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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Thursday, 10 March 2011

March 10th: Bodhgaya

On March 10th 1982 I was in Bodhgaya.  There is always a risk of disappointment in going back to places you have enjoyed but I found Bodhgaya little changed three years after I had been there in 1979

This was the main day of Holi and it was cooler this year, though it did get much hotter later in the month.  There was rain around and the river had more water.  The people had been building Holi fires for some time, but a lot got swept away when it rained. 

On the evening of the 9th I had walked along the river looking for photos of the full moon.  Then I recorded what I saw of the early festivities:
Holi Full Moon:  My picture
Full moon night.  There had been a Tibetan puja at the temple.  Once again the stupa had a wonderful atmosphere in the moonlight.  Tibetans doing prostrations and chanting, while a group of Burmese monks were idling around and laughing and even smoking a pipe - such a difference in attitude.  Finally walking back to the Vihar a procession was crossing the road to the riverside.  Moving in the darkness, with drums and chanting, some waving palm-fronds; it looked like what it was, an ancient pagan ritual, which could equally have come from Africa or prehistoric Europe, very atmospheric.  In the distance towards Gaya there was a torchlight procession and a couple of boys came down from Bodhgaya with torches.  The bonfires got lit with continued beating and singing and a little solo dancing, people with torches stretching out across the sands of the river.  So Holi has started.
At Dungeshvari:  My picture
On the day of Holi, the town felt very closed down so I walked out and to explore the hills you could see across the river.  I walked first to the island and then I just kept walking to the base of the hills, enjoying the bright sunshine; it was lovely to get away from the noise of traffic and music.  I climbed the lowest hill and sat a while watching the distant Mahabodhi stupa, looking so spired, and decided to go on along the mountainside and see if I could find the Mahakala cave temple I had heard about.  The path got better and better, overlooked by birds of prey, as I passed alongside a village.  The temple was in a lovely green niche halfway up the fairly bare hills.  It had mainly the appearance of a Tibetan temple and monastery, but the little Kali temple-cave had a fine sculptured image in the darkness.  There was also a modern shrine done in Tibetan style with skulls all around the doorway and a demonic face for the main image.  When I arrived a party of Thais was there with, I was told, a famous old monk.  As I sat some Indian women came up for Kali darshan.

The walk back was also good, going through two villages and then crossing the wide river, somewhat muddy.  I was accompanied by a merry local man for some of the way who kept on jollily talking to me in Hindi and trying to get my understanding.  I had a much needed chai when I reached the road and then a schoolboy returning from Gaya took me on the crossbar of his bike for the second part of the walk along the road.

The town was almost shut down in the evening and there was no fresh food or tea.  There were a few drunk people and a few people with colour on their clothes and bodies.

I went back to the hill and the shrine, called Dungeshvari, ten days or so later, for a full day's walk over the hill, when the hotter weather had set in.  I recorded this in my notebook:
On The Hill:  My picture
It was easier to get up here than I expected, up to the pass to shelter from the sun at a cave and then up round the other side, it's not really very high.  You can hear all the noise from the Gaya road in the pleasant westerly breeze, and the noise of children and others from the houses which line the path which runs along the edge of the hills.  Many of the houses are built in rectangles with a peak on all four sides, and a small shady courtyard, not much in the way of windows, the bigger ones have tiled roofs, the mud-baked walls a yellowy brown.  The fields on the Gaya road side are pleasantly green in parts with the white lines of paths in between, occasional round wells, tall palm-trees.  Several villages attest to the river's fertility.  On the other side it looks drier, the spaces between villages which coincide with trees are more distant.  The spire of Bodhgaya and behind it the Thai and Japanese temples, beyond is the university. Gaya sits by the river under its temple hills, I can make out a couple of long bridges to cross the river, the far one must be the railway line.  Neophrons circle round below me, swifts and crag martins near my head.

Farther Along.  Above the big patch of trees, in the rocks, where one or two small trees cling to the rocks for life.  Below a man breaks rocks with a small sledge-hammer in the hot sun, and two bulls turn incessantly round a grass threshing floor.  Under the trees is the tiled roof of a big house, and a few smaller houses on the edge of dry-looking fields.  It's more peaceful here, further from the road.  Three little coral-coloured trees on the edge of the hill, and the rocks have a deep purple vein.

Below Dungheshvari:  My picture
Finally.  Coming away, the sun declining behind Bodhgaya.  I'm sitting on the root of some big spreading fig-tree, maybe a banyan, which stands on its own opposite the village at the foot of the hill.  The temple is now hidden by a thick clump of palm and acacia trees, but I can see the entire length of the ridge I walked along and the extra bit to the north which looks so inviting with its light green trees and bushes.  In fact it looks like it might have a couple of artificial walls on the top.  The village felt good, two places where they were threshing, eight or ten bulls bound together and made to trample the grain, like the grape harvest.  Unsophisticated people, plain mud walls and thatched roofs.  The temple not so impressive this time, the boy-monk playing inane tunes on a radio and there was the distant hoot of the Gaya train; better was sitting under the little trees below and eating the last orange, a gentle smell, redstarts and sunbirds and lots of butterflies and a frightened jackal running low like a fox pursued by a child.

I did look in at the Mahakala temple and admired the images, so full of horror, especially the central Mahakala, like a giant mask, half-Kali; and a Yamantaka in the corner bull-head and 34 (at least) arms.  After sitting below the village I made my way quickly back to town, finding a chai and then a tonga when I reached the main road.

The Patrimonium Mundi panoramas of Bodhgaya show that there have been a lot of developments around the Mahabodhi Temple since I was there.

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