#7 India, Feb. 27, 2015

My hotel, the Samrat in Berhampore was a terrific hotel. And this is in an out of the way place! I didn’t see a single Western tourist in this town. The hotel room was nice, had a comfy mattress (for a change!). the staff was fully attentive (unusual), and they gave a complimentary breakfast, free delivery to the train station, and the cost for all of this?—$15/night.

DSC08904I hired a new (to me) kind of conveyance to take me sight seeing. (My surrey with the fringe on top?) I did enjoy seeing a 1723 Katra Mosque as well as other buildings, but truth to tell, the most fun was looking into the rural life here. Since Murshidabad is 11 km from Berhampore where I DSC08848stayed (and where the train and buses are), I had lots of opportunity to check it out.

Here was a rice field DSC08836with a water-mover. these are used to move water from one rice field to another by hand.

The houses were pretty DSC08844rustic; cows, dogs and goats were everywhere.

DSC08876Drying the laundry on the train tracks must call for some careful timing as the tracks are in use.

Laundry takes lots of water pumping. Who DSC08882could work this hard in a sari and keep it all together?

A makeshift market DSC08885apparently takes place wherever the space is available. There are lots of lovely fresh fruits and vegetables. One hopes that everyone can afford them. I think they can—poverty is not terribly evident here.DSC08865

There were many buses around the sights, which brought many students. Several chatted with me and took my photo. They always get excited when they ask my country and I answer, “USA.” The next word is usually “Obama!”

DSC08916On Sunday I took the early train (6:30 AM) back to Kolkata. There was no food served so the vendors were out in force. One was selling buttered toast.

After I arrived and while my room was being cleaned in my Ashreen Guest House, I went for a chai, then bought some water and fruit. On the way back I saw a baby whose DSC08919eyes were outlined with kohl. Other interesting people on the street—this girl is carrying a DSC08920heavy load of 6′ long bamboo poles plus a baby; this man is piling bricks on his head and then moving to somewhere else. every DSC08942time I’m on the street in India, I see the lives of people that are so difficult and so fatiguing, I can’t imagine my living them. Yes, we’re really lucky.

I walked a long ways to visit the South Park Cemetery. This is an old British cemetery with DSC08922lots of big monuments. The stories were DSC08937rather poignant—nobody was my age! The burials were mostly from 1790 through the 1800s. One man died on the River Ganga (Ganges), one woman had died along with her two babies plus her husband died a few days later (diptheria?) Many were in their teens, 20s and 30s. While the British certainly exploited the Indians, their life was no bed of roses, either!

One lady on my street had a beautiful henna DSC08945design on her hand. And a man on the same street was carrying quite a load.DSC08953

My last day in Kolkata I had several things left to see. They weren’t imperative, but I laid out a plan. I started by taking the metro north for four stops, then getting a man-pulled rickshaw to take me to Tagore’s House, whose location he DSC08947indicated emphatically that he knew. Well, he took me to the Marble Palace instead, which I photoed, but then he asked directions and we did get to Tagore’s House. Rabindranath Tagore was a poet, mystic, DSC08950and artist who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He attended a school in Illinois as a young man, traveled widely, and again visited the USA in the ’20s. His family home was huge and it mostly all had been turned into a museum. Obviously his whole family was illustrious going back generations.

The large museum probably told me more than I wanted to know about Tagore, but clearly he was an outstanding person. He died in 1941.

DSC08948After that I did ask a couple of people if they knew where the Ashutosh Indian Art Museum was (it was nearby) but they didn’t know and about that time I was having hunger pangs. Unfortunately none of the museum-type places open before 10:30 or 11:00 so the sight seeing gets a late start. I walked back to the metro and back in my neighborhood walked to Teej for my last meal there before I would be leaving Kolkata the next morning. As always, it was wonderful.

The next day I took a train to Gaya, the neighboring town to Bodhgaya, the town where Prince Siddhartha Gautama sat under a bodhi tree until he reached enlightenment in about 600 BCE. It seems to me ‘enlightenment’ means distancing yourself from emotions of life, similar to that goofy CA church where one ‘goes clear.’ Still many people, both Indian and Western, are here taking part in meditation, etc., and seem to get a lot out of it. I’m here more as an observer.

DSC08958On the train I ordered lunch and the lunch-man had “Meals On Wheels” on his uniform and cap. The lunch was delicious, even if it did arrive very late.

When I got off the train in Gaya, there were several cows on the train platform. Where DSC08960were they going?

