Highlights, Lowlights and Panoramas
24.08.2009 - 05.10.2009 20 °C
Mahabodhi Temple and the Bodhi Tree
An unexpected highlight of my Indian travels was a trip to Bodh Gaya to see the Mahabodhi Temple, the place where Buddha gained enlightenment while he sat under the Bodhi tree. In essence, it is the place where the Buddhist philosophy began.
On entering the Heritage Park, the noises & bustle of India were replaced by the peace & serenity of the park and its followers. A very mild mannered guide offered to show me around, but I refused, as I wanted to check it out , on my own, in my own time.
I loved The place I had to see first was the “Tree”, so I walked around the back of the temple to see it. It is not the original tree but a descendant of it and while sitting quietly in front of it, I imagined a meditating Buddha sitting there. Why here?
As I walked around the grounds, but I kept on being drawn back to the tree and it occurred to me, that if ever there was a place for a novice to learn how to meditate, this must be it. So I meditated for what seemed like 5 minutes but when I checked my watch, it had been over half an hour.
After such a successful meditating session it also seemed that this was also the place to pray for people. So I started "remembering or praying" for my family, departed parents and then this broadened this out to cover my extended family and friends. I repeated my family again just in case, the wording I had used in my early “Pray Fors”, was not up to scratch. I finished at the end with anyone else I thought was worth a mentioning or could remember, such as Cliff Wooley, an early mentor, horse trader and riding instructor and then recalled the time at the Nelson Agriculture Show, when his daughter’s gig was kicked apart by a big white, high stepping horse. The usually well-mannered trap horse just arched its back & quickly reduced the gig to kindling and Melva pretty much gave up showing & driving horses after that.
I finished with a another quick prayer for the departed and noted that the odd tear was starting to run down my cheeks. So I just sat there staring at the tree waiting for the emotional regret to pass, it eventually did, but surfaced again when I started to walk around the temple a couple of times to finish my visit. I must have looked a bit of a cot case, walking around the temple with tears running down my face.
I also spent a bit more time visiting couple of other temples nearby that also celebrate Buddha’s enlightenment and found myself at dusk looking for an auto-rickshaw to take me the 20 kilometres back to the station, to catch the evening train back to Varanasi.
So I approach one of the few rickshaw drivers left there and asked for a price to get to take me to the station. He realises I am trapped quarry and asks for 200 Rupees, 10 times what I paid to get there. I told him "he would have to be fucking joking" but he wasn’t. Eventually I managed to get a ride in a horse drawn cart, to take me the couple of kms back to the main road where hopefully where there are more rickshaws so I could barter a better price.
After about half a kilometre the young guy driving the horse decides to whip it into action, I tell him to slow down as I don’t want to be responsible for flogging the poor horse to death, but he doesn’t listen and so I end up grabbing the reins and pulling the horse to a halt and at the same time I manage to flag down a passing auto rickshaw, carrying 7 adults and 3 children, who quickly offers me the good price for a ride back into town.
So I go pay the young horse wrangler, the money that we agreed on, but he wants more, I reply with a “ for fucks sake” and “he would have to be fucking joking” and thrust the money in his hand while at the same time jumping off the back of the his cart, and then, just as quickly squeezing myself into the waiting auto-rickshaw.
This coincides with the “200 Rupee!” rickshaw driver passing me and I can't help giving him the bird, which unsurprisingly returns. As we drive off, I turn to look at the horse driver who is still yelling at me.
Well so much for my newly found peace and tranquillity. Sorry Buddha!
Poverty & Illiteracy
Illiteracy is one of the biggest diseases India has, it leads to whole families living in abject poverty with little chance of advancement.
Being a foreign traveller in this country of “haves and the have nothings”, your path will be crossed by touts, leading or misleading you to sometimes good but often dodgy accommodation and sight seeing trips and the taxis drivers who push up their prices, when carrying tourists, while often promoting “better hotels” that give them some sort of kick back, if you stay in them.
Then there are the over zealous salesmen, who are usually selling some questionable gismo or merchandise, who won’t take “no thanks” as an answer. They will follow you down the road keeping the conversation alive with the usual questions, (What is your name? Where are you from?, Are you travelling alone? Is this your first visit to India?), that help them work out who they are selling to and also buy time to keep their sales pitch going. The end result is often just a bit of time wasted .
