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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Thursday, 7 April 2011

April 7th: Rajgir in Bihar, India

On April 7th 1982 I was in Rajgir in Northern India.  I remember the few days I stayed there as some of the hottest I have experienced. 

Rajgir is a little Bihar town partially surrounded by a number of hills.  The old end of town is historical, mostly ruins and it is one of India's most ancient settlements.  It contains the "Vulture's Peak" where Buddha is said to have preached.  There are Jain temples and Mahavira too passed many years there.  There also is a Hindu bathing place with hot springs.  All in all it is a pilgrimage place for many different religions.   On the hills were even more ancient walls and a new Nichiren stupa.  The modern town extends into the plain but seemed very unmodernised except for a collection of decaying hotels which were empty in that season; it was too hot. 

I stayed at a Nature Cure ashram, where they followed a Gandhian style; there was a Krishna feel with mantras recited by individuals and also played over loudspeakers.  They did a good meal at lunch which I tried to attend, but apart from that I stayed in my room during the heat of the day.  I tried to explore early in the morning while it was not overbearingly hot. The electricity in the town kept failing and that led to water failures, which made the hot springs attractive.

This day it was cloudy, there was thunder, and it even rained a little on a few occasions which kept the day a very little bit cooler.  In the morning after a dawn hot bath I walked up to the Nichiren Shanti Stupa (Peace Pagoda).  I looked at all the various ancient monuments and walked through some pleasant forest on the old road.  I sat up at the top among all the ancient walls and on the way down I looked into Vulture's Peak, where Buddha preached, atmospheric but shadeless in the emerging sun.  At the top I wrote in my notebook:
Rajgir, 2007:  Picture by Chandan, CC
I'm at the top of Chhatha Hill, sitting on a rocky pinnacle looking out over the plain to the east.  The plain is dull green or brown, a few scattered houses, you have to go some distance to find a proper village.  A big thunderstorm has moved off in that direction away to my right, the wind still swirls around me and the sun tries to come through.  I hear the beating of the drum in the temple and the endless chanting of the mantra like a moan.  I'm not tempted to join in, though the monk had a sweet smile.  Excited voices of Indian tourists going round the stupa.  The stupa is most impressive in its nobility and concept.  These hills wooded, good trees, some look autumnal with yellow leaves falling away, while new shoots appear on others.  At my feet a tree is in flower, a beautiful yellow flower with a golden centre and a bright green leaf.  What I take to be a euphorbia beside it, and then one of those prehistoric looking trees with bare red bark, no leaves and bunches of flowers at the tips.  Bulbuls and warblers all around.

The pinnacle I am on may be part of these old walls which roam all across these hills, at least 6th Century BC.  Certainly other nearby stones are part of the walls but this big one might naturally sit here.  This is one of the finest features of Rajgir, and supposed to be the oldest piece of architecture in India outside the Indus Civilisation.
Nalanda Temple:  My picture
The day before I had been to the baths and then on an excursion to the ancient Buddhist university at Nalanda.   I staggered up at 5 to walk to the hot spring in the dawning light.  The bath was good and it was interesting to watch the people at such close quarters doing their washing pujas, bowing to four quarters, tossing water at the images.  No one took much notice of me, and if they did it was friendly.  My only scruples lay in an insignificant sign "Non-Hindus not allowed" which probably referred to the baths keeping untouchables out. They seemed to make an exception for foreigners here, but didn't allow in those dark skinned miserables who occupied the mud houses near the road outside.  After a puri breakfast I got on a bus to Nalanda, a good excursion.  At first in the ruins I felt the sun, but the initial impression was very good, for instance the big temple with the Gupta stuccoes, and sitting under the shade of a big tree in the pretty grounds.  Around the site temple 2 and Monastery 1 - really big - were the most impressive, but the museum was disappointing: I think I had seen all the best stuff in Delhi.  Afterwards I walked into the nearby village of Baragaon to look at the Surya temple there, giving me an excuse to see the village.  I saw another little temple first, which had marble fittings, and then an old man showed me round the Surya temple which had a good atmosphere, and fine images including an Avalokitesvara and a Parvati, presumably Pala.  It was situated in a picturesque little back street, with harmonium music coming from next door. 

The Saptaparni Caves, 2007:  Picture by BPG, CC
Before I left I walked over the Vaibara Hill, seeing the old Jain temple and the Mahadevi Shiva temple, and got caught by a pujari at the Jain temple.  I sat awhile looking over the town at the Saptaparni caves, where the first Buddhist Council was held after Buddha's death.  Finally I ascended to the highest Jain temple.  There I found perfect peace, above even the woodcutters and with beautiful views in the hot sun, just the birds, a few butterflies and me.  On my way down there was the  surprising sight of people being taken up in litters, little wooden and rope affairs with 2 porters each, maybe 10 altogether and one or two quite young women amongst the passengers.

Nalanda Monastery:  My picture

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