To find a place not steeped in history, heritage or culture in India would be an anomaly. After living for eight years in the country I should be used to the cultural avalanche that typifies most things Indian by now.
After all, we are talking about 2 million years, 29 states, 7 union territories, and 9 practiced religions. But nope. Every time I come across a place, either firmly established as the country’s top sights or obscure and unknown on the road-less-travelled, I am overwhelmed. 🙂
Take for instance my recent travels to Bodh Gaya. On doing my travel research one specific name kept popping up—Rajgir. It came highly recommended. Unsure of what exactly to expect, I added it to my itinerary with an overnight stay, but alas, I wish I had stayed longer.
Known in ancient times as Rajagriha, which translates to “house of king” or “royal house,” Rajgir, located between Bodh Gaya and Nalanda, was the first capital of ancient Magadha up until the 5th Century BC. But what was Magadha? Continue reading →
Auto-rickshaw driver: Which temple would you like to see? Tibet or Japan? Or Thai? [All the rickshaw drivers in Bodh Gaya, I realise by now, speak impeccable English.]
Me: All of them. Oh, and yeah, Sujata temple too. 😀
I see his eyes light up. I can almost read his mind: This woman will pay me well. She is the wandering types.
Auto-rickshaw driver: It will be Rs. 1,000!
I bargain my way down to Rs. 500 plus a hundred-rupee tip. We shake hands and embark on a six-hour camaraderie which survives through the rattling by-lanes to Bodh Gaya’s far corners, in search of Buddhist temples and monasteries from Tibet to Japan. I say “search” because some of our stops I had merely wisps of information of, and he was completely clueless about. Continue reading →
“Is there some festival or special event taking place here today?” I whisper to the Buddhist monk seated next to me.
I am confused, and overwhelmed.
The entire Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Bodh Gaya, in the Indian State of Bihar, is draped with marigolds, lotuses, and roses. Hundreds of ochre and red-robed shaven-headed Buddhist monks and nuns prostrate in prayer in the grounds, and around the main temple. A handful of tourists quietly join the circumambulations around the main temple. I see pilgrims from Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Tibet, and Sri Lanka in deep prayer. Most are dressed in their traditional attires. I see a few pilgrims from the West as well, no less in the purity of their faith. Groups chant with micro precision around me, not one voice out of sync, their mantras punctuated with the crescendo beats of rattle drums.
“No. Nothing special. It is like this every day all winter.” And he goes back to his meditation.
Nothing special. Just the extraordinary experience of being part of, and witnessing Buddhists from all corners of the world come and pay homage to the place where Buddha received enlightenment. 🙂 Continue reading →
When writing the title of this post, I found myself in a bit of a quandary. Should I call it a global travel shot or an Indian travel shot? The former won.
The above image is of the red brick ruins of the world’s first residential international university—Nalanda Mahavihara—built in the Indian state of Bihar in the 5th Century AD. To be more specific, it is an image of the stupa marking the nirvana of Sariputra, Buddha’s famed disciple, within the university. A Sanskrit name, Nalanda means giver of lotus stalks; mahavihara translates to great monastery.
For 800 years, Nalanda, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracted the brightest brains from all over the ancient world, from as far afield as Central Asia, China, and Korea. Hungry for knowledge, these scholars flocked to Nalanda’s doors to be met by a rigorous oral examination by its gatekeepers. Only those who passed were allowed to study inside the coveted walls. Many were turned away. Continue reading →