Con men, now these are the guys that can really piss you off. I mentioned an “ear one” in my blog “Getting my Sea Legs” but the one that really got my attention occurred in the streets of New Delhi when a shoeshine guy offers to clean my sandals. I look down to see a small pile of shit on my left foot, that I didn’t feel being applied. My initial reaction was one of disgust at seeing it there and then having to wash it off with bottled water, but disgust turned to rage when I became aware of the shoeshine guy still offering his help. I just knew he is the person responsible for putting it there, in the first place. I started to walk towards him calling him a scumbag and other bloody toe rag phrases and I am sure he sensed that I had vengeance on my mind as he vanished into the street just as quickly as he had appeared. They can almost ruin your day.
And lastly the beggars who if they are genuinely handicapped it doesn’t hurt to give them a few rupees but make sure it is not just an act. The ones that can be a bit annoying are those ones that grab you and I also am not to keen on the mothers who send their kids out to do the begging, why would you encourage these practices by giving them money. Donate to a local charity?
Trains Vs. Buses: Trains every time, 2nd class sleeper works for me. With buses, you obviously have more routes and destinations available to you but there were a couple times I said to myself that I have never had such a bone jarring experience. I was travelling in a bus sleeper, an antonym, I now realise, I enjoy the fact that they allow you to stretch out but on a rough road they can be as jarring as sailing in a yacht heading into a windy and choppy sea.
Delhi Vs. Mumbai: Mumbai in a Kiwi minute, its hot but it is by the sea, not like their inland, capital city counterparts in Delhi, where it is often very hot and is situated miles inland. I think, like the climate, that Mumbayans seem more chilled than their Delhi brothers & sisters. Wish I had travelled to where ever Bollywood is.
Rough Guide Vs. Lonely Planet: If Rough guide gave expected price and price range on all accommodation that it mentions in its travel book, then it would be Rough Guide as their local histories and backgrounds are more in depth than their rival Lonely Planet, the market leader of travel guides. So it’s a toss up, as I like the pricing predictions in Lonely Planet.
Statistics (Usually travelled 2nd class on trains)
Journey ----- Type of Transport ----- Distance ----- Price (Rupees) ----- Duration
Mumbai - Varanasi Train – Sleeper 1533 kms ----- 1593Rs ----- 28.0 hrs
Varanasi - Bodh Gaya Train - Seat ------ 258 kms ------ 147Rs ----- 5.5 hrs
Bodh Gaya – Varanasi Train - Seat ----- 258 kms ----- 147Rs ----- 5.5 hrs
Varanasi - Agra ----- Train - Sleeper ----- 607 kms ----- 249Rs ----- 13.0 hrs
Agra - Delhi ----- Train - Sleeper ----- 350 kms ----- 237Rs ----- 4.5 hrs
Delhi - Kalka ----- Train - Seat ------ 303 kms ----- 190Rs ----- 5.0 hrs
Kalka - Shimla ----- Toy Train - Seat ----- 97 kms ------ 182Rs ----- 5.5 hrs
Shimla - Manali ----- Bus - Seat ----- 420 kms ----- 257Rs ----- 10.0 hrs
Manali - Dharamsala ----- Bus - Seat ----- 369 kms ----- 600Rs ------ 7.0 hrs
Dharamsala - Amristar ----- Bus - Seat ----- 335 kms ----- 128Rs ----- 8.0 hrs
Amristar - Bikaner ----- Bus - Sleeper ----- 603 kms ----- 350Rs ----- 15.0 hrs
Bikaner - Jodhpur ------ Train - Seat ----- 278 kms ----- 148Rs ----- 5.5 hrs
Jodhpur - Jaisalmer ----- Train - Seat ----- 290 kms ----- 152Rs ----- 4.0 hrs
Jaisalmer - Udaipur ----- Bus - Sleeper ----- 603 kms ----- 450Rs ----- 13.5 hrs
Udaipur - Mt Abu ----- Bus - Seat ----- 197 kms ----- 120Rs ----- 5.0 hrs
Mt Abu - Ahmedadad ----- Train - Seat ----- 180 kms ----- 110Rs ----- 4.5 hrs
Ahmedadad - Bhagnagar ----- Bus - Seat ----- 191 kms ------ 140 Rs ----- 4.0 hrs
Bhagnagar – Ahmedadad ----- Bus - Seat ----- 191 kms ----- 140Rs ----- 4.0 hrs
Ahmedabad - Mumbai ----- Train - Sleeper ----- 481 kms ----- 460Rs ----- 9.0 hrs
Total Statistics ------Type of Transport ----- 6663kms ----- 5563Rs ----- 154.5 hrs
Usually travelled 2nd class
Sept 09 Conversion rates Indian Rupees per $US = 46, per $NZ = 31, per $Aus = 37