Sunday, 19 March 2017

To Catch a Bodhi Leave Before it Touches the Ground

Day 3 in Bodh Gaya and I just spend the morning walking a circle before heading for the Bodhi Tree again. In I went around 1130 after a late breakfast which was too filling so it was sort of a lunch as well.

Swamp Marsh in Bodh Gaya

Same drill and this time there were large group of people in the temple grounds, some in groups of whites sitting down in the form of meditation following a few monks chanting in what I think is mandarin. It must be either a Taiwanese or some Chinese side of group pilgrim tour. They were pilgrim alright but I could not help noticing some of the DSLR laying on the floor while they were in deep meditation.

Today there were a lot of monks. Some were meditating sitting down and facing the tree, everyone faces the tree …. Does not matter which side you are on but everyone faces the tree when in meditation. So some was meditating while some were simply just chatting and some were walking round and round the Mahabodhi temple.

I just watch the crowd around me in silence with a smile or two sometimes. Two young indian boys in school uniform came and sat next to me, which looks like school was out. It must be 12 or past noon. I don’t have a sense of time since I checked my phone in the locker outside, there was no way for me to know the time. The two boys finally found the courage to ask me where I am from. I answer in as little words as I can for I was not in the mood to hold a conversation. Supple silence and peace just watching.

One of the kid told me out of the blue, that if they sit here no leaf will fall.


I sat here for 3 days here with my friend and no leaf has fall for us to collect.

Do not think of leaf falling …. If you think of it, it won’t fall.

The silence took over and soon I saw a single leaf fall to the ground nearby where we were sitting. I notice a few eyes on the leaf …. But they were too far to reach for it without breaching modesty. I nudge the boy and although his eyes brighten at the sight you could see his shyness as he meekly get up and approach to pick up the leaf. A big grin on his face and his friends face as they pick up their first leaf in three days. They left a few minutes later bidding me goodbye while I go back to a blank state of observation.

Rain clouds was coming. I would see it from afar …. It was only a matter of time I thought …. Maybe an hour … or less.

The chanting group ended and pack up to leave ….. Probably for lunch …. More people come and go … in all that another leaf fall and I picked it up…. I now had a leaf in hand twirling back and forth like a meditation tempo only with me sitting like I am in a park with an imaginary picnic basket next to me …. The masses coming and going all walking by all looking up at the tree and I notice quite a few eyeing my twirling leaf ….. and the first few drops of rain trickle down.

Most left one by one …. As I sit there and the crowd dwindle to left only the prepared …. The few monks with umbrella and rain coats as the sky erupts and a thunderstorm broke out. I sat there unmoving ….. watching as the monks run from one fallen leaf to another, unchallenged by any tourist or pilgrims. Some fell near me and I stayed still …. A pause in the monks steps as he looks at me asking a silent permission if they could take the leaf near me …. They pick it up and I sat there twirling my single leaf in hand smiling.

First Leave on the Left to the last on the Right
A leaf falls to my lap …..

Looking at it I could not believe it was that easy. Dad would go nuts when I tell him this ….. the challenge has been completed …. I did not even think it would happen but it did …. All it took was to wait for a thunderstorm to start …. When lots of leaf fall due to the start of a thunderstorm that’s when it is best to fulfil a challenge such as this. Time to go …. Cold shivers was starting to set in and a fully soak body for a single leaf was worth it …. As I proceeded to leave I saw one small leaf floating by on the over flowing waters on the flow …. One that the monks missed …. 3 leaf on the second day …. How many hours did I stay there I wondered ….

Out of the temple ground and reclaimed my phone …. 2.5 hours …. That’s all …. Headed back to the guesthouse and got myself dry before I fall sick.

I went back that night again with three new friend from Taiwan …. The first time I met them on the streets, I gave them direction to the only 7-11 in town and recommended a good place to eat where it was cheap and clean and
Stir Fry Potato and Naan
delicious (It was next to the 7-11) ….
Going back there for dinner They waves at me …. And I with my blur look was trying to figure out where I met them …. He had to jog my memory and I joined him and his two friends. We went back to the tree that night to see it in the night time ….. no leaf drop at all the whole time we were there …. I guess the morning storm shooked all the loose one out for that day.

A beautiful day in Bodh Gaya ….
Bodh Gaya - Community Field

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Collecting Leaves in Bodh Gaya

This has been the repeated story from dad ever since he returned from Bodh Gaya few years ago. To catch a falling Bodhi leaf underneath the scared tree replanted on the same spot where Buddha gained enlightenment.  He always told his story of how he spent 8 hours under the tree watching and not moving and never once manage to get it. Only after he gave up and decided to pick up leaf from the ground like everyone else did people gave way for his first leaf picking experience. Most of them had leaf in their hands already.

