Bye-Bye-a, Bodh Gaya

India 2013

    SUNDAY, Feb 24:

    After a night full of tossing, turning, congestion and coughs, I wake up very sorry that this is our last day in Bodh Gaya. After some leisurely morning ablutions, one last delightful breakfast at the Vien Giac, a meeting with Darrol & Co. in the library, I make my way the the Be Happy Café for what I suspect may be my last non-Nescafe morning for weeks. It’s about 11:00 and the boys are there again, only this time they have a posse with them, which includes their dog, who answers to something like “Shanti.” It’s Spanky and the gang reincarnate. Only thing missing is the black circle around the little pooch’s eye.

    Shanti & The Gang

    “Shanti” must be Buddhist. Her tail is yanked, her ears tweaked, her midriff squeezed and poked like a melon in a market, and all she feels is love. Nary a growl, yelp or bared tooth of warning is seen or heard. I flinch on her behalf, and motion to the kids to take it easy on her. I think maybe they’re showing off for the camera and aren’t aware of their actions. So I stop the photos, adjourn the meeting and get on with my day.

    I meander in toward the centre of town - about a 10-minute walk - To-Do list in hand. I have decided for sure that in my first week of free time (i.e. post-Darrol), I will spend time with Canadian jazz/raga musicians Andrew & Jonathan Kay in Kolkata, so I’d better find a travel agent and book the flight from Kalimpong (our final stop together) to Kolkata. It’s only 10 days away. Next, I’ll need to find an internet café to let them know the arrival details, and also pass that info on to Sharon and other loved ones at home. Luckily, I run into to Pam first, who seems to have developed the habit of showing up with exactly the right info at exactly the right time. This time she tells me she has just met a great travel agent who is located in an internet café in the centre of town. Right next to the doctor’s office where Darrol, Tamara & Heather just went. Doctor’s office? Something else to add to the To-Do list, for sure. Thank you so much, Pam.

    On my way, I hear music. Flute. Drum. Shakers. I follow the sound and find 4 or 5 men sitting in the street wailing away. It doesn’t take long to realize that they are all blind.

    About 15 seconds into the above clip, you hear a boy speaking French to me. He’s a map seller, and subscribes to the aggressive selling school. It’s about the 5th time he’s bugged me in two days: “WHERE ARE YOUR FRIENDS?” he wants to know. “I don’t know,” I tell him as dismissively as possible. I’m shootin’ a movie here , buddy! Can’t you see?

    The owner of the downstairs internet café/travel agency is a hoot. As I pull out my six 500-rupee notes to pay for my ticket, he holds them up to the light, one by one and says, “Still warm. You just finish printing them?” I reply, “No. Did them last night. No time this morning.” He tells me he makes his own as well. I tell him we should compare techniques sometime over tea. He thinks that’s a great idea.

    Can’t help sneaking this pic of the young man in the cubicle behind me at the internet café. Yes, he IS a monk, and yes, that IS a gun on the screen.

    The doctor’s ‘office’ is a little shop like all the others lining the main square. It’s large front door is open and he’s sitting there at his desk talking to a patient. It’s strictly walk-in, so there are a half dozen chairs for waiting, and that’s it. All one room, no privacy whatsoever. The pharmacy is next door and is manned by his teenage assistant. So, I’m glad my illness is neither embarrassing nor serious. He tells me I have a cough (oh. really?) and I should get some cough syrup (sensible prescribing) and an anti-biotic. I thank him, pay his small bill and, since he’s the only game in town, I follow his instructions. I go next door and buy my meds. I want to be rid of this.

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    It’s 1:30 and lunch’s arm is getting tired from waving to catch my attention. The Lonely Planet Guide describes The Mohammed Café thusly: “Mohammed has been cooking professionally since he was 13 and it shows...Tibetan momos, Israeli saksuka, quesadillas, Japanese food, Chinese fare, Greek salads, homemade soups... Flashy it ain’t, but it has some of the town’s best food.” I naturally go in search of it. It's not easy to find. For a small place, Bodh Gaya’s layout is confusing, and when I finally find Mohammed, look who’s standing out front!

    Bill & Shea outside one of Bodh Gaya's finest dining estabs.

    It may not look like much, but my Tibetan momos in broth are just what the doctor ordered.

    I take my meds home and settle down for a little read and a big nap. “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga puts me right to sleep. Don’t let that deter you from picking it up, though. It’s really a great story and well-told. If you’re looking for something to put you to sleep, try the Bahagavad Gita.

