Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Ride to the Land of Enlightenment and Salvation

Ride to the Land of Enlightenment and Salvation
Did you find the post title intriguing? Well, the credit goes to Bihar Tourism. Otherwise, I was okay with something more simple like- Ride to Bodh Gaya. Hardly a month back, I had happily bid goodbye to 2015 with my solo ride to Daringbadi - the "Kashmir of Odisha". As you finish a chapter it becomes your obligation to begin a new one. Like an alcoholic looks out for the last drop in his empty liquor bottle, a motorcycle tourer lives with the same desperation to find occasions to escape from his monochromatic cage and touch the tarry path. I see people complaining about lack of time, company or budget when it comes to traveling. Truth is, it's all about that priority list you maintain consciously or subconsciously. Winter doesn't last longer than three months where I live. As the February slips away plains of Eastern India start rehearsing for the upcoming summer. The weather remains no more biker-friendly. If you're planning to ride a part of the Golden Quadrilateral November to February should be the season of choice. Usually I ride solo. So does my brother. We have separate things to take care of which makes teaming up less feasible. Last time we made a motorcycle trip together has become a three and half years old tale. Since my Daringbadi trip we had been trying to work out on a long ride. Varanasi was in our mind but it required more days than we could afford. Just touching such an interesting site as Varanasi and riding back home without exploring the essence of that ancient city seemed utterly meaningless. After a lot of hypothesis testing we chose Bodh Gaya- the place where Buddha had attained enlightenment.
Ride to the Land of Enlightenment and Salvation
Arid Falgu River accompanied us for almost our entire ride to Barabar Caves.
There were three major reasons behind choosing Bodh Gaya. Bodh Gaya is well connected with Bardhaman through NH-2 (except the last 20-25 kilometers). Besides its high spiritual quotient, Bodh Gaya is saturated with many temples and monasteries which are worth photographing. Thirdly, there are many more tourist destinations from Bodh Gaya which can be covered in day trips, like- Rajgir, Nalanda, Sun Temple, Kakolat Falls, Barabar Caves etc. Brother opted to ride the Pulsar 220F while I was content with our decade old Discover 125. I knew my vehicle to be old but not cripple for sure, and certainly capable of hauling 400 kilometers in a day. Our 1100 kilometers ride itinerary was somewhat like this:-

