Monthly Archives: December 2012

Bodh Gaya – Seeking Enlightenment

A day before the full moon day in the month of Vesakha in BC 528, a young noble prince, arrived at the outskirts of the village of Uruvela and saw a beautiful stretch of countryside, a beautiful grove, a clear flowing river, a lovely ford and a village nearby for support. He settled himself under the spreading branches of  a nearby tree and began his meditation. He sat there all night as the leaves of the tree quivered in the gentle breeze and the moon shone bright in the velvety black sky. Eventually the clouds of ignorance dissolved and he saw the Truth in all its glory and splendor.  He was no longer Prince Siddhartha or the ascetic Gotama. He had become the Awakened One, the Compassionate One, the Light of the World, the Buddha Supreme. (Ref: Buddhanet.net)

Nearly 2540 years later, 3 friends set out from IIT Kanpur on the day before the full moon in the month of Mārgaśirṣa (November), to this very place, in search of enlightenment. This is the story of my journey through the heart of 3 religions, along with Ashwin and Rashid, to experience the spiritual India. It all starts from Bodh Gaya – the holiest Buddhist place on the planet.

28th November

The Bodhi TreeLike the previous Nepal trip, this journey too began from Kanpur railway station the previous night and the 8.15 pm Mahabodhi express did arrive on time in Gaya  junction in the morning. One notable fact about most of my journeys is that, the day I arrive at a place, it’s a public holiday there. This time it was Guru Nanak Jayanthi and the Bihar State buses ceased to run. But the auto-rickshaws came to our “expensive” rescue from the Gaya railway station and took us to Bodh Gaya which is about 13 km from the railway station. After a 30 mins ride, we arrived at Bodh Gaya and found ourselves amidst hundreds of foreign pilgrims following the footsteps of Lord Buddha. The basic style of Bodh Gaya is similar to Lumbini, but one of the most striking difference is the cleanliness and the footpath sales aspect of the surroundings. Well, this is India and it’s lively and colourful.Mahabodhi Temple

The 1st destination in Bodh Gaya was  the famous Mahabodhi Temple, which is the spirit of Bodh Gaya. The 55m tall “Temple of Great Awakening”, originally build in the 5-6th century AD is a fine example of Indian Brick Work and uses Dravidian Architecture. The Temple and the adjoining gardens are a sight to behold even if you are not a pilgrim. Heavily restored in the late 19th century, this temple is one of the World Heritage Sites in Eastern India. What struck us first is the halcyon spiritual ambiance of the place. We could see hundreds of Buddhist monks in attires pointing to their motherland, immersed in deep meditation at all corners of the temple complex. We watched the groups of pilgrims as they circumnavigated the temple uttering prayers, in languages that I couldn’t fathom.

There were 7 points in the complex that related directly to the life of Buddha and pertains to each week after Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. We did see all 7, but not in the right order Japanese Templethough. The most important of all is the Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha attained the Awakening. Well, it’s not the exact tree, but a descendant of the original Banyan tree, that grew in the exact location.The surroundings were so peaceful and calm and we found ourselves meditating near the temple. It was a soothing and refreshing experience and I’d definitely urge you to try it. One good thing about the Buddhist Temples and Monasteries is that, they allow photography everywhere. I tried my best to capture every inch of this beautiful Temple and the gardens.

Like Lumbini, there are numerous Temples and Monasteries build by different nations all around Bodh Gaya. The ones that stand out are theThai Monastery Indosan Nipponji Japanese Temple and the Thai Monastery. It seems there is some “issue” with us and the Chinese as we found the Chinese temples closed both in Gaya and in Lumbini. The Thai temple is unique, ostentatious and on top of it all, beautiful. The 80 ft Giant Buddha statue also formed a part of our Bodh Gaya experience. Since all the monasteries and temples close at 5 pm, we left Bodh Gaya and decided to take a detour to Vishnupadh Temple in Gaya.

Thai Temple - InteriorAn interesting incident occurred during this small detour. After a savari to some junction in between Bodh Gaya and Gaya we boarded a unique auto-rickshaw. You and I both know that an Auto-rickshaw usually carry 3 people and in some cases up to 6. But this was no ordinary auto-rickshaw. It carried 11 people plus the driver. It was an amazing scene to watch 5 people in the front seat of the auto that’s meant for 2. And 3 people where hanging behind the vehicle. That was not just it. This auto had an amazing sound system and flashing disco lights illuminated the interior giving it a feel of a dance bar. I hope, I’ll get a chance to ride this special auto-rickshaw again.

