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Published: August 25th 2005
Ajanta Hotel in Delhi
Good service, not a budget hotel, but not a five stars either.
(h2)India is great(/h2)
I did my travel to India after some research on Indian history and arts, as I was going to make a pilgrimage to the Buddhist places mainly.
Through the internet I made contact with some places where I could stay while in Bodhgaya.
My travel agent in Buenos Aires booked me a room in a hotel near the New Delhi Railway Station. This hotel also offers a transfer service from the airport, which is really helpful if you arrive at night, as it was my case.
Upon arrival, the experience is really overwhelming: the noise, the insects, the heat and the strange smells you feel, are like a nightmare. You are arriving to this weird place after so many hours on flight, tired and sleepy, so it’s hard to cope with.
I was afraid that the taxi wasn’t there waiting for me. They told me that the representative would be waiting for me, holding a placard with a number and my name.
After picking the luggage, I started to walk slowly, trying to see the man.
I felt much better when I saw him, so I showed him the paper I brought with my name and that
A Chinese nun meditating under the Bodhi Tree.
number. He kindly took my bag, and after a little and mysterious talking with another man, to which my driver gave some money…(I couldn’t understand the deal at all) we walked to the taxi, among an increasing flies and mosquito’s cloud, some smog and all that noise: loud voices, car’s horns, and so on.
Then the driver took me through a dark highway, while blowing his horn constantly. I’ve heard about the sign every car has got behind: Please blow horn. So they do.
After a short conversation, I told the driver that I couldn’t speak good English, which is the truth in fact. I was really tired and I wanted to arrive in one piece as soon as possible.
Looking at my map, I asked the driver how long it would take the trip to the hotel. He explained me about the path we were going through, and I felt a little better. The streets were really dark and crowded, and I didn’t see too much beggars as everybody told me.
After about 45 minutes since we left the airport, finally we arrived to Arakashan Road, located in Ram Nagar, near Paharganj.
It was about 10.00 PM. Ajanta Hotel
Young monks at the Mahabodhi Temple
isn’t a budget hotel, but I think that it’s the perfect choice if your stay will be short. The manager was really kind and helpful, and the crew too.
Tired as I was, I filled the normal papers, and then a man took me to my booked room…It was a quite dirty room, without AC, and with a window through which you could watch the street.
I turned the TV on, and I knew the temperature in Delhi: 28 degrees. I had only a ceiling fan. After washing my face and teeth, I came back to the reception hall where there is a Business Centre with many computers, internet and phone. I called home to say hello after almost three whole days and to greet my wife and son.
Then I went to my room where I slept in the same position until the next day.
When I woke up, early in the morning, I went to the toilet to watch through the window. There I saw a dirty alley, with stray dogs and many beds on the street where some boys were sleeping. That was my first real life Indian sightseeing.
Then I headed to the restaurant, which is
Chinese nuns and laypeople walking around the Great Stupa.
a nice room, with big windows to the street. As I booked all my stay at the Ajanta hotel from my country, I had a voucher as the only probe of payment.
They tried to charge me the breakfast, which I was told was included in my payment. After a short discussion, I went to the manager and showed him my voucher. He apologized as he told me that they haven’t received their payment form the local travel agent. So I called the travel agent and they talked to the hotel manager, and the problem was solved.
The manager also apologized about the room they gave me for the previous night, and then they changed me to a better one, with AC and quieter than the first.
I arrived on Friday, and I would stay in Delhi until the Monday afternoon, when I’d take the train to Gaya.
Congratulations to the Indian Railways because I also booked my train ticket from Argentina, and it was Ok.
As I would stay all the weekend with free time enough, I rested the Saturday, doing as less activities as I could, only some walking around the streets near the hotel, and I
Works in Bodhgaya
As many centuries ago...but a few blocks away there are dozens of cyber cafes...
booked a taxi tour for the Sunday, in order to see something of the Delhi life.
