Gaya, second time

On Thursday, 24 December 2009, I accepted an invitation from Mr Jagbinder for a day-trip to Gaya to fly a kite from the roof of his home. He came to Bodhgaya around 9:30AM to pick me up on a motorcycle.  I sat pillion passenger without a helmet or glasses. It was still cool at that time in the morning but my jacket and two shirts under that were enough to keep me warm.

First we went to Gayasisa (Brahmayoni) once more. This was the first time Mr Jagbinder had been to Gayasisa despite Gaya being his home town. Unfortunately my camera batteries were flat so I was unable to take photos.

We climbed to the summit in about 20 minutes and had an excellent view. The fog that normally prevails at this time of year in northern India was mostly absent. I avoided the Hindu shrines and Brahmin priests/caretakers and sat on a wall outside the tallest and main Brahma shrine (maybe it was Vishnu?) to reflect on the significance of the site. I imagined that without the Hindu temple buildings, there was enough space to seat 1000 fire ascetics, the followers of the Kassapa brothers who listened to Lord Buddha’s third discourse after enlightenment – the Adittapariyaya Sutta. I imagined the young Lord Buddha sitting on the tallest boulder surrounded by 1000 fire ascetics calmly and mindfully listening to the discourse.

I also looked over the western balcony at the small, narrow cave called Brahmayoni and after which the hill is now named. Brahma is the one of the Hindu Gods in the senior trilogy of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Yoni is Sanskrit for divine passage or vulva. I didn’t wish to venture down to the cave itself. I guessed that it may be full of Hindu things and had no significance for celibate Buddhists.

Then we rode to Mr Jagbinder’s house. I met his parents and sat for 30 minutes chatting, drinking tea and eating snacks. I was honoured to be invited to an Indian home (in India) for the first time. We chatted about Sikh religion, Buddhism, Hinduism, employment and so on. They had a plan to drive cars to Patna that evening to attend a festival to commemorate the 10th guru. They invited me and I declined saying I like to avoid crowds and they understood since this festival would be extremely crowded. They were not intending to sleep either. The festival would begin around 10PM and finish around 3AM, when they would drive back to Gaya.

Mr Jagbinder’s father impressed me as an honourable and sincere man. He inspired trust right away. He seemed relatively calm and peaceful by comparison with many other Indian men I had encountered so far.  He spoke English reasonably well though he was modest about that.

Mr Jagbinder then took me to the top floor (3-4 floors) and he flew a small 20cm square kite. It was a gusty day so the kite was difficult to control. Even so it didn’t crash or get tangled. I declined to try it myself.

We talked more about employment and career options, Dhamma and travel etc. Then Mr Jagbinder offered me chapatis and dal for lunch and we rode back to Bodhgaya.

This visit to Gaya was quite different to my previous visits. The weather was bright and clear and I was more aclimitised than previously. I was relaxed and enjoyed it due to the warmth and hospitality of Mr Jagbinder and his family. 

Yesterday, I spent another 7 hours straight in this Internet cafe, updating my blogs and uploading photographs. They are all up to date now. It is a relief.

I am considering where to go now. I am tired of travel and want to settle somewhere to meditate. This makes me think of trying to go to Sri Lanka soon instead of visiting other Buddhist sites in northern India.  I shall probably go to Delhi for a couple of days and then Chennai for another day and then fly to Colombo, Sri Lanka. I just have to organise the means to do this. Maybe I will arrive in Colombo on 1 January 2010? 

Gurpa – Kukkutagiri – Peacock’s Foot Mountain

Tuesday, 22 December 2009, I hired Mr Jagbinder Singh and his car to go to the Gurpa mountains where Mahaakassapa is reported to have attained Parinibbana. According to Mahayana tradition, Mahaakassapa did not die but remains alive in a deep meditation state inside the mountain, waiting for the enlightenment of the next Sammaasambuddha – Metteyya (known as Maitreya in Hindu and Mahayana traditions). According to this story, Mahaakassapa will pass a robe once belonging to Gotama Buddha to Metteyya Buddha.