From the story he told so many times I did not for once thought about season if it was autumn or summer. Dad reminded me of the challenge the moment I checked into Facebook that I have indeed arrived Bodh Gaya. Try he said with a snicker laugh I could clearly imagine, knowing that I would most likely fail.

First day and I spare the rush to visit the tree or the main Mahabodhi temple. Got food and to bed it was. Day 2 …. Time to visit the holy ground of Buddhist pilgrims, the Bodhi tree where Buddha gained enlightenment. No Phones or Ipod were allowed inside the garden grounds. Camera however was allowed with a fee. 100 Rp for a Camera, 500 rupee for a Video Camera. Shoes prohibited in temple grounds.
Mahabodhi Temple - Bodh Gaya
For once I was happy to see that Bodh Gaya did not commercialized everything other than the cameras. They provided free lockers storage for the hand phones or other electronic and of course the shoes as well. 

The standard ply outside the entrance by peddles, trinket sellers, ceremonial offerings sellers and of course beggars was still around but not as bad as I thought. Only odd thing was that the ceremonial offerings that was sold looked more like it was meant for a Hindu temple instead of a Buddhist one. Then again what is a true Buddhist offering?

I got in the ground and marvel at the MahaBodhi temple which was grand and majestic in its own. Walking around the temple one can see the Bodhi tree where Buddha gained enlightenment encased in a triple cage of rock and iron. The tree grew up and speeded wide of course so people could still sit below the holy tree but not on the holy spot where Buddha gained enlightenment.
The spot had so many ornaments and structure offerings and trinkets or probably pure gold by the looks of it and then to prevent anyone from even sitting with his back leaning on the tree another cage of stone and iron was around the tree.

It’s safe to say …. You can’t see anything especially at the foot of the tree.

Did I mention the rain? It was raining when I got there as well a slight trickle but enough to get you soak if you stand out too long. For some reason I decided getting rained on was a good thing and walk around seeing and absorbing all I could of the place Bodh Gaya. Not long after the rained intensified while I was below the Bodhi Tree , I seek the only shelter underneath a foot wide archway which was the 3rd wall around the temple and the tree.
Not before long the thunderous rain chased everyone away except me and two monks who was drench walking to and fro in front of the tree meditating.

One of the monk looked at me while I just observed them and smiled. He veered off his meditation walk path, picked up something from the ground that was flooded with water and walked to me to pass me a leaf of the Bodhi tree. This happened three times, no words spoken, while I never asked for it he never demanded anything for it.

I decided to leave after a while … the heavy rain had soak me though fully and I was starting to shiver unable to bare the cold. On the way out I picked up the forth leaf that I saw on the ground. Got my phone and slippers and checking the time it had been exactly 1 hours since I went in. Thinking of dad and his 8 hours wait for 3 leafs I was smiling on my way back to the guesthouse.

Out of the the wet clothes and a photo to dad …..:)
Bodhi Leaves from Bodh Gaya

End of day 2 in Bodh Gaya

Sunday, 12 March 2017

From Varanasi to Bodh Gaya - The Grumpy Traveler

I departed early at 830 am to get to the train station on the opposite side of the Varanasi river. Accounted for traffic and tuk tuk bargaining time to reach the station by 1030 am. It was after all a very far station that I had to get to across the river. The train to Bodh Gaya did not leave from Varanasi Jp but from another station Mahgul Sarai Jp.

Got there fine with less than an hour to spare and just when I started to get confidence with the Indian train system it was about time I experience the Indian timing. Train was late 30 minutes the board said … then 30 minutes later it said 1 hour late and then an hour later it said 1hr 30 minutes late …. And when they finally announce the train approaching platform 1 it took another 30 minutes before it really arrived. 2 hours ….. f*ck me. So much for buying seats on a fast train that suppose to take me to Gaya in 3 hours instead of 5.
Mahgul Sarai Jp Train Station - Varanasi
Train tickets are kinda tricky too in India. I was still figuring out the system but as far as I understood the cheapest way is to just buy it on the day itself at the train station. But then there is a very high possibility of no seats or even if you get a seat you may have no seat. Confusing but there there.

Then there is the internet booking system which require an account to book hence a lot of agency will book on your behalf for a fee. There is AC1 to AC3 meaning first class air conditioning to third class air conditioning followed by sleeper class and finally general class. Ticket booking system is sold by General Quota to Tourist Quota to emergency Quota.

