Sunday, February 13, 2011

From India

Hello from Bodhgaya! I arrived here about two days ago, via Kolkata. I landed in Kolkata on the evening of Wednesday, February 9, and the first thing I noted is that I will remind myself next time to arrive in India during daylight hours! The prepaid taxi service stand was closed, apparently (or at least nobody was manning it!). I strode out of the international terminal (which wasn't very large at all! Rather makeshift, actually) and was immediately accosted by numerous taxi drivers. Someone tried to convince me to take a 890-rupee ride to the Kolkata backpacker ghetto. Luckily I didn't fall for that. Nevertheless I was already reeling from 42 hours of travel, so I found a relatively more decent deal and went with it. The next day, I visited my first backpacker cafe and had the most typical India backpacker food - banana pancake! Then headed to Kolkata's Kali Temple and was immediately latched onto by some temple priests who proceeded to take me through the rites and then demand an exorbitant amount of money. I didn't give them as much as they wanted, but it was difficult being alone and surrounded by the priests. Ugh. I then squeezed into the most crowded Metro ride EVER (I didn't need to balance at all, people were pressed up against me from every side) to Victoria Memorial. The memorial is for Queen Victoria, and built in a very British Raj style. The lawns and gardens were all manicured and well taken care of, unlike right outside the memorial's limits... I felt like I was being swindled left and right there in Kolkata. The foreigners I saw all had a hardened look (probably all weary of being swindled and not knowing who to trust), and I didn't end up approaching anybody. On a more light-hearted note, I had my first Indian McDonald's experience in Kolkata though. I went to walk along Park Street, supposedly the most "cosmopolitan"street of Kolkata and came across a McDonald's! I tried the McAloo Tikki burger, which was a veggie burger with a very Indian spicy taste to it!

Anyways, I only spent one full day in Kolkata. The next day, I took a plane from Kolkata to Gaya. It was the most empty plane ride EVER (lots of EVERs for me this trip so far). I can't see how it is profitable for Air India to fly a near-empty jet, but at least it made things easier for my jetlagged and somewhat-frazzled self. Along the way, I noticed a band of Chinese Malaysian tourists and we started talking! I was so glad to run into them. One man had been coming twice a year to India for the past 20+ years for Buddhist pilgrimages. He gave me useful advice about Bodhgaya and when we arrived at Gaya Airport, where the taxi drivers again tried to charge me an exorbitant rate to Bodhgaya, he let me tag along with his group in their hotel shuttle! I can't express how grateful I was to run into a friendly group of people.

After dropping off my things at a guest house in Bodhgaya, I headed straight to the Mahabodhi Temple, which marks the site of Siddhartha Gautama's enlightenment. There's a huge prayer meeting at the temple this week for Tibetan Buddhist monks, and it was amazing to be a part of a vast sea of monks headed into the temple and then sitting under the Bodhi Tree. My first night staying in Bodhgaya was extremely rough though. I was staying in a very budget location with a mosquito-infested shared bathroom. Bodhgaya is also unsafe after dark for solo female travelers, so I ended up eating dinner at 5pm (Tibetan momos!) and going to sleep not too late after that. Tried to sleep, that is. My room was so noisy and mosquito-infested that I hardly slept at all. I woke up early in the morning, packed my things, checked out, and headed for the Chinese Monastery (the Malaysian tourist the day before had suggested it to me, but when I arrived there wasn't any room for me yet). Since I was walking outside so early in the morning, men on motorcycles and on foot kept following me, and by the time I arrived at the monastery I was harassed to the point of tears. Fortunately there was room for me at the monastery, and I got to move in...

I realized at every point when I felt like I couldn't take it any longer, something would happen that would brighten up my view of the world again. Not long after I checked in, a few other Mandarin-speaking girls close to my age also showed up at the monastery. I ended up getting to hang out with them, sharing their room, and am heading to Varanasi with them tonight! Again, can't express how grateful I am. I realized how different it is to be completely on my own, traveling. In some ways it is freeing, but in some ways it is more dangerous for sure. I'd hardly been in India a few days and I've been yelled at by a vindictive Internet cafe owner (there were no other foreigners/customers present at the moment) and surrounded by a band of young men as I exited the ATM booth.

I spent the morning reading a small Buddhist tract I'd purchased at the Mahabodhi Temple. It seemed like what Buddha's saying suddenly clicked for me. I'd started to gravitate towards Buddhism and Eastern philosophy in general in recent years, but always had a "soft spot" for Buddha in particular. I felt like I could relate the most to what he teaches, and to his life. I'd always been longing for a way to that "peace that passeth all understanding" spoken of in the Christian Bible, ever since I'd read that phrase. I felt like it was in reading Buddha's words, his message, and seeing his life, that this end of sorrow and end of suffering finally seems possible to me.

Onwards to Varanasi...

1 comment:

  1. Wow...stay safe Julia! It takes so much courage to travel alone, and I really admire you for that. You're also going to have the most amazing experiences - the kind you can only get when you travel alone. Funny, they never mention the men and swindlers harrassing Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love... hahaha.

    Keep writing, I love hearing about your travels from icy NYC!