Friday, March 24, 2006

Bodhgaya and Puri

The area of the country between Varanasi and Calcutta is supposed to be one of the more disorganized and lawless in the country. It's therefore not a big surprise that suddenly every train that we wanted to take was hours and hours late. From Varanasi we went 5 hrs east to Gaya. Our train was 4 hrs late so we were stuck at the station waiting forever, then finally got to Gaya at 1:30am. We'd intended to do Gaya as a one-day stop over and leave the following night so we crashed at a cheap place right by the station.
There is nothing to see or do in Gaya but just south of it is Bodhgaya, the number one Buddhist pilgramage site in the world. It is a small village that has the Buddhist temple marking the location of the spot where Buddha was first enlightened under the Bodhi tree. There is still a tree there, it's apparently a descendent of the original tree. (A sapling of the original was taken to Sri Lanka and a sapling of that was brought back later.) In addition to the main temple, almost every country with a large Buddhist population has built a temple there in their own style. It was interesting to be able to walk around and compare Japanese, Tibetan and Thai Buddhist temples. There's a huge difference between them. In our trip's first case of successful theft, Paul had his sandals stolen while we were in the main temple. Damn, he's just not liking India very much.
We couldn't catch our train that night either as we had been on a waiting list and there was no room. The following night we barely got beds reserved to get to Puri. The train was late again so we finally got on at 2 am and it was the most packed I've ever seen on sleeper class. There were the beds and people sleeping on them and then people sitting on the edges too. We initially had only 3 spots to share between 6 people (I was supposed to be with a stranger, which turned out to be 3 others). By 3:30 am the ticket guy had finally sorted out the mess and we all had our own beds and everyone else was SOL. By the time I "woke up" in the morning, my constant cough that I'd picked up back in Orchha the week before had turned into pleurisy and I could barely move. Somehow we managed to check into a quiet place in Puri, where we've been for the last 12 days.
Puri is a holy town on the east coast of India southwest of Calcutta. While this side of India is not known for it's beaches, Puri's aren't supposed to be too bad and are probably the most popular with tourists in the area. The beach is nothing like others we've seen but then I've been too wrecked to make the two minute walk to go see them more than twice. It's hot (high 30s) and humid here but really quiet. The town is small, it's the offseason and there are almost no touts (and those that exist are easy to avoid). In fact, these people are so laid back that it is really hard to even get any service at the restaurants and the shop owners are just as likely to get up and sell you water as they are to send you next door to get it! Not like India at all.... We need that kind of break, especially as it seems we have all been at various stages of mild illness these last two weeks. Definately burn out and pollution related.
On March 15th it was Holi. Holi is a very popular Indian festival in which people (mostly young men) run around throwing dye on anyone they can. Nothing and no one is exempted, not even the cows and dogs! As the dye is quite permanent, there are a lot of ruined clothes by the end of the day so we were practically locked into our guest house compound for our own protection. We just watched the mess from the roof or the gates. Paul decided to be adventurous and walk outside with only his shorts on. Within literally 5 seconds he was completely covered in green and purple dye and his shorts were ruined. As it doesn't wash off skin very easily either it was possible to see people with purple faces and hands for days after the event.
Today we went to Konark (a nearby town) to see the Sun temple. Beautiful gardens around it but in the end much like the rest. The coolest part were the carved wheels that are built around the base as the temple is supposed to be a chariot for the sun God Surya. Mostly we have just been eating, reading, resting and healing these last 2 weeks.
I know you are wondering what we are doing in India still. Well, we are trying to figure that out still. I only planned this trip as far as India originally and was going to work on the rest after I got this far. We are waiting for Bre's renewed passport and are leaving tomorrow for Calcutta where we will pick it up. We'll be in Calcutta a week before heading back to Delhi to pick up visas and hopefully get moving on to new and exciting things.


At 4:59 PM , Anonymous Sandra said...

I like this post and really want to be there for Holi... I still remember those colourful "mountain".. and reminds me that night we slept in the ladies' room ... CRAZY but good!
.... Savannnah ... Breannna... Sannnnnndra...

OK back to my work now...



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