‘Wherever you go, whatever you do’, you will find trains filled with countless people without reservation returning home during early-Puja days. Although I realize their pain, such journeys often proves to be harassing. Putting up with such nuisances for the last 3 years, I planned a shorter 2018 puja trip so that it would get finished before the returning rush would start.
Avoiding crowded destinations, we opted (read: I chose and others agreed) for a 3-day family trip to places of History and tranquil spirituality: Gaya, Rajgir and Nalanda. For the 2 night-stays, we booked standard double rooms at Hotel Grand Palace, Gaya (Contact: 9122928709) and Hotel Vijay Niketan, Rajgir (Contact: 9835620220; http://www.hotelvijayniketan.com). Train tickets were booked on the very first day they came available. Being not a popular destination, I had the luxury of keeping the vehicle options open for spot-booking.
Due to a low-pressure belt, created at Bay of Bengal, chilly breezes from the North started changing the conventional humid atmosphere of Bengal by last week of September. Bengalis were just about to enjoy the early arrival of winter when the weather forecast department predicted ‘Titli’, an upcoming cyclone to hit Andhra and south Odisha. But, what made tourists even more scared was the rumour of a strike which could affect the transport lines across the tribal regions of four states: Bengal, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Odisha.
Despite all uncertainties, we smoothly managed to reach Dakkhineshwar (DAKE) and move to Sealdah (SDAH) via train. Fortunately, the train took us to platform 9A and our train SDAH AII EXP was waiting on 9B. It saved a lot of time and toil. Finally, after an hour’s wait, we boarded the train and it started after another 30 minutes.
Finishing the dinner with delicious foods from home, we retired to our berths soon.
We woke up by 5 am when some people got off at Koderma. As the train was running timely, we concentrated on surrounding nature while sipping the morning tea.
It was 6.20 am when we reached GAYA. Before starting for the hotel, located at 2 minutes walking distance, I opted to get some ideas about the sight-seeing tours and cab-prices. Afterwards, I reached the hotel and got ready for the day’s trip.
Our hotel manager arranged an AC Indigo for the day’s trip for Rs 800. Sightseeing in Gaya is about visiting various temples along the Falgu river. We started with the famous Vishnupad Mandir.
Afterwards, we started for Bodhgaya and reached in another 1 hour.
We parked our car at the outskirts and booked a toto (e-rickshaw) for Rs 300. After the blast at Mahabodhi temple in 2013, heavy vehicles are restricted in its perimeter. Hence, despite having our own vehicle, we couldn’t move around with it.
Bodhgaya has numerous monasteries, set up by Buddhist communities from various countries, around the main attraction: Mahabodhi temple. We started with Wat Thai Buddhagaya.
As it was 12.30 pm already, we stopped for lunch.
Post-lunch roaming started with visiting quiet Indosan Nipponji and …
… continued with Royal Bhutan Monastery, …
… the Great Buddha Statue,
… Daijojyo temple,
… Karma temple,
… Wat Thai Buddhasawika,
Due to a visit of chief minister Nitish Kumar, Mahabodhi temple remained closed for the day. So, we started returning.
After the overnight train journey, even the half day’s trip under the mighty Sun made us worn out. Followed by short snacks and dull dinner, we settled for a sound sleep to meet a hectic day.
While Bengal was getting rain-drenched for ‘Titli’, Bihar maintained the chilly vibes all-around. On a day like that, we couldn’t get ready by 7 am as I promised our driver. When we left for the day’s trip at Rajgir, Nalanda and Pawapuri by 8 am, …
… even the local people didn’t settle in properly.
By the time we overcame the laziness and started longing for breakfast, we already crossed the urban boundaries.
On our way to Rajgir, we took the bypass road via Gehlaur, a place of dense trees, cool shades, blood-red soils and vast hills.
Gehlaur was not on my list; I didn’t have any idea that I would be visiting the village of the famous mountain man – Dashrath Majhi. I was amazed a bit by the scenic beauty of the place and more seeing the gigantic task the super-human finished by cutting the hill.
We moved on to our way to Rajgir …
We reached Gridhut peak site of Rajgir by 11.30 am. In front of the parking lot, I located the tanga-stand. For visiting the sites at Rajgir, one needs to enter muddy narrow lanes which have to be visited in tangas only.
