Bodhgaya: Finding some peace
on Jen does Delhi with VSO (India), 23/Sep/2010 12:22, 34 days ago
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After the delivery of the Kolkata interpreter training over 9 days including two weekends it was time for some R&R. I had one day to explore Kolkata with one of the volunteers there who showed me round. We had a laugh in theplanetariumwhere the 70-something schoolmarm shouted at people if they had their mobiles on and told us that Pluto was no longer a planet and had been demoted. As India’s old capital city, Kolkata has a lovely historical feel to it and is certainly more cultured than Delhi which feels clinical and functional (or dysfunctional) in comparison. The Park Street cemetery was a little slice of calm and told of young British deaths due to Malaria and Typhoid. India isas mad as a box of frogs, what must have it have been like in the 1800’s?After the whistle stop tour it was off toBodhgayafor me and my friend who hadn’t been out of Kolkata for 6 months. A remarkable achievement for a place that although lovely was packed, had crazy traffic and few green spaces. Bodhgaya seemed a good choice as the site whereShakyamuni Buddhagained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.We arrived at Gaya and got an auto the 13km out to Bodhgaya through a few villages and fields. Ruralshire was a welcome sight. We found our guesthouse complete with some monks and sorted ourselves out after the night train. We discovered a tiny town with temples dotted along the sides of one main road. Monks mingled with mainly Indian tourists and the stalls were selling tourist tack. I’d heard reports this place had been ruined and after having breakfast in a dirty restaurant accompanied by cockroaches I’d wondered whether I was even going to like it here. The cheap eats we got at a Thai restaurant redeemed the place and the next day we had found a good travellers cafe and aquality dhaba for chai and chaat.The reason for coming was confirmed once we entered the Mahabodhi temple complex. This Indian Buddhist temple was built by King Ashok to preserve and commemorate the site of the Bodhi tree. I’ve been practicingBuddhismover the last year or so but whether you practice or not you can really feel the power and serenity of the place. We sat under the tree with monks, lay Buddhists and tourists from all over Asia. Some meditated, some chanted, others sat in peaceful thought and contemplation. Over the three days we chatted to a few Sri Lankan Buddhists, sat under the tree with others and watched Korean Buddhists chanting with some monks.The other temples in Bodhgaya all have different characteristics and decorations depending on their region. The Tibetan Karma temple had the most amazing depictions of Buddhist scenes such as the moment Buddha gained enlightenment. The main Tibetan temple had monks listening to a talk by the Dalai Lama and the Bhutanese one was atmospheric replete with a monk banging a drum and chanting. The Chinese temple took me back to travelling China last year with its script inside and the large stone dragons adorning the doors. The Japanese multi-denominational temple was peaceful and spacious with its understated wooden features and open spaces.We saw many others but were drawn back to the mainMahabodhi templeevery day as somewhere you could spend time in peaceful solitude. The town is similar to other Indian tourist spots with the hawkers selling tat and a willingness of some locals to rip off foreign tourists. Hey that’s just the downside of India. Another problem we had was being a few weeks ahead of the main tourist season we were two of only a handful of foreigners. We got rather more attention than we wanted with cameras thrust in our faces and being constantly asked where we were from. It was easier to escape inside the complex and take refuge. Apart from that, anyone spending time here in the presence of Buddhists cannot fail to feel peaceful and happy. Three days was enough to feel refreshed and get back to Delhi ready for a potentially painful visa extension process and preparations for the next interpreter training course.