Vishnupadh Temple is old and majestic, but the surroundings are extremely dirty and I guess, we were the only tourists among hundreds of devotees there. I wouldn’t ask you to visit this temple unless you are a devotee of Lord Vishnu.

Now came the hard part. A 7 hour-long wait for the next train. We tricked the railway waiting room keeper to believe that we held AC train tickets and occupied a seat in the much better upper-class waiting room though we were entitled only the lower-class waiting room with our sleeper tickets. The next train to Rajgir was at 1 am and guess what, we just got our penance in a way we least expected. Yes, lest we forget, we were in Bihar!!

I’ll leave the details of that ride to the next post on Rajgir.

Next>>

Categories: Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Naturally Nepal – The Way Back

This is the culmination of a 6 day expedition to explore and experience he rich cultures and scenic beauty of Nepal. Today we bid farewell to this amazing and beautiful country. This is the story of our return journey from Pokhara to Kanpur and it was one hell of a ride.

26th October

It was 5.30 am and the  morning was pleasant and cool. Having gulped in our German Bakery muffins and bread rolls, we set out to the Pokhara bus station. We had reserved a NR 500 bus ticket to take us to Sonauli through the picturesque Nepal countryside and  to tell the truth, we were expecting a relaxed and calm 6.5 hour journey.  Little did we know, that we were gonna have a crazy ride. We waited for our bus and watched aghast when it entered the bus station. It was a 20 seater local bus with about 40 passengers!! And we were supposed to travel in that bus. IMG_2056So much for our relaxed and quite journey. The seats were small and cramped and very uncomfortable. To make matters worse, one of us did not get his reserved seat as a lady with an infant refused to move. Our lack of proficiency in Nepal came as a curse as we could not argue with the local people; not that it would’ve made a difference. So 2 of us got a seat over the front wheel (Zero leg room) and the other found himself on top of the engine. After a brief struggle I pushed my legs into the gap between the 2 seats and placed my heavy bag on my laps. I could hardly move an inch and I have to stay in that seat, in the very same posture for just 6.5 hours. And the bus started its trip, and stopped once in every 10 minutes to take in more passengers.

Nepal CountrysideI tried to get some sleep, but the chatter of passengers and the rumbling of the old engine kept me awake. The only consolation was the beauty of the landscape. Since it was early morning, the fog reduced the visibility to a few meters. With a gushing river gorge to our right, the speed of the bus was reduced significantly. After nearly 2 hours of travelling, my friend got promoted to a seat from the engine top. The deep gorges, the terraced farms, golden valleys made our day. After nearly 3.5 hour journey, the bus stopped in a small village for refreshments. DSCN0873It took me close to 3 minutes to wriggle out of my seats and I could hardly feel my legs. It felt really great to finally stretch my legs. 30 minutes later, we were back on the road and I was back in my awkward seat.

It is during times like this that Relativity comes to plays. Minutes flew like hours DSCN0850and hours like days. The best feeling in the world was when the bus finally arrived in Bhairawa. We hopped of the bus and it was like being released from a concentration camp. The air felt so great, though it was scorching hot. After taking a savari to the border, it was time to bid adios to Nepal. But we had some unfinished business left. After keeping a few Nepali Rupees as souvenirs, we converted the rest back to Indian currency, and guess what, there is commission for this transaction (Not for IC to NR) . We also went to the tourist information center and thanked the guy for providing the maps and the brochures. If it weren’t for those, we’d have ended up in more trouble. Now its time to cross the border and the board “Welcome to India” was really pulling me into my motherland.

We’re back in India. But not yet in Kanpur. We got into an UP Government bus to Gorakhpur. The journey took close to 3.5 hours and we fell asleep as we were really tired. Once in Gorakhpur, we found ourselves in the “not-so-bad” railway waiting room, after dinner. After waiting for a couple of hours, we boarded our train to Kanpur. I slipped into a deep sleep almost immediately. Early morning we arrived at Kanpur Central Railway station and hired an auto to take us back to IIT. Room sweet room! I was back in my room even before the sun reported for duty.This was the end of a week-long adventure with Ashwin and Vijin.

The Trio

Now, for some statistics. We traveled through 3rd AC, Sleeper and General Class in trains and when it came to buses, we used a Volvo, a Tourist bus, Govt buses, local buses. We also experienced the Tempos, Minis, Micros and Rickshaws in this journey. Our cuisines varied from Indian, Chinese, Tibetan, German and Nepali and was vegetarian. Now for the expenditure part, excluding shopping, the grand total expense per head was just Rs.5800 (US $110).