The Sunday afternoon I took the taxi tour and they (yes, taxi drivers are usually two men) took me kindly to the most traditional places in Delhi: Delhi Gate, The Red Fort, Connaught Place…we couldn’t reach Jama Masjid (the Mosque) because of a traffic jam. The taxi driver was the same man who drove me from the airport to the hotel, a nice Nepalese man, kind and funny.
He explained me about the places we passed. We also talked about our families, and I showed him a picture of my wife and son I took with me all the time. He thanked me.
When we were in front of the Hanuman statue, a Hindu temple built as a monkey form, he told me:
- You see that? He Hanuman. Me Hanuman.
So I realized that Hanuman was his name. Hanuman is a monkey, one of the many deities in the Hindu pantheon. Many gods in the Hindu pantheon are animals. Ganesha is the elephant deity.
Then Hanuman took me to a restaurant because I was hungry, and I asked him to take me
The Root Institute
A wonderful place to stay.
to Connaught Place.
He took me to Pindy’s, a nice restaurant near Connaught Place. It was full of tourists, so I didn’t like it too much because I wanted to know the Indian places, not the places where tourists go.
I invited Hanuman to join me for lunch. He refuses my invitation. As I am a Buddhist practitioner and I know some Eastern traditions, I insisted three times.
Of course he accepted the invitation the third time.
After lunch we went back to the hotel, where I kept resting as the next day I would be on a train for twelve hours or more.
Monday morning: I called the local travel agent in order to get my train ticket in time. They promised me that I would get my ticket before noon…so I waited.
After lunch they haven’t appeared yet. So I called them again. I beg the travel agent to be in time. He repeated his promise to send me the ticket as soon as possible.
But finally I got the ticket just a little before the time I had to go to the Railway Station…India is great but sometimes late, as they say.
The trip to Bodhgaya
All the Railway Stations are crowded and noisy places, you know. But I never seen before a place like that. Really noisy. Really crowded. I asked an officer about the platform I had to take my train. Kindly he explained me that I should cross the bridge to the opposite platform, and so I did.
There I could see people of almost every Indian caste and race. They are all different from each other. Punjabis, Bengalis, Shik and Muslims, all of them are unique and special. Women, kids, old people…it was a nice multicultural experience.
I bought some biscuits for the trip and then I saw the formation coming in time.
It was a little difficult to me to reach the proper coach, but after a while a kind man took me to the right place.
It was a room like with four beds and a curtain to keep some privacy between the beds and the corridor.
The train left Delhi as I started to see countless people who live in ancient buildings, some of them on tiny walls, outdoors. Delhi was like any other big city, but the poor people I saw… well, it was unbelievable.
Women in the fields
A view from the Root Institute's roof
train went on, suddenly I saw something moving between the two glasses of the window. I got closer to see what that was. It was a little rat, white and funny. A newborn rat.
Then, many men started to come offering the dinner, which you could choose from a menu, and then they bring it to you, as there is a little table between the beds where you can have your meals. They also offered “chai”, the delicious Indian tea.
I was alone in my “room” for a while, until two guys took their places in a station about two or three hours from Delhi.
One of them, seeing that I was sleeping, tried to keep silent and quickly turned the light off. I told him that I didn’t care, and so he started to read a book by George Bernard Shaw he brought with him.
Many hours later, near Varanasi, we chatted a little. He told me that they were on vacation, going to their grandfather’s house near Varanasi. The elder brother was a Petroleum Engineering student in Delhi.
They asked me about the music we used to listen in my country, and many other things. Then they asked
Inside the Mahabodhi Temple
me where I was going. When I told them that I was going to Bodhgaya because I was a Buddhist practitioner, they were amazed and started to look at me as if I was a special man.
We shared the cookies I have bought in Delhi and then say good bye each other. I regret I didn’t ask them their email address in order to keep in touch, but I was really tired and a little confused about all those experiences, and some jet lag I guess.