    I’m awake at 5 p.m. for our 6:00 dinner (our last meal here at the Vien Giac). Our time in Bodh Gaya has been a little too short for me. As I look at the photocopied pages from the Lonely Planet which I have brought along, I see many must-sees I will have to save for the next trip. So, after dinner, with only enough time to check one off the list, I decide I’ll try to find the Tergar Tibetan Monastery, which the Lonely Planet describes as “the glory of Tibetan decorative arts that will leave you slack-jawed as you enter.” From the maps, it looks like quite a trek and since I’m sick, and since it’s going to be dark soon, I grab an auto rickshaw. The driver and I negotiate and settle on an exorbitant Rs 100.

    Turns out that Tergar is in fact, way out on the outskirts of town, a winding 20-minute drive. When we finally arrive, the man at the gate says it’s closed and I should come back in the morning. Since we’re leaving at about 5:30, I really don’t think that’s going to happen. My simplified English version of this thought comes out as “Can’t come. Train morning.” Miraculously, the gate keeper understands me, and even more miraculously, he seems to have a heart, something most Western gate keepers lost many generations ago. He says (this is me expanding his simplified English into normal speak) “There’s a Puja going on, but you can come in.” I thank him, and motion for the driver to come along (the easiest way I can think of to ask him if he would mind waiting for me).

    We walk around the side of this very, very large building to the front entrance. It’s too dark for pictures, so let me apologize in advance, Reader. The only visual record I have of this magnificent place and this inspiring event is one grainy video. Please have a look HERE if you’d like to see more of Tergar Monastery. Or better yet, hop on a plane and see it in stereo.

    I stand at the front door gaping. I don’t move, partly because of awe, and partly because I’m shy to intrude on the service. The gatekeeper motions for me to go ahead inside. He and the driver stay on the steps while I slip off my shoes and pass through the huge open doors. The room is a jaw-dropper, all right. Gilded to the hilt, about 100 X 200, with a 30-foot ceiling, and filled with maybe 175 monks, the majority of them youngsters, from what I can see. I feel I have to be quick (for the driver) and discreet (out of respect for the puja).

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    Cabbie or Axe Murderer?

    We walk back to the rickshaw. I thank the gatekeeper and give him my best namasté bow, and we get underway. The driver is quiet. Is he pissed at me? He is taking a different route than the way we came. We are way out of town now. The roads are rutted and the lights of Bodh Gaya are nowhere to be seen. It's pitch black, other than our jumpy little headlight beam. Not another vehicle in sight, either. Am I about to be kidnapped? Robbed? Beat up and left in the mud and shit? He had asked me earlier if I was leaving in the morning and I replied that I was and was taking the train. So I double-check: “No train now. Back to Bodh Gaya. Maha Bodhi Temple, yes?” He chuckles. “Oh yes. No problem.” Then he says something I can’t understand, while making a large circling motion with his arm. Another five whole minutes pass in silence and darkness. They seem like 10. And another five pass before I see the lights of town, and it’s clear we are heading toward them.

    My guess is that the road is so narrow that they made it one-way and the cabbie had had to do a full circle. We finally arrive in town and I give him his Rs 100. He just looks at me, cocks his head - as only an Indian can cock a head - and says, “Very long way. Long time.” He’s right. And I’m grateful to be home safe. Another Rs 50 makes him smile and cock his head the other way.

    It’s almost 10:00, so I walk the 5 minutes to the Maha Bodhi temple for a last-call sit under the peepul (bodhi) tree. I find a nice stone seat on a low wall. A group of 20 or so chant as they walk by. Sitting next to me is a nun in a gray robe and white toque (Cambodian, perhaps?) repeating her prayer in a soft voice. All the murmuring makes a nice companion for my breath, and following the two of them together with my eyes half closed make for a peaceful end to my stay in Bodh Gaya.

    Throw on some headphones is you want this audio clip to take you under the bodhi tree with a full moon overhead. First you will hear the small group passing by, chanting, and the remainder is my little Cambodian meditation neighbour.

    10:30 and it’s home to the Vien Giac to pack and sleep. In that order, seeing as how tomorrow it’s a 4:30 wake-up for the 6 a.m. train to Kolkata. First things first, nasal congestion and coughing be damned. I’m just grateful Delhi Belly is not in the picture.

    On to Kolkata. In stereo. Happy reading!

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