Saturday, December 26, 2009

Facinating India

I find India really facinating, a land of contrast, the beauty and the beast all rolled into one. While it is easy to just focus on the negative aspects such as poverty, a more balance view is to look at the lifestyle of the locals to understand the vibrancy of their culture. It does not do justice to India to mention only in a few paragraphs of the few place that we went and saw. It makes you reflect on life itself. What if you were born here and not in Malaysia, exchanging places with that begger or homeless person? Why are you so lucky? Why are you born to a family of luxury and that person suffer a life of misery?

The highlight of the Indian culture is most reflected in Varanasi. We went there just to witness, just a kilometer apart where one would cleanse their body of sins in the cold Ganges River water and further downstream the final journey that one undertakes. It is believed that when the body is burned and the ashes strewn into the Ganges River, one would not have to suffer future rebirth. No pictures of burning of allowed to be taken.

There are numerous Gaths and buildings along the Ganges River, some belonging to the Maharajas of the past. The unfortunate thing is that some of these majestic buildings are left in bad state of repairs and it would be better preserved if the Archaeological Survery Department of India takes over and convert them into museums.

Between the buildings and Ganges River are walkways of between 20 to 30 meters in breath where the locals would ply their trade. Some preist would offer worshipping services while others are mianly traders selling souvenirs items and items for praying such as oil lamps and joss sticks. We also saw some long hair, most likely uncut for years preists all painted in white offering services to some locals and also some foreigners.

Gerson Therapy
Just before my trip to india, on 12 december 2009 I did a simulation run to see how my body would react to the intensive walking while on the Gerson Therapy. That simulation run was good as it confirmed that I cannot be on Gerson Therapy while performing my pilgrimage. I then decided to suspend the Gerson Therapy while in India and would switch to a normal vegetarian diet where possible consists of low oil, salt and sugar diet. I have been able to keep away from sugar and to some extent salt but could not get away from oil. It was a risk I had to take to ensure I complete my pilgrimage. I was carrying 10.5kg of luggage which mainly consist of clothing for winter and 1kg of oats. In between I also took non organic apples, mandarins and bananas to supplement my diet. This change in diet gave my the energy that I required. I also took large potions of the food resulting me in gaining 0.5kg at the end of the trip.

Except for the stomach upset when I had my first normal vegetarian meal, everything was fine. My appitite was very good and I would eat when the slightest opportunity arises. Most of the time I have avoided hawker food and ate only at decent looking restaurants for fear of stomach upset for the whole group. Water was mainly bottled drinking water while was readily available. Only the last day I took the risk of eating chowmein form one hawker stall along Lindsay Street in downtown Kolkata. In my pre-cancer days, I am one who dears to try hawker food (when in Thailand, China and Indonesia) as this is the only way you can taste local food as eaten by the masses.

Pilgrimage Trip
I am really glad I undertook the pilgrimage trip. It open a new dimension of my life about myself, Buddhism and Buddha and also about the Indian people. Except for the menacing beggers, I have no complaints. Well maybe the streets were congested, roads in bad state of repairs, these are all part and parcel of a country's growing pains. I will write a separate blog titled "DIY Buddhist Pilgrimage In India" for those would would like to undertake their own backpackers pilgrimage trip. It consist of my travel logs (and contributions from my friend Vishuddi Lee) of some dos and dont's to make your trip a memorable one.

We slept three days in the train (picture on left is the Varanasi station), one day in hotel and four days in the monasteries. Accomodation were basic but clean, around two/three stars rating. As the Bhante Devrai Negi reminded us that we enjoyed worldly pleasures of life in our daily living and so for the pilgrimage, it presents an opportunity to sample a simple lifestyle and get an insight of how difficult it must be for Buddha in his days to travel around without modern transportation.

I was overwhelmed at the sights that I saw especially at Bodhgaya Mahabodhi Temple. Although the temple has been restored and showed some modern construction materials, the place just eminate a very different vibration as you enter the temple complex. There were possibly thousands of pilgrims from all over the world and I must say it is the Tibetians Lamas(most likely they are refugees who are now naturalised Indians) and the Thai monks that provide the vibrancy. They continuous chanting and posterations reflect their devotions to the Buddha and his teachings. This is the site that Buddha attained his enlightenment.