For my part, I am Theravada Buddhist and don’t know much about the Mahayana tradition of Bodhisatta (Bodhisattva in Sanskrit). I believe that Mahaakassapa and other ancient arahats spent a lot of time meditating in these hills and probably died there. There is no citation in the Paali Canon to say where Mahaakassapa passed parinibbana. After Lord Buddha Gotama’s parinibbana, Mahaakassapa was accepted by most of the Sangha (community of monks) as the leader, though he did not covet such status since he had long attained full enlightenment as an Arahat.  Interested readers may like to read short biographies of Mahaakassapa at Palikanon.comAccess to Insight (by Helmuth Hecker) and the book Great Disciples of the Buddha by Nyanaponika Thera.

Mr Jagbinder drove us north from Bodhgaya, through Gaya until we turned right (eastwards) at a turn-off (hard to describe the location) about 5-10 km north of Gaya. The road was very rough, and narrow for about 20 km so we had to travel slowly paying attention to avoid countless pot holes and many other people and animals on the road. It turns out we would have been better off going further north before turning east and taking a slightly longer route (may be an additional 5-10 km) on a better mostly sealed road. We took this route on the return journey.

We eventually reached Fatehpur, a small village and then drove further on rough, dusty roads to Gurpa village. On reaching the village we had to wait 10 minutes at a railway crossing.  It seems possible to take a train from Gaya to Gurpa village, though it may be 3rd class. It may not be too bad since it would be a relatively short journey – maybe less than one hour travel by train. It took us about 2 hours by car to reach Gurpa village from Bodhgaya. We may have travelled faster if we were in Tata Sumo or other 4-wheel drive vehicle or on motorcycles. Mr Jagbinder told me that many passenger and freight trains pass here going between Kolkata and Delhi and various destinations in between.

After crossing the rail lines, we proceed a short distance through the village until the road ended near a large tree and a stream. The tall dark profile of Kukkutagiri was southwards beyond the tree.  The tallest hills in this area including Kukkutagiri are about 300m high.

ABOVE: View of the profile of Kukkutagiri looking southwards from the edge of Gurpa village, Bihar, India. The peak on the left (east side) shows the Metteyya stupa at the summit.

Mr Jagbinder negotiated with 3 boys to guide me up the hill for 100 rupees. It did not seem necessary to me as I was confident of finding my own way up the hill.  However, Mr Jagbinder said it would be good to have companions on the walk since this was still a somewhat dangerous area. It was previously prone to bandits/Naxalite activities and Mr Jagbinder thought it would be prudent to have companions who could talk with anyone we met on the way up the hill. He briefed the boys as to who I was and what I was doing (a Buddhist pilgrim from Australia going to pay respect to the shrines of Mahakassapa and Metteyya Buddha).

ABOVE: View of scrub between Gurpa village and Kukkutagiri looking north east

We walked through rough scrub and passed goats, cattle and local people who seemed to be gathering sticks from the scrub. The men all carried or were using long sticks with small axe heads to chop the short trees among the scrub. After about 1 km walking along narrow paths, we reached the foot of the hill and the concrete steps leading up the hill. A local man who spoke a little English and armed with one of those stick/axe tool/weapon greet us and insisted on being “security” for the walk up the hill. I didn’t argue with him or negotiate a price. He spoke aggressively with the boys in Hindi and then we commenced the climb. It was very steep and hard work. I wore a white t-shirt and nylon trousers and my walking shoes. I also wore a hat and carried one litre of water in my day-pack.

ABOVE: View of a short section of rough path on Kukkutagiri (most of the path is concrete steps) 

ABOVE: View of a section of concrete path on Kukkutagiri 

ABOVE: View of a section of concrete path on Kukkutagiri 

ABOVE: View of a section of concrete path on Kukkutagiri. The end of this path will turn left (north) into a very narrow crack in the rocks 

We stopped several times on the climb to rest and I took photos. The scenery was beautiful though haze would not allow me to see the horizon. The man walked in front of me and smelled of tobacco etc. The boys were sometimes in front and sometimes behind – always talking loudly with each other and with the man. It would have been better were I alone to contemplate the significance of this sacred place, even so, I was grateful to be there and was happy nonetheless.

ABOVE: Some of the images painted on the concrete path on Kukkutagiri 

The concrete steps seemed to be newly constructed.  Someone had painted a white stripe in the centre of the steps leading the way upwards or downwards. I saw crudely painted figures of human and cross shapes here and there – not knowing the significance of them. There was also some Chinese characters carved on a rock about one third of the way up. I recognised the largest character as ()- the character for Buddha.

