Meet Ravi. The stocky father of two has deep piercing eyes and the calm gentle demeanor of someone who practices advanced meditation. Ravi owns a guesthouse in Bodhgaya Bihar, the town where the Buddha is said to have attained Enlightenment. Bodhgaya is the sole place in Bihar that regularly sees international visitors, mostly Buddhists from other Asian countries coming to visit one of the holiest sites of their religion. Ravi, who hasn't had any formal education, speaks fluent Japanese and English - languages that he taught himself from frequent practice with foreign visitors. A rack of wooden shelves in the reception area is lined with Japanese books that Ravi acquired on a trip to visit friends in Japan. Despite this Ravi struggles to fill out the numerous forms required to register foreign guests with the local authorities - like most Biharis he never learned to read or write.
After spending my first day in Bodhgaya exploring the numerous temples that fill the town, I spent another day with Ravi visiting some of the local villages that comprise 85% of Bihar's population. Scattered across the hot dusty plains most villages were small affairs made up of a few extended families and their animals living in mud huts with straw roofs. Water was available from pumps located outside near the village center. In one village we stopped at one of many orphanages/schools. Here 2 teachers and 21 orphans ranging from 6 to 13 years old live and learn in a clay building without electricity. After a brief chat with the owner I was invited to stay and teach English there for as long as I wanted - a proposition I would have considered more seriously if the plains weren't so hot at this time of year. Still I may go back to Bodhgaya later on, because it had a really unique feel among Indian cities I've visited.
Leaving Bodhgaya I had almost the mirror opposite experience of my journey there. Unsurprisingly I was told that all of the trains from Gaya to Delhi were booked full for a month with over 500 people on the waiting list to get canceled tickets. But I was then told that I could buy foreigner quota tickets in Varanasi only a few hours away. Hesitantly I boarded a train to Varanasi afraid that I would get stranded there. But this time around being a foreigner played to my advantage and I got tickets on a train to Delhi later the same day, a couple days earlier than expected. I had enough time between trains to go into town, where I came to the conclusion that I really like Varanasi - more than Bodhgaya even. I am now in Delhi waiting to take a bus up to Manali in the mountains later this afternoon. Yesterday was 110 and humid in Delhi, so it will be really nice to head for the hills again.
Well that's about all for now.
New entry with pictures to follow from the mountains
P.S. Ravi is a pseudonym used for confidentiality.
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