Finally there is the free hopper. Just hop on and hope there is no attendant to catch you. Trains are long and chance are you won’t see the attendant anyway. I did see one but he never check any tickets anyway. Hence there was lots of hoppers in the train in India. Chance are your seat reservation will be occupied by someone else as well since there is so many free hopper. People just find a seat and sit on it or sleep on it claiming it as their own. 
One has to be aggressive to shove off the locals to get your pre-determined seat. My seat to Gaya had 2 people seating on it when I finally bull dozed my way into the carriage with all the standing people around. Sleeper class … cheap f*cking sleeper class was not cheap at all.

The chap did not speak English and I pointed to the number and show my ticket to him and asked him to move. A big smile and a lot of talk in Hindi. He even pretend that he was doing me a favour by allowing me to join in and sit with them 3 to a single sleeper seat. Indian hospitality …. Which I later found out he had a full ticket at the berth beside but he used it to store his baggage. No one was even allowed to climb above … he just wanted to sit at the lower bunk to stretch his leg.

The chap with the big smile was playing me like a fool I guess and I was too kind to deprive three person of a seat so I could sleep. It was only a three hour train ride and during the day at that. I manage to shove him to the middle so I could get a wall to lean on. Lunch came and he tried to force feed me Indian water. That’s when I grunted at him sternly and he backed off.
Lack of any language to understand each other, I still got the message that I should be in AC class. You are a tourist … with money … only poor Indian people go to sleeper class …. You are going to be harassed by me while you are here the Indian chap said and my mind magically interpreted his Hindi and body language. I learn to ignore him mostly and finally he climb back to his berth to sleep.
Train Food in India - Good Stuff
My sat was a kind seat …. While everyone claimed their seat as their own if they have a ticket and barked away at others, mine had now 4 person sitting on it … Indian train … you have to be aggressive to claim what is yours else other will take advantage of you.

Poor is the common excuse used in India to justify all the bad things they do to tourist.
I reach Gaya eventually and was glad to be out …. Bathing in your own sweat in the train was not exactly pleasant. First person approach me for tuk tuk and thought he could charge me 250 for the ride to Bodh Gaya. No I told him and kept walking. I was only willing to spend 150 I told him and out with the standard crap Indian bullshit of no way I would get that price bla bla bla ….

Soon when I was near the mass crowd of rickshaw driver he cave in and agreed for the 150 ride. I knew it was less than that maybe even only 70 rupee or less but I am an outsider after all … doubt I could get that price, or maybe I could but I would lose a piece of my soul

Which hotel in Bodh Gaya ?
I dun have one I told him and you can practically see the fire light up in his eyes. An opportunity to get commission from the guesthouses. Poor is one thing but trying to rip people off is not a good thing and one expect to be liberated from such poor life with bad doings. The irony of it.

I let him bring me to his best recommended guesthouse owned by Japanese. …. Why is it that all the rickshaw driver recommends guesthouse owned by Japanese ladies? Yea … sure … I’ll think about it.
Namaste the guesthouse greeted me and would not answer my question of how much is a room for the night. After persuading me to see the room and halfway trying to show me every facility they had in the guesthouse I stopped and refuse to move till he told me the price of the room. 1200 rupee for A.C room and 800 for non A.C …..

Don’t waste my time ….. NO
I walked out of that guesthouse regardless of his price drop and told the rickshaw driver I’ll find my own. I do not like dishonest people I told him. Bodh Gaya of all place ….. but I guess I was still in India. He brought me to the next one …

Rama Guesthouse ….

Same drill and I asked for the price of the Room …. 1200 for A.C 400 for non A.C …. Sigh ….
Are you from Japan?
No I am not from Japan.
Where are you from Sir?
Why? Japan people many money have? Japan people 1200 rupee a night no problem.
No Sir…. Japan people normally wan cheap ….
(I find that hard to believe)
How many nights sir
3 Nights
I am from Malaysia …. How much for room with A.C ….
Nope … max I pay is 500
How much for room without A.C
You have to do better than that …
You can check everywhere in Bodh Gaya Sir and sure you will come back here ….
Fine …. I’ll check the whole of Bodh Gaya … I have plenty of time anyway ….
Wait … I ask boss if can give discount …
The boss which was his father came in talk a bit and offered me 350 for Non A.C
(The A.C seams to be stuck at 600)
300 I told him … no more
Fine … time to go …. Walking out the door he said ok …
(Shit … I should have asked for 250)
Oh well I was happy enough to get a clean room with bathroom attached for 300 a night ….

The boss grabbed me to the side …. Psstt …. Please dun tell other guest how much you pay for the room. If anyone ask especially the Indians staying here tell them you pay 500 …..
I gave him my best Indian Head Wobble … mmmm

He did not buy it and kept pestering me ensure him that I won’t tell the other guest ….
Ok …. But I didn’t say I wouldn’t blog about it….

If you can see a rainbow at the end of a long journey day, everything is gonna be alright

Rainbow in Bodh Gaya - India