ABOVE: View of a rock with () carved on Kukkutagiri 

We reached a point where we turned left (eastwards) and walked a short distance up some more concrete steps to the entry of a very narrow passage through the rocks (northwards). We rested a little and then continued the climb. I had to turn my body slightly side ways to walk without scraping the sides too much. It became darker and then we had to turn left (westwards) in almost pitch dark. I turned on my phone flash light but this was relatively dim. The path then turned right (northwards) and I had to stoop to avoid bumping my head. My day pack scraped the rocks above as I walked though to day light again. Now we were on a large ledge facing northwards and westwards. I enjoyed the view and took some photos of Gurpa village and the nearby lower and west side peak covered in large boulders and small trees/scrub.  I looked down the slope and could see a lot of rubbish strewn about on a ledge about 3m below. I could read “Lotus Nikko Hotel” on some of the packages.Perhaps a tour group had brought a packed lunch from their hotel. I would hope that the hotel staff or tour guides who brought the group up the hill would collect the rubbish and return it to the hotel.

ABOVE: Some of the rubbish from “Lotus Nikko Hotel” littering the sacred mountain of Kukkutagiri 

Prompted by my four guides, I turned southwards and stoop-walked between some large boulders down to a gold and white painted construction about 3m square and maybe 6m tall. There was another veranda facing south-east with a newly constructed tank (see photo of adjacent summit below for a view) which was empty of water but contained a few leaves and other rubbish.

I turned south again and saw a life size statue of Mahaakassapa inside a locked glass enclosure shaped like a chedi. I removed my shoes and paid respects to the image, recollecting as best I could, the virtues of Mahaakassapa and the sacred nature of this place, reputedly one of the caves he lived in and meditated in so long ago.  It is also possible Lord Buddha and other arahats also spent time in this cave and at other locations nearby.  I was being closely watched by my guides. It would have been better to be alone or with some sincere Buddhist meditators…

ABOVE: The Mahaakassapa shrine located in a somewhat sheltered area near the summit of   Kukkutagiri

While paying respect to the Mahaakassapa shrine, 2 more local boys arrived and claimed to be caretakers of the site.  Now I had 6 guides.

After taking photos I was led back northwards between the boulders and then we turned right (eastwards) and up a few more steps to a temple and stupa on the peak of the mountain. It would have been good to have seen this site in its natural state before any human construction. I imagine that Mahaakassapa and other monks would have sometimes sat on the boulders at the peak.

ABOVE: The three room temple and stupa on the summit of Kukkutagiri

The crudely built temple comprised three small rooms with curtains covering the doorways. I was invited to look in the left-most room and saw some carved foot prints which were apparently supposed to be of Lord Buddha. I estimate the length of the foot prints were about 40-45cm. Someone had dropped red paint on them which I believe may be a Hindu practice.  Ven. Dhammika in Middle Land, Middle Way, wrote that locals believe these prints to belong to a Goddess of the mountain.  Even so, there was a small Buddha statue in the room. I didn’t inspect the other rooms.

ABOVE: The supposed “Buddha Footprints” in the left most room in three-room temple on the summit of Kukkutagiri

ABOVE: The Metteyya stupa on the summit of Kukkutagiri looking southwards

I then circumnambulated the Metteyya stupa and took some more photos. There is no reference to Metteyya in the Paali Canon, only in post-canonical literature and in non-Theravada traditions such as Mahayana.  However, the Paali Canon does refer to seven previous Sammaasambuddha beings and many Paccekkhabuddha beings in the past, so I believe that many more of both types of Buddha will arise in the future when the current Buddha’s dispensation has disappeared from recorded history and knowledge.  Whether the next Sammaasambuddha will be named Metteyya or not, I don’t know. It isn’t that important to me because Gotama Buddha – our historical Buddha gave us more than enough teachings to make progress in the Dhamma and to attain Nibbana.  We are fortunate enough to be born in the dispensation of Gotama Buddha so we may hear, study and practice the Dhamma at this time. We don’t need to imagine some possible future time of Metteyya Buddha for our possible salvation, it can happen right now.  Be in the present moment.