The Route Map

This winds up my Nepal Travelogue. And I really wanna visit this place again, this time for adventure sports. Every journey gives us a number of memories to cherish for a life time. And this trip is not an exception. I’d like to thank Ashwin and Vijin for coming with me and I express my sincere gratitude to everyone who helped me through this journey.

This is Jibu Tom Jose, signing off.

PS : End of Nepal Series

<<Previous

Categories: Travelogue | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Pokhara – The Adventure Paradise

Pokhara is known for adventure tourism. Paragliding, zip line, white water rafting, Himalayan treks are few recipes in the adventure tourists menu. Sarangkot is the place were you take off to the skies on para-gliders. But due to lack of time, we were merely tourists. After an inspiring and bewitching sunrise, we set out to explore the other tourists spots in Pokhara.Bindhyabhasini Temple

The first destination was Bindhyabhasini Temple. One of the most popular temples in Nepal, Bindhyabhasini Temple offers ravishing view of the Annapurna mountain ranges and the city of Pokhara.

The next stop is gonna be of interest to you, if you are a Batman fan. Yes, it is the Bat cave. As the name suggested,we found zillions of bats hanging on the cave roofs. Unfortunately we didn’t find the Wayne Manor nearby. Not bad, if you wanna be the next Batman, but the tourists are not gonna be very happy. It was a good thing that we hired a flash light. Without it, we’d have been wandering in the pitch black darkness of the cave. We did not try the alternate exit, through which one has to crawl his way out, as we didn’t wanna get our clothes dirty. Well, we didn’t find that exit though we searched for it. Should’ve hired the guide as well. Since taking a photograph with the flash can agitate the bats, so avoided it to be on the safer side.

Mahendra CaveAfter exploring the bat cave, we headed off to the next cave –  Mahendra Cave. This is cave 2 out of 3 in Pokhara. Unlike Bat cave, this cave is pretty long and is illuminated  At the end of it, we found a small temple. This cave too has an alternate exit and we did crawl out through it. Not as tough as the bat cave exit though.

The next place in the itinerary was the Gurkha Museum. The exhibits narrated the great stories of the Gurkhas. The bravery of the Gurkha enthralled and inspired us. Since photography was allowed, we made it a point to capture all the glorious exhibits and descriptions. Just opposite to the museum is the Seti River Gorge, which would’ve made a good view had the Nepal tourism board maintained it. It looked to me like the waste dump of Pokhara. The gorge is pretty deep but don’t even think about comparing it to the Grand Canyon.

DSCN0749Now, all the above places took hardly 2 hours of our time. So we decided to take a stroll along the Phewa lakeside. The first thing we did was to take a boat savari  to Barahi Temple which is located at the middle of the lake Phewa. It offers an alluring view of the beauty of Pokhara. Now, we had a little trouble with getting back to shore as, we found no boat offering a savari, since most people hired the boat as a whole.

After lunch we decided to try a little adventure. We hired 3 “so-called” mountain bikes and set out to the Shanti Stupa. The cycles were kinda junk and did give us a lotta trouble with the chains and the gears. We cycled for about 5 km and reached DSCN0771near the road to the Stupa. But since we were amateurs  we decided not to try our luck with the 1 km vertical climb to reach the Stupa.  So instead we turned back and then headed to the Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave, the 3rd cave in Pokhara. The notable feature of this cave is that it runs under the highway and offers an underground view of the Davis Fall. This is one cave where the phrase, “Mind your head” is very relevant. And there’s water trickling down from all directions. The cave is named so because of the temple that’s present in the beginning of the cave.

And now to our last destination, the Davis Fall. Davis FallIt is a really good waterfall, but the Nepal Tourism Board has “Censored” half of it. The overgrown vegetation surrounding the falls really mar the beauty of the waterfall.  After the waterfall, we cycled around the lake.  We skipped one important tourist attraction in Pokhara, the Mountaineering Museum, since we lost nearly an hour trying to get our cycles fixed. During our return journey, the stand of one of the cycle came off. We tied it up and continued our cycling expedition. We were slightly worried when we returned the cycles and we did tell the owner about the stand problem. Her chuckle conveyed the question, “That’s all that came off?”

That winds up my Pokhara Diary. But I really wanna come back to this place again. All the adventure sports are pulling me back to this place, and so is the natural beauty of the place. One fact about Pokhara is that, there is no other place where you can see some of the highest peaks so close to you. Even during my Kashmir journey, I never so a peak so close.

Tomorrow, we bid farewell to Nepal. And trust me, the return journey was one hell of a ride.

<<Previous            Next>>

Categories: Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pokhara – The Jewel of the Mid-West

After spending 2 days in the imperial city of Kathmandu, this is our journey to imbibe the natural beauty of Nepal. To Pokhara, the paradise of Adventure Lovers.