Day 1) Ride from Bardhaman to Bodh Gaya. Overnight stay at Bodh Gaya.
Day 2) Visit to Mahabodhi Temple Complex. Ride to Barabar Caves and return to Bodh Gaya for overnight stay.
Day 3) Ride to Kakolat Falls and return to Bodh Gaya for local temples/monasteries visit. Overnight stay at Bodh Gaya.
Day 4) Return ride from Bodh Gaya to Bardhaman, hoping that our motorcycles had obtained enlightenment and salvation.
Ride to the Land of Enlightenment and Salvation
A Buddhist devotee chanting inside Mahabodhi Temple complex.
Whether you're driving from Delhi side or Kolkata, you have to take diversion at a point from NH-2 to Gaya-Dobhi road. The road at the diversion point is too broken to impart any positive impression of Bihar Tourism among thousands of foreign pilgrims visiting Bodh Gaya daily. Merely putting up few catchy hoardings by potholed roads, and neatly maintaining "Incredible India" labeled Volvo buses won't really be enough to manipulate foreigners in the way they imagine India. Located by the bank of Falgu River, Bodh Gaya is a tourist friendly town in Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar. It was in Bodh Gaya where Prince Siddhartha Gautama obtained enlightenment after meditating under the Bodhi Tree for a night and became Lord Buddha. For this obvious reason Bodh Gaya is one of the most significant sites of the Buddhist Circuits (Other major three places are- Lumbini, Saranath and Kushinagar).
Ride to the Land of Enlightenment and Salvation
The 80-feet Buddha Statue at Bodh Gaya.
As you reach Bodh Gaya you'll be greeted by rows of hotels and religious institutions. I was expecting to find our accommodation in any monastery so that we could experience the spiritual ambiance associated with the place. Sun was setting down and few initial rejections in monasteries made me reconsider staying in a guest house. Many religious institutions prefer giving accommodation only to a group of tourists than an individual or two. Moreover it was the peak season for pilgrims. If we searched harder I believe we could squeeze ourselves in somewhere, but after 400 kilometers of ride in a 125 cc motorbike I didn't have the required juice. On a brighter note, even in peak tourist season at Bodh Gaya you can get plenty of lodging options. There are hotels, lodges and guest houses of different budgets to suit the budget of every category of travelers. For backpackers and shoe-string budget travelers I would suggest to head beyond the Mahabodhi Temple area, and as you cross the Vietnamese Temple you'll find a lot many guest houses offering rooms in as low as 250 bucks!
Ride to the Land of Enlightenment and Salvation
Kakolat is a 160 meters high waterfall located on Bihar-Jharkhand border.
The Mahabodhi Temple is the hub for Buddhist pilgrims and other tourists at Bodh Gaya. This temple built in 260 BC, presently an UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in a huge campus called Mahabodhi Temple Complex which also houses the holy Bodhi Tree and other spots of religious (Buddhism) significance. This is the site where Buddha had attained Nirvana. We spent the first half of our second day morning at Bodh Gaya exploring the spiritual air around the Mahabodhi Temple. It is a high security zone under the strict surveillance of army (or, might be para-military) as well as Bihar Police. There is no entry fee but an entry with your still camera would cost you 100 bucks. Mobile phone is not allowed inside the main temple complex. Everything is so damn unique and ethereal in the Mahabodhi Temple! Despite the thick volume of devotees you won't feel the mad-crowd-rush. Everyone is doing something (circumambulating, praying, chanting, meditating etc) of his/her own in all different styles, and yet, everything is in perfect harmony, without the slightest smell of chaos. I would rather share my experience of visiting the Mahabodhi Temple in a separate blog post.
Ride to the Land of Enlightenment and Salvation
Barabar caves are are the oldest rock-cut caves in India you can find till date.
Having tried Japanese cuisine for last night dinner, we decided to savor Tibetan breakfast before leaving Bodh Gaya for Barabar Caves. Barabar caves are are the oldest rock-cut caves in India you can find till date, surviving from the Mauryan Era, located some 42 kilometers from Bodh Gaya. Four caves- Karna Chaupar, Lomas Rishi, Sudama and Visva Zopri are collectively called Barabar Caves. G-Map navigation helped us in finding our route most precisely. Arid Falgu River accompanied us for almost our entire ride. After a considerable stretch of ride on well maintained SH-4 we had to cross the wide sand bed of Falgu, and thereon off-roading started. Next day we locked Kakolat Falls as our riding destination. Kakolat is a 160 meters high waterfall located on Bihar-Jharkhand border, approximately 100 kilometers away from Bodh Gaya. It is not only the natural beauty of Kakolat Falls that attracts tourists from faraway places but also the local belief that the water of this falls has medicinal value of curing any disease. During Sankranti time an annual fair is organized around the falls and the presiding deity is worshiped with great devotion. The last 15-20 kilometers of the ride was nothing short of dirt biking which we not only survived, but also fully cherished. The caretaker, Yamuna told us that during summer days the water of Kakolat becomes icy cold! Perhaps, narrating about Barabar caves and Kakolat Falls in a separate post will be more justified.
Ride to the Land of Enlightenment and Salvation
Inside the Japanese Temple, Bodh Gaya.
We couldn't return Bodh Gaya before late afternoon and our mission for the day was still unfinished. Local temples and monasteries were yet to be visited. Just like Lumbini, devotees from all Buddhist countries have ornamented Bodh Gaya with own temples built with their individual architectural styles. After visiting half a dozen of Buddhist temples my motorcycle presented with electrical connection problem and the wisest thing we could do was hanging up our travel boots and visit a bike mechanic. I ordered fresh local Pizzas with extra cheese toppings in dinner to alleviate the frustration of unfinished monastery visits. It is anyway advisable for a traveler to leave few corners untouched, so that he gets excuses to visit back and re-explore. That night, sleep obliged us pretty fast and that's how our ride to Bodh Gaya found its fate. Of course, we rode back to Bardhaman the following day. Throughout my journey the deteriorated state of NH-2 kept bothering me. I guess officials of NHAI require some urgent soul searching. It's time again to start fantasizing about my next ride...
Ride to the Land of Enlightenment and Salvation
Resting somewhere on NH-2, on our ride back home... The Journey never ends.

5 comments:

  1. Wonderful narration of a great ride. Lovely images too!

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    Replies
    1. That's so encouraging brother! Thanks :-)

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  2. Sounds so enticing. I had never heard of Barabar caves. What did you have for Buddhist breakfast?

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    1. Not Buddhist, but Tibetan breakfast- Steamed bread and potato :-P

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  3. Sounds interesting. I want to visitBodh Gaya. May be i will.
    Barabar caves, never heard about them.
    Loved the last pic, even though the waterfalls looked more majestic!
    ;) :P

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