The town of Bodhgaya is very peaceful and quiet (small—30,000 people) and therefore walkable. That is so nice as I have taken many auto- bicycle- and manual rickshaws lately and so have been shaken to a jelly. Not only the shaking, but all the really loud honking horns right in your ears is fatiguing.

DSC08961My, the fauna is interesting in this area. On the way over in an autorickshaw from Gaya (13 km) where the train let me off, I saw pigs that resembled wild boar (who eats the pork?) a camel, and the usual dogs, goats, cows and water buffalo, and also some ducks.

In Bodhgaya I got a very clean hotel, Mohammad’s House, which is the first on this trip that had screens on the windows. Now the beds were very hard (as usual) and there is no top sheet—I could fix both of these problems, there were two beds. The bathroom was big, had nice soap, nice towel, and good TP.  Mohammad also had a nearby restaurant that had wifi! In this little place! And the cost? $6.75 per night. I went over to Mohammad’s Restaurant and used the wifi while having a chai. Since I had eaten on the train, that was it for food for the day.

Later I sat on the rooftop of the hotel drinking a beer. At my request the desk clerk went three km away and bought me three, one for each day, and put them in the refrig. Well, the loudest things I heard from the rooftop were the crows, mourning doves, and far away, a few dogs. And the sun had slowly sunk in the west, so I finished my beer, went in and planned my next day’s sight seeing.

The next morning I had a chai and a fruit salad at Mohammad’s Restaurant. Unfortunately DSC08977the wifi wasn’t working. I gather that happens frequently. Then I started out on my sight seeing. On the way to the temple I came across a neighborhood wedding. The DSC08971bride, in a bright red sari, was about to enter a decorated car, but it seemed to take a lot of animated discussion before she could enter.

The World Heritage-listed Mahabodhi Temple was my first destination. This entailed DSC08980getting a ticket (no charge) and walking a long ways to the two security booths. Well, it turned out that one could not take a cell phone into the temple grounds, and also that you had to have a special ticket (100 r) to take photographs. That’s fine, but there were no signs saying so, and so I had to walk back a long ways to correct all of this. That often happens in India—they have no regard for the ‘customer’ and often spring surprises on you when you get far afield. OK, another go at it—and, of course, removal of shoes. I don’t complain about this but it is tough for us Westerners that never go barefoot. I kept my socks on (they are more expendable than my feet) and nobody complained, as they sometimes do.

DSC08992The temple was first built by Ashoka in about 200 BCE, but that was razed and another was built on those foundations in the 6th century. Muslim invaders razed it in the 11th century and since that time it has been repeatedly restored, the last time in 1882. This is where Buddha DSC09008became the Buddha by sitting under a bodhi tree in about 600 BCE. Ashoka was a Moghal invader in the 2nd century BCE. His wife, jealous of the attention that he paid this special Bodhi tree, destroyed DSC09009the tree. Luckily Ashoka’s daughter had carried off one of the saplings to Sri Lanka, which provided a cutting, which was carried back to Bodhgaya and planted in this sacred place.

The temple is huge and dramatic. There were constant processions around it, mainly by monks.  There were a number of Westerners worshiping, too.

From there I went to the Archeological Museum that had remnants of granite railings and DSC09021pillars that in Ashoka’s time surrounded the Bodhi Tree. They also had many statues of Buddha from the 6th to 10th centuries.

I had decided that I would forget the last two destinations on my trip as they were nothing special, and spend more time in Bodhgaya. That meant changing my train tickets. Well, it turned out that there was a festival on about the time I needed a ticket and they were scarcer than hen’s teeth. I spent all morning Friday, going to a Bodhgaya train ticket booth, then to the Gaya train DSC09029station on a crowded autorickshaw (13 people fit into space for 8), then back to Bodhgaya to two travel agencies (nobody DSC09032there), then back to the train ticket booth, until FINALLY I got a ticket for 4:00 AM on the 5th of March. What a drag going home is going to be. In the meantime I’m enjoying Mohammad’s Guest House, even if it is across a narrow street from some interesting housing. Hey, this is how a lot of Indians live.


So now all I have to do is figure out how I will get form Bodhgaya to Gaya at 3:00 AM on March 5th. Then I’ll wait 12 hours at the train station in Patna until I get my train to Delhi at 6:00  PM on the 5th, arriving Delhi at 8:30 AM on the 6th; then I shall go to the airport and wait another 16 hours until my flight leaves for Paris at 1:30 AM on Friday, the 7th. Then a 4-hour layover in Paris and then another eight hours home should put me in Minneapolis at 2:30 PM on March 7th. Got all that???? What a drag! Still there are many things to see in Bodhgaya before all that!

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