25th October

The journey commenced at 6.30 am on a pretty good bus, filled with tourists. Nepal CountrysideI found myself sitting with Anna from Tasmania who was on a solo expedition around Nepal. The 7 hour journey was comfortable, except for the flat tire, some 1 hour into the journey. The natural landscape of Nepal countryside was indeed gorgeous. We arrived at Pokhara by around 1.30 pm and  was surrounded by hotel and taxi brokers like bees around a beehive. After some negotiation, we got into a vintage – looking taxi, which I’d bet a 1000 bucks that its older than me, to the lakeside.Lakeside Street The whole lakeside road was frolicking with tourists and every alternate shop that one sees is an adventure sports stall.

The 1st challenge was to find a place to crash at night. From Kathmandu, we had obtained the address of a hotel in Pokhara; Hotel Lake Diamond, supposedly offering an awesome view of the lake. It’s nearly 600m from the lake and trust me, you won’t be able to see the lake even if you stand on top of the water tank!! After a brief bargain, we settled for NR 600 for a cozy little 2 bed room with an extra bed. Every street near the lake is filled with Hotels which claim amazing views of the Phewa Lake. But I can assure you that 90% of them won’t even give you a look at the street, let alone the lake that lies beyond it.

The first thing that we did after getting ourselves a room was to find a map of Pokhara. We also had our lunch and headed out to the lake. Phewa Lake - MistyAs luck would have it, it rained in Pokhara. Stuck in a leaky stall on the banks of the lake with no umbrella, all we could do was hope that the rain would stop soon. And to make matters worse, the cool breeze made me shiver as I left my jacket in the hotel room. All we could see was the beautifully misty Phewa lake and tourists trying to outrun the rain. The local people told us that rainy season ended a few weeks back and that it wasn’t supposed to rain that day. And they assured us that the weather would be clear tomorrow.

By the time the rain settled, it was almost sunset. So all we could do was walk around the dark unlit pathway around the lake. And then we strolled down the streets bustling with business. One observation about Pokhara is that, you can get booze even in a stationery shop. It’s not a big deal for people coming from the west, but its a very rare sight for Indians. This place kinda reminded me of Goa.

After an up and down walk, we decided to try the local cuisine for dinner. Thakali MealsThe Thakali meals. Even though, I settled for Tibetan meals, my friends tried the Thakali thali. And it sure tasted different, but you can be the judge of that.

So, after a washed out day, we had a chat with the hotel caretaker about plans for tomorrow. The sunrise at Sarangkot was the prime attraction. We also struck a deal for a trip around some of the important tourist sites in Pokhara. Since we were to have an early day tomorrow, we slept as soon as we got back in our room.

Most of the hotels in Pokhara have wi-fi’s and I found it really useful. I hate to criticize people, but the attitude of the hotel owner was very rude. He reminded us of a “mafia don”. Even though we are students and we have zero knowledge about the place (well, except some internet and travel guide info), this is certainly not how one would expect to be treated in a hotel. He kept reshuffling our plans as per his convenience and when we suggested changes in the itineraries, he kept “threatening” that he would not help us. So, if you ask my opinion, I will not recommend this hotel.

Since this has been a short post, I’ll include the sunrise point at Sarangkot as well.

26th October

We set out to Sarangkot view-point at 4.30 am in the morning. It was about 12 km or so from our hotel and as we climbed the hill, we could see numerous tourist vehicles, all eager to watch the acclaimed sunrise over Pokhara. We reached the middle viewpoint (Based on height where they are located) and the view was splendid. The sky had a bright reddish-orange hue and we could make out the outlines of the Annapurna Range to our left and the Phewa lake to our right. And it was very cold as well. One of us climbed all the way to the top most view-point, which was pretty steep climb. Me and my friend decided to stay in our place.

Sunrise over Pokhara
We were informed that the sunrise would be at 5.45 am. But due to some unknown technical problems, the sunrise occurred only at 6.30 am. But what we saw next, was indeed worth the wait. Annapurna RangeThe golden shades on the Himalayan mountains and the beautiful bright orangish sun over the hills was a view that any tourist will cherish for a lifetime; Breathtakingly beautiful. Once the sun attained sufficient altitude, the Annapurna Range and the Phewa Tal was a sight to behold. Our cameras had no rest, as we tried to capture every ounce of that beauty into a silicon chips.

Refreshed and inspired, we set out to explore the rest of Pokhara. And I did a little shawl shopping at Sarangkot as well.

Our next destination is Bindhyabhasini Temple.

<<Previous           Next>>

Categories: Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: