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Published: December 7th 2017
Day 6 (Thursday 7th
December) A Temple and a Cave
I waited outside reception until 6.05 but none of the others appeared so I set off alone. I walked to the security gate (they had a bombing a few years back, by radical Hindu’s) but was told that as I had a camera I had to pay at the counter 500 yards back, so had to retrace my steps, pay my Rs300 for a camcorder and return to security going through the metal detector and frisking that is involved (I hadn’t taken my mobile as they are not allowed, or a bag as not needed). Temple entry was free.
Inside the Mahabodhi Temple grounds the pillars were covered in flowers and prayer flags flew across the paths. The steps leading down to the main temple were framed by flower-covered arches. This was in the middle of a week-long chanting festival so it was quite busy even at 6.20am, with pilgrims coming from all over the Buddhist world. Signs around the main Temple proclaimed “Silence”.
A party of 40 Thai pilgrims, all
wearing yellow baseball caps were being shown around by their guide who was using a portable amplifier and mic to explain things in really loud Thai language. Elsewhere the chanting festival was going on “Om Nami Padmi Om” and on and on. Strange open areas were dotted with little tents made from mesh, just big enough to sit in meditation within, without the risk of the mossies getting you.
Behind the temple is the tree that Siddartha sat under and achieved enlightenment. Or rather a cutting of a cutting of that tree. A cutting had been sent to Sri Lanka 2000 years ago and planted there, so when the Moghul empire took all of northern India and destroyed the Hindu Temples, they also cut down the original Buddha tree, but when they left after a few hundred years, a cutting was taken from Sri Lanka and re-planted here. Some longer branches are held up with metal posts, with soft padding for protection where it hit the branches. It looked as healthy as it did 30 years ago methinks.
Nearby was a large square lake with a Buddha statue in the
centre, sitting on a lotus flower and with a cobra snake looming behind as a backdrop, beautifully painted.
Beside the lake was a peace garden for meditation (Rs20 entry – 25p) with flowers and walkways.
As I was leaving I saw the Reedies at the entrance so went back round with them, Esmee getting the usual attention and even some nice cherry cake from a Tibetan lady (although she doesn’t like cherries).
We saw a guy feeding the very large fish in the lake – some sort of carp I think. I had to stop Rocco from frantically spinning the prayer-wheels!
Back at the hotel we had breakfast (about 9pm by now). Mal joined us having just got up after a late night on the phone to home. We decided to go to the Dungaeshwari caves which are across the river and up a big rocky hill.
We got a posh AC taxi arranged by our hotel (Sankura) to take us there for Rs2000. It was quite a drive as you have to cross the river a
few miles North and then double back. The “river” was a small stream really, smaller than Saltburn Beck (for those who know that), but in a plain that obviously floods, come the monsoon. We saw a smashed up bus in the middle of a small town, looked like a steamroller had hit it’s side at 60mph, also a cow chewing a black plastic bag. A few miles further there was a car that had a crash on one front wheel, now rusting away with 2 wheels still on the road. Eventually we got to the place, or rather nearby. We discovered that we must now get on motorbikes! Me & Esmee on one, Bill & Rocco on another, and Mal & Shirl with one each. They said Rs100 return, pay when they bring us back. We set off like a race and eventually got to some steps near the temple there. These lads (about 15-16 year olds) asked how long we would be, we said 1½ hours. Then set off up the path, passing the myriad of beggars along the way, who I ignored telling ‘em we would see them on our way down. I stuggled a bit with the
slope and steps, but made it to the top eventually.
Here was the cave where Siddhartha had lived for 6 years befor descending to Bodhgaya and the tree. But it was here that he lived in the most austerity, becoming practically skin & bone, as the statue of him in the small cave shows. Eventually realising that this physical torture was not achieving anything, he headed down to the tree, there refusing to move until he had sussed it out. It was a very small cave about 12’ diameter, with rough walls looking natural rather than hewn. Gold flake covered an outside wall, a piece of which Esmee stuck on her forehead after receiving a golden tika from the monk in the cave!
Outside, a small Tibetan boy of about 3 kept trying to scale the fence which had a long drop below, I saved him a few times and Esmee a few more, until his Mum got him. A tibetan monk made us all some tea, a kind of fruit tea, very refreshing. No payment asked for but we made a donation at the small building he apparently lived in. There were monkeys
and dogs! Strange monkeys I’ve not seen befor, black face, long straight tail. Dogs seemed friendly enough.
Then it came time to leave… Beggars abounded, Mal & the Reedies bought sweets & biscuits for the kids, I had a wadge of Rs10 notes which I handed out to the adults on my way down. I did not realise the extent of the others buying abilities or the slowness of their handing-out. They bought boxes of the packets of biscuits and bags & bags of sweets, then took ages to get through the mob. Our motorbikes were waiting for us. On their way down a monkey threw a stone at Bill, hitting him on the head! I don’t think they handled the buying and giving of sweets very well and took ages to reach me, but I was too tired to re-climb the hill. The Reedies finally arrived and the boys on bikes wanted to get away so off we went, thinking Mal was not far behind.
Arriving back at the taxi the boys were asking Rs1000 each now, due to waiting time. We just said that was rediculous and deffered any payments until Mal
arrived. Meanwhile Esmee was pestered by a mob of school kids all wanting sweets and I showed her the trick of just throwing a large handfull over their heads (although I would run away at this point and there was nowhere to go.) After about 20 mins Mal arrived on a bike, having walked most of the way down, having had great problems with the biscuit guys up there. She can’t stop herself talking to everyone (a scouse habit she has picked up?) Needs to curb herself a bit sometimes. We settled on Rs200 each for the bikes and drove back to town.
Then went off looking for a restaurant that may sell something that Esmee would eat. On the way we passed a Barber Tree, which is a tree with a mirror on and chair facing it. Rocco was first on there and got a good cut with quiff and all, Bill then had a go too. I went to a nearby chai shop and ordered 4 chai’s and some breads & curry (Rs100 for all). Only good for the adults though so carried on to a Government Tourist Restaurant which did serve many western dishes,
Rocco & Esmee only had a plate of chips each though, not a very substancial meal!
On the way back I told Mal that she must visit the Mahabodhi Temple as she would be kicking herself if she didn’t whilst here. So at the turn-off she went there and we returned to Sankura House Hotel.
We all met upagain over dinner and Mal had had a great time having been escorted round by 3 monks! I’m glad she got there. Off to Varanasi tomorrow….
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