonderful calming effect on me.
Bodgaya is also the place to see many different styles of Buddhist temples from Asia. Many Buddhist countries have built temples with representative architectural style in Bodgaya, as well as monasteries for pilgrims to stay.
Bodgaya is the first town we visited in India that is quiet and peaceful. There is little noise pollution from the honking, nor aggressive rickshaw wallas tailing us. We don't have to constantly look out for cow land mines because there are very few cows in Bodgaya. The gutters are covered up so the men can't urinate in public. It's a reprieve from the ghettos we stayed in other parts of India
An unlikely monk
On our last morning in Bodgaya, while sitting (and sleeping) under a tree in Mahabodhi Temple, I befriended a Buddhist nun from Malaysia. After finding out that we were leaving that night to Calcutta by train, she introduced us to a Chinese monk who was also going to Calcutta the same night. She suggested that we should share a car with him because Bihar, the province Bodgaya is in, is known for rampant bandits. She started pouring out all these terrible stories of pilgrims and monks being robbed and killed around Bodgaya. It was hard for us to imagine because Gaya and Bodgaya seem so peaceful to us.
As it turned out, this Chinese monk lived in Bodgaya for the last thirty years. He actually has an Indian passport because he can speak fluent Hindi. He was born in the Sichuan province of China and was given to the Buddhist temple in his village when he was six years old. He was in the red army during the cultural revolution. After the cultural revolution, he decided to leave China and hiked through Tibet to Nepal. He lived in Kathmandu for thirteen years before moving to Bodgaya. The kind man made us dinner before we headed out to catch the train. I would've love to find out his life story but his Sichuanese accent was too thick for me to understand. The Indians don't seem to have a problem understanding his Sichuanese Hindi, so I wonder if he also speaks Hindi with an accent.
After Bodgaya we head to Calcutta, our last stop in India.