“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 →
The historical and artistic magnificence of India never fails to amaze me. Take a step in any direction and one is flooded with the country’s inordinate rich past and culture. Which does not always work in its favour for it lends to the Indian populace a nonchalance towards their own heritage.
Medieval sculptures which audiences lust over in international museums lie covered with petals and incense soot in temple nooks here. Millennia old crumbling edifices stand forgotten, holding on to time in desperation in an attempt to evade being razed down. And because they are in the multitude, one more or one less, sadly become irrelevant.
No part of this country is immune to its own cultural excess. Not even an uber metro like Mumbai. In fact even less so, for I have discovered and experienced sights here across centuries and religions, coexisting in uncanny innate ease. Continue reading →
“Let’s explore the rock-cut cave temples of Mumbai this Sunday,” a friend suggests excitedly.
“Caves? I have been to Elephantaand Kanheri. Even written about them! Read my post. 🙂 ”
“Hey, there are more, a lot more in the city itself.”
More? I am confused. Where can there possibly be caves in Mumbai. The city is packed with concrete and people, with little space to walk, least of all millennia old caves to have survived. I am wrong.
Hidden within the crevices of Mumbai’s urban jungle is a pulsating vein of its ancient past. A series of rock-cut temples, connected to each other with tunnels and hidden passageways, lace the city’s basalt bed rock. Continue reading →
Phnom Penh is where the Cambodians live, work, play and pray. Its attractions are low key, forming part of the fabric of local life. The city sits at the confluence of the three great rivers of Indochina—the Mekong, Tonle Sap and the Bassac—and is the country’s commercial and political capital. It is crowded, chaotic and most importantly necessary in order to understand the everyday real Cambodia.
Like Siem Reap and other towns in Cambodia, Phnom Penh too swarms with child beggars and amputated men and women trying to eek out a living from the country’s thriving tourism industry. After three decades of civil war, the country has only in the last 10 years opened its doors to the outside world with its sliver of calm and peace. All in all 539,000 tonnes of bombs have been dropped over the country and between four and six million land mines still dot the countryside. Huge billboards on the roads read, “Put down your weapons. We don’t need to fight anymore.” Continue reading →
I am finally in Cambodia. Every traveller’s utopia. Peace has come to this beautiful yet scarred land after three decades of war and suffering, and a journey to this small kingdom is truly one of Asia’s most genuine adventures.
Present day Cambodia is the successor state to the mighty Khmer empire which during the Angkor Period (9th to 15th Century AD) ruled much of what is now Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. No matter how much you read about Angkor or see pictures of its monuments, the actuality of the place still takes you by surprise. The scale alone of the site is impressive, the detailed stone carvings on its temples only further adding to its incredible beauty. Continue reading →
Luang Prabang resonates with sacred chants and harmony. The various layers of life in this charming, medieval, religious town blend seamlessly into each other to create a complete whole. From the saffron robed monks going about their daily tasks to the local Lao whose lives revolve around the wats; from the night market which sells indigenous handicrafts to the thronging tourists, to the tourists themselves, mature and sensitive to the spirit of Luang Prabang. Nothing jars here. Nothing irks. Every aspect of this palm fringed, sleepy, former royal capital by the Mekong is in peace with itself. Continue reading →
I have to remind myself that I have been in Laos for less than 36 hours. It feels like a very long time. Everything and everyone is welcoming and simple. No traffic, no noise, no cell phones, no crowds, no garish modernisms. The pace quieter, the days longer, the moments richer. Continue reading →
In the 7th Century, Songtsen Gampo, the 33rd Yarlung king of Tibet, united the scattered tribes of Tibet and moved his capital from Tsedang to Lhasa. He was one of the first kings to be recognized as an incarnation of Avalokiteshwara, the boddhisattva of compassion. During his reign he had a group of 16 children sent to India to study Sanskrit. Only one child survived the journey and went on to live in India for seven years. His name was Tumi Sambhota. This child later became a prominent Minister in Songtsen’s court and was responsible for standardizing and forming the Tibetan script that is still in use today. He contributed immensely to the translation of the Buddhist Sanskrit scriptures as well, making them understandable to the many devout and faithful followers in the kingdom. Continue reading →
Tashilhunpo Monastery, the seat of the Panchen Lama
Tashilhunpo Monastery, meaning ‘Heap of Glory’, is the seat of the Panchen Lama, the second most important spiritual leader of Tibet and was commissioned in 1447 by His Holiness the 1st Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Gendun Drup. The abbots of Tashilhunpo came to be known as Panchen, because of their scholarly reputation. The title Panchen derives from the Sanskrit word Pandita, which means ‘scholar’, and the Tibetan term Chen Po, which means ‘great’. Continue reading →