Near Varanasi, that train crossed a great river almost completely dried. The view was impressive.
After about sixteen hours, the train arrived to Gaya.
Bodhgaya: my home for twenty days
There I asked for a rickshaw to Bodhgaya. A policeman introduced me to a man who seemed a saint, tall and quiet. He stopped a taxi for me, and he talked to the taxi driver about the price. We were dealing with the taxi when suddenly someone grabbed my backpack. I turned quickly and I saw a rickshaw with four passengers and two drivers.
They offered me to take me to Bodhgaya for about 60 rupees, which seemed reasonable to me,
A temple's roof
so I took the rickshaw and fifty minutes later we were in Bodhgaya.
I asked the driver for the Root Institute, the place where I would stay in Bodhgaya.
I got down the rickshaw in a crossroad, and then I walked to the Root Institute under the unbearable sunrays.
The first view I got was the back of the great Buddha that the Japanese people built in Bodhgaya, through the rice fields. My heart felt full of joy.
The Root Institute is a semi monastic place, where they run a Health Care clinic, a school and an interesting schedule of Buddhist teachings and retreats.
I rented a double room with shared bathroom for about 300 rupees a day, three meals a day and a bicycle included. Really cheap.
The place is clean and quiet, unlike the guest houses you find in Bodhgaya, which can be crowded, noisy and dirty, even though they charge much less money a day.
There are some monasteries which offer accommodation; most of them are clean and well managed by monks.
I thought to stay in Bodhgaya for about a week or so, visiting the Buddhist places near the area, like Nalanda, Rajgir, Sarnath, and other
But life is a changing process, and my experience in Bodhgaya was so good and deep that I changed my mind and I stayed there twenty days.
Well, Bodhgaya is for a Buddhist practitioner like Saint Peter’s Square is for a Catholic, Mecca is for a Muslim and Jerusalem is for a Jew.
This is the place where Shakyamuni the Buddha got enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree.
So the city is full of Buddhist Temples, built by the Buddhist countries like Tibet, China, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myan Mar, Cambodia, Korea and Vietnam.
All of these countries built a temple at least. Some of them built more than one temple. And almost all of them do social work with the local people, as Bodhgaya is located in Bihar, which is the poorest state in the world according to the Unesco.
I visited almost all the temples. Mahabodhi temple is the place where the Bodhi Tree is located. The temple is actually a great Stupa, with wonderful images carved in the walls, a great park full of lesser stupas, and places which are reminders of some special features on the Buddha’s life.
The entrance is for free, but they charge
a fee if you want to take pictures or video shots. It’s a small fee however: 5 rupees for the whole day (five rupees is what you pay for a chai all over India). So I suggest that if you don’t want to pay the fee everyday, you can go to the Mahabodhi Temple at different times the same day, and take all the pictures you want that day. But remember that the Mahabodhi Society also do social work with local people, so perhaps you’d agree to pay the fee day after day and it’s ok.
The Mahabodhi Temple is like an oasis in Bodhgaya, because the road besides it’s a pedestrian walk side, so no cars, rickshaws or vehicles are allowed. Inside you can enjoy a really deep religious experience, no matter if you aren’t a Buddhist. People from all over the world visit the Mahabodhi Temple: Chinese, European, American, Indian, Thailand, and Sri Lankan… Monks of almost every Buddhist Order go there to practice meditation under the Bodhi Tree, or walking meditation. Lamas are all day long doing their exhausting prostrations, and groups of Buddhist people join to practice.
Outside the Mahabodhi temple there are many
shops where you can buy art works, books, and there are also many cyber cafes where you can check your mails or download pictures from your camera to a CD.
India is a place where the energy supply is often interrupted. Many times a day. I wondered about the reason until I saw a big monkey in Dharamsala crossing the street while clinging to the electricity wires…and so I knew the reason or one of the reasons at least.