Our Day 2 stop was to Nalanda and Rajgir to see the ruins of Nalanda University. Tsuan Tsang also visited this place during its hey days and reported that there were 1,000 over teachers and over 10,000 monks as students. However, the University was burned down during the Muslim invasion in India. Many Buddhist sites were burned down. In the afternoon, we went to Rajgir to see the place where Buddha tame a drunkered elephant that consumed too much wild berries. It was also a place where Buddha would go for his mediation. The World Peace Pagoda is located on top of the mountain.

On the morning of day 3, we visited Sujata village. Sujata was a lay person who offered Sidhartha just before he became Buddha with rice milk. The site is about 30 minutes walk across the dried river across Mahabodi Temple. A stupa was erected in her memory. We left Bodhgaya at around 12pm to head to Varanasi by train at 2.10pm.

Arrived arived at Varanasi at late evening. Since it is winter in India, the sky becomes dark by about 5.30pm. We stayed at Ganpati Guest House, a little pricy but the facilities were adequate. This was the only hotel we stayed throughout our pilgrimage because there was no Buddhist monastries around we could stay. Buddha used to frequent this area to preach. As you know, in India even today the caste system is very much alive. So the lowest caste or untouchables as some called it found solace in Buddhism.

On the 5th day, we left Varanasi for Sarnath. This is the place where Buddha made his first sermon when he attained enlightenment. We visited the Chinese Temple but run by Thai monks and asked for the use of a room where we could put out luggage and also take bath and have rests. Bhante Devrai Negi was very accomodating despite having a bus load of visitors from Thailand that will be staying at the temple. Our train is 11.30pm in the evening. We visited the stupa which was massive to commerate the event. Later in the evening, we attended the 7pm service at the Temple where 8 monks recited the sermon. We also joined in the pujas and it was really moving.

The train ride from Sarnath was suppose to be only 6 hours but due to delays, we reached Gorakhpur only about 8am. We had booked first class but facilities was third class. There was no pillow and blanket offered and it was freezing, maybe about 10°C or so. Most of us did not sleep well. This morning, we had to rush to Sonauli, the border town where would we cross over to Nepal to go to Lumbini. We took a jeep (size of the Mahindra jeep)that sat 16 people one of which was a child. We sat at the back row which was supposed to accomodate 4 but packed 6 of us. The journey took almost 2.30hours. This part of the journey was most tortuous. Further shocked awaits us after we crossed in Nepal. Nepal was on strike for 3 days and lucky for us, the strike is ending 5pm. During the strike, shops are closed and no vehicles are allowed on the road. We managed to find a shop that was willing to serve us Maggie noodles. Our karma must have been good and by 2.30pm traffic started moving and we managed to get to Lumbini at 4pm, a hour left to explore Lumbini Garden. This is the place where Sidhartha (Buddha) was born. The picture shows the Mahadevi complex which was constructed to protect the ruins that show the exact spot where Buddha was born. We quickly assembled beside the Bodhi tree and offered pujas. Here we stayed at the Tibetian monastery and they have a guest house which we can stay for a fee of NRS1,400 (Nepali Rupees). All other temples that we stayed we offered donation. This rooms are very good and clean with attached bathrooms and I had a good rest that night. Next morning, we got up early to explore other temples around the vicinity, most of which are under construction. The Tibetian styled temple constructed by Germany was the best and most impressive for now.

As a result of the strike that ended the previous day, lorries that we trying to enter Nepal for the last three days which now stretched almost 2km long costs congestion on the streets. We lost one over hour and by the time we reached Kushniaga, it was almost 4.45pm and the Temple closes 5.30pm. After paying respects to the Banthe at the Japan Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple, we quickly walked to the temple.Kushniaga is the place where Buddha passed into paranivara. Some monks were kind enough to offer some explanation inside the temple. We were glad we finally managed to complete the pilgrimage!

The 8th day was spent on the train back to Kolkata. The journey takes 16 hours but ended close to 18 hours instead. But we really had quality family time as for the first time we spent so many hours together talking, reviewing the journey and playing Uno together. My daughters quite like India and would like to come back again. As for me, if my health does not deteriorate, I will most likely be making another trip same time next year but this time as a guide to others. Hey where can you go for pilgrimage for less than RM1.8K per person full board?

1 comment:

  1. Very glad you have come back and obviously it been a successful trip for you and your family. Happy New Year!!