As my parents decided not to visit the peak by cable-chairs, I stood in the queue for collecting the tickets. With an Rs. 90 ticket per head, I finally boarded the rope-way chair.
I was feeling scared a little at the first, especially at the locations where the chairs were gaining height all of a sudden. But with time, I started enjoying the 10 minutes ride.
We finally reached the peak.
There is a sense of peace here in this untouched, unspoiled part of the world and to know you are literally standing on a site where Buddha once taught, is pretty unbelievable. This was once in a lifetime opportunity! If your journey through India is a spiritual one I definitely recommend making Bodh Gaya and Vultures Peak one of your stops.
Following another trail of stairs, we came to the Peace Pagoda or Viswa Shanti Stupa, built by Japanese.
While getting down from the peak, I didn’t risk the rope-way ride and opted for the stairs. A little toil down the road offered us a nice glimpse of the whole Gridhut hill.
Afterwards, we started for Pawapuri but en-route visited the Bramhakund first and then had our lunch.
Driving for another hour, we reached the Jain Jal Mandir of Pawapuri.
It was time to move for Nalanda, then. At Nalanda, again we had to book a toto for Rs 150 to visit all the places. We started with Xuan Zang (Hsuan Tsang) memorial.
and moved to Kundalpur Digamber Jain Temple
followed by Black Buddha
and finally Nalanda Excavated Site / Nalanda University. I found the excavation site quite fascinating; not just for the ruins unearthed but for the historical accounts associated with it.
Sariputra Temple is a part of the excavated discoveries lion’s share of which still remains intact.
After a tiring trip, we came back to hotel late. As we had no plans for the next day, we had the luxury to get relaxed a bit.
We finished the sight-seeing trips on the first 2 days. So, we chose to spend the morning at the bank of Falgu river that day. We booked an auto and reached near Sitakund, where legends say Sita offered oblation for her husband Ram.
Most part of the river flows underground in this time of the year. We checked by digging the river-bed a little with our hands and surprisingly located water level within 5-6 cm.
Enjoying the river-banks by morning, we went for a high breakfast. As we had nothing more to do, we opted to visit the Mahabodhi temple, we missed due to CM’s visit. We reached Bodhgaya in an hour and parking the auto outside temple premises, we moved inside. I was shocked when the security personnel asked me to submit mobile and power-banks. As the mobiles are coming with great camera qualities these days, I didn’t carry my DSLR in that trip. I was repenting then for such a messy decision I made.
The Bodhi temple’s architecture was mesmerizing with a square base with four towers on each side and a long extended steeple.
A sea of maroon filled the streets as monks gathered, wrapped in their maroon robes, meditating in a space opposite the Bodhi tree. After a relaxed visit, we came outside by 11 am.
The auto finally dropped us at our hotel; the whole morning trip cost us only Rs 400. We got freshen up and had lunch; post-lunch sessions were all about waiting for the night to come and boarding the departing train. Although our train Chambal Exp was to be departed at 11 pm, it was running late by more than an hour. So, after dinner, we opted for a short nap.
The day started with uncertainties. I woke up as the day began (12.30 am) and remained awake to track our train. It was getting late and later with time. I was getting anxious while I asked others to have asleep.
Finally, when I couldn’t wait more and the train was late by more than 4 and a half hours, I decided to go to GAYA station to get some information from the railway officials.
According to the officials, the train got diverted from Mughalsarai. With no option to get confirmed seats at other trains, I came back dejected to the hotel again. Consulting a friend, local to Gaya, finally, I booked bus tickets from Gaya to Kolkata for Rs 460 per head and filed a TDR.
Booking the confirmed seats, the tensed atmosphere has vanished but we were desperately waiting to be at home then. With no more places-to-visit, we hit the malls and markets by late evening. Having our dinner packed, we finally checked out from our hotel and reached the bus stop. The bus started in time and paced to reach destination timely.
With the first ray of sun on the auspicious day of “Maha Saptami” when I woke up, the bus reached Burdwan. As all the fellow-travellers got down for refreshments, we also had the morning-tea. Within 2 more hours, we reached Dankuni where we were dropped and booked a cab to home.
We returned home exhausted and so, had no plans for pandal-hopping in Kolkata.