Don’t miss to meet Kundan. He is an Indian boy who can speak English and French, even though he never went to school. He runs a nice bookshop, besides the Tushita Hotel, on the main road, about one kilometre away from the Mahabodhi Temple, near the Thai Temple.
He is also a good guide, and he is a really nice, kind and trusty man.
He took me to the Mahakala cave, which is located in a village crossing the Niranjana River, which is also dried nowadays.
So we went to the cave by bicycle. We departed at 6.00 AM in order to avoid the heavy sun. After having crossed the river, we drove through an old way, passing a
nice and ancient village where people live like many centuries ago.
Then we left the bicycles in a place, and we went on to the hill where the cave is located.
This cave is where the Buddha spent six years practicing austerities before he went to Bodhgaya.
The Niranjana River is the river where the Buddha placed his alms bowl and he made the aspiration that if the bowl could go against the river flow he possibly could become a Buddha, an enlightened being. The story says that the bowl went against the river flow, of course, so he headed to Bodhgaya after recovery from the hardship he has went through.
The Mahakala cave is a mysterious place, full of history. There is a Tibetan temple besides the cave, and the monks take care of the place.
There are two caves, actually. One of them is really small, and you have to bow yourself in order to come inside. This small cave has a statue of the Buddha which represents him in his years of austerity. Kundan and I spent some time meditating there, and I was really shocked feeling all kind of emotions.
Then we came inside the
greater cave, and then Kundan tool me to the hall where there is the Mahakala statue. Mahakala means “the great demon” or something like this. The statue is behind a curtain, and they say that you shouldn’t look at it too much because of the bad energies it has.
Of course I think it’s a superstition, and for us Buddhist there is not such a thing like “bad energies” from outside. All the good and the bad stuff are inside our hearts and minds, and the Buddha himself taught that it’s only our mind which makes good and bad. But Indian people are somehow naïve and it’s ok to hear their versions.
After some time, we went back to the Tibetan temple, where the Lama in charge gave us tea. He was really kind and he answered some questions I asked him.
He told me that the place is open to people who want to do meditation retreats, and he receives people from many countries.
Then we started the return, as we didn’t want to be cooked by the sun.
Kundan didn’t charge me anything at all for his guide and company, and I am grateful forever.
it was the Durga Puja (a Hindu celebration) those days, Kundan also invited me to have lunch at his home.
It was another wonderful experience. I met his mother and his brothers, and we enjoyed the lunch his mother prepared so kindly.
Day after day I visited all the temples I could, and so I found one of the most beautiful temples I saw in my life as a Buddhist.
The older Viet Temple, located near the Root Institute, at the countryside.
It’s hard to find, or it was hard to me.
But once I was there I was amazed about the art works you can see, both outside and inside the temple.
The wooden doors of the temple, the big incense burner downstairs, the nice and marvellous sculptures in the Dharma hall (the place where people practice meditation and perform ceremonies)…everything was so wonderful. I’ve just understood its greatness where I saw the amount of pictures I took of it. And all the people that saw that pictures is impressed by the beauty of this place.
The ancient Viet temple was built in 1987 and it’s still under construction, even though it seems finished. There are no
Walking around the Mahabodhi Temple
monks living there, but only six lay people who take care and perform a ceremony every day at 5.00 AM.
They are kind and gentle, ready to answer any question you ask.
Well, Bodhgaya was my home for twenty days, and I will always keep this place I my heart.
Try the Root Institute, no matter if you aren’t a guest there. You can give them a phone call to make a reservation for a meal. You can eat in a nice place near the dinning room, outdoors. They make delicious meals, vegetarian but enjoyable.
The Om restaurant is a small place in the main road, near the Mahabodhi Temple. Try it.
Besides the Om restaurant there is a stone carver. Good statues, low prices.
My friend the tailor Navav Halam, just in front of the India National Bank. He makes nice shirts, Tibetan style and wonderful bags. He is also a good man ready to help you with some advice.
The next blog will be the travel from Delhi to Dharamsala.
I hope you enjoyed this one.
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