ABOVE: A view of one of the four Buddha images on the side of the Metteyya stupa at the summit of Kukkutagiri looking eastwards

ABOVE: The commemoration plaque for the Metteyya stupa on the summit of Kukkutagiri looking southwards

You may learn more about the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Urgen Trinley Dorje on his website.
There is also a short text article and an online video of the stupa consecration mentioned above. I personally don’t follow him and never heard of him until I read that sign on Gurpa Mountain.

Here is another interesting article about the consecration including some photos of the the steps, Mahakassapa chedi, the Metteyya Stupa and the pilgrims attending on the day etc.

Mr Jagbinder later told me that on the day of the consecration, around 80 Tata Sumo vehicles drove from Bodhgaya to the site.  The two brothers who came later while I was paying respect to the Mahaakassapa shrine told me that since the consecration other pilgrims had visited the site in smaller groups mostly from Japan and Taiwan.

ABOVE: The view looking westwards from the balcony next to the Metteyya stupa on the summit of Kukkutagiri. The adjacent summit seems to invite further exploration. This photo also shows the small tank on the balcony of the Mahaakassapa shelter.   

It had taken one hour to reach the summit of Kukkutagiri. I spent about 20 minutes there and it took about 30 minutes to return to the car and Mr Jagbinder. He had stayed behind to guard his car.

I paid the man 100 rupees, the two brothers 100 rupees to share and the 3 boys 100 rupees to share.  Just as we were about to drive away, two more men came and claimed to be the official caretakers, demanding that we register our names in a book and pay a fee. I asked for official identification which was not forthcoming and also asked why they weren’t doing their jobs taking care of the site.  Mr Jagbinder also spoke in Hindi and they calmed down. We drove off and were delayed again at the railway crossing for about 20 minutes as several trains passed about 5 minutes apart.  We fixed a car tyre puncture while waiting. 

I got back to the Deep Guest house around 2:30 PM, took a shower and ate some lunch. I was quite hungry since I had not eaten breakfast or lunch, not even a cup of tea. Breakfast at the Deep starts at 8:00 AM and Mr Jagbinder had picked me up at 7:40 AM.  I then rested in my room reading an English novel version of the Mahabharata by Meera Uberoi.

Inspiration
It was tough work climbing the Kukkutagiri, Ratana Hill (Gijjhakuta), Isigilli (Sona Hill) and Giryek Mountain (Indasala cave), Vaibhara Hill (Satapana Cave), Brahmayoni (Gayasisa) and so on… There are many hundreds of kilometres between the various places that Lord Buddha and the Sangha of old walked to and from. Having personally climbed these hills I can testify that without modern paths or their equivalent it would be very difficult to access these remote locations.  In the ancient times the dense forests had not been cleared and there were many wild animals roaming around. Now the forests have been mostly cleared and the animals we see are domesticated goats and cows.

While walking around these places I frequently wondered in amazement at the strength and fitness of the ancient Sangha.  They would have to climb up and down on a daily basis to get their alms food for the day. Just reading the suttas in books or listening to audio does not convey the meaning that one experiences at these locations. It is amazing, really amazing.

Then I considered that Lord Buddha and others in the ancient Sangha were still walking around and climbing tall hills in jungles and forests while aged in their 70s and above. In some accounts Mahaakassapa and other arahats were 120 years old or more and still living under trees and in caves located in remote places such as Kukkutagiri rather than in relatively comfortable monastery buildings located close to faithful lay people who would provide abundant alms. 

Then I considered that many of the ancient Sanga were expert meditators, able to use supernormal powers to fly and remove physical obstacles in their paths. Perhaps sometimes they would fly to the summit of the hills and fly over the dense jungles where no walking paths were apparent.  So amazing…

Nalanda, Jethian, Bodhgaya

On Sunday, I phoned Mr Jagbinder Singh from Gaya who had earlier driven me to Rajgir and back to Bodhgaya to see how much he would charge for driving from Gaya to Rajgir pick me up take me to Nalanda and Jethian and then to Bodhgaya (the other side of Gaya coming from Rajgir). He said he could do it for 1200 rupees. This compared favourably with the Hotel Siddharth quote of 2500 rupees.

On Monday, 21 December 2009, I checked out of Hotel Siddarth and Mr Jagbinder drove me to Nalanda. It was an optional visit for me. The Nalanda University ruins were another pile of red bricks for another 100 rupees to the Government of India. The lawns around the ruins were well kept though I didn’t come to India to see neat lawns. There was no visible sign of Buddhist worship at the site of the ancient Buddhist university since most Buddha images have been destroyed or removed. There were a few Bhutanese pilgrims at the site, but most were Indian tourists. Just outside the front gate, there are maybe 20-30 stalls selling snacks, souvenirs, drinks and so on. They seemed to be catering for the Indian tourist market. Two of the touts were very insistent that I buy a tour guide from them for only 40 rupees etc. I tried ignoring them and then tried to tell them I didn’t want anything but they still insisted on badgering me. I only escaped when went to the ticket office to buy the ticket for the ruins and the museum. I went across the road from the Nalanda university ruins to the Nalanda archaeological museum and walked around looking at broken statues and pottery for 15 minutes.

Mahaathera Saariputta and Mahaathera Mahaamoggallana were both born and grew up in the Nalanda region. Their villages were close to each other. Mahaathera Sariputta also died (parinibbana) in his home village. Lord Buddha also gave several discourses at Nalanda and on the road between Nalanda and Rajgir. I recollected these facts as we drove to the nearby Xuan Zang (Huien Tsiang) Memorial Museum.

ABOVE: View of Xuan Zang (Huien Tsiang) Memorial Museum, Bihar, India

It is a large hall, with many large paintings on the walls and also the story of Xuan Zang’s (604 CE-664 CE) 17 year pilgrimage from China to India. The museum was quite different to other museums I have so far visited in India. It seemed to have a much greater attention to detail and mostly likely a great deal more money invested in it.

ABOVE: View of Xuan Zang (Huien Tsiang) statue, Bihar, India 

There was new construction on the adjacent plots of land. I was told by the ticket seller (50 rupees entry fee for foreigners, 5 rupees for Indians), that these would be quarters for scholars and an auditorium. I am not sure what they will be teaching. Maybe this is connected in some way with the new Nalanda University?

 Then we went to the Nalanda Multimedia Museum. There are no signs out front indicating the cost. I was charged 100 rupees and given a ticket saying 20 rupees. I asked for the other 80 rupees change but the ticket seller said it was foreigner’s price. He took my ticket back and gave me a new ticket that had no price on it at all… I complained a bit more and then shrugged my shoulders. I was then escorted to a small room with poorly drawn images of monks doing various activities at Nalanda Museum and told to wait while the computer slide show proceeded. It was not very interesting to me. The content could have been better presented with boards on the walls or by giving the visitor some control over the pace of the slides. Some were too slow and others changed before I could finish reading them. When this was over, I was taken to another room with a different slide show about the Nalanda University ruins which was similarly boring. Then I was told to wait a while and I would be shown a 45 minute film about the Nalanda ruins. I did not accept the invitation to see the film and told the officials that they should have a sign out front with the real prices. One of the officials then told me that the real price was 50 rupees for foreigners and 20 rupees for Indians. It seems that the ticket seller was cheating me by 50 rupees. I didn’t want to argue with anyone at all. I just want these things to be run professionally. I left without trying to get 50 rupees (about Aust $1.20).

Then we drove back to Rajgir and ate lunch before continuing on our drive to Jethian. The road to Jethian is along the south side of the ridge beginning with Sona Hill. We drove for about 12km and then took a right (northwards) turn zig-zag up the hill and through a pass.

ABOVE: View of road going up the hills to the pass near Lathivana and Jethian, Bihar, India

A new rail line seem to under construction or being repaired (not sure). We got advice from people in the village of Lathivana that it was unsafe to go to the Rajpind Cave due to bandits. If we were to go, we should go in a large group and take armed police or soldiers with us. We stopped to look at the remains of the Supatittha Cetiya with a Buddha statue commemorating a place where Lord Buddha stayed when he visited Lathivana (according to Ven. Dhammika in Middle Land, Middle Way). We also looked at the statue of the Bodhisatta Padmapani stuck on the front of the local school (Saravoday Viddyalaya). I was not very impressed with either of the statues. I was more impressed with the landscape and the recollection that Lord Buddha and many Arahats had walked around there, gone on alms round and meditated there. The rugged rocky hills are quite beautiful though probably would have looked much different 2500 years ago when there were forests, jungles and many more animals in the area. I resolved to come back with a larger group one day. We drove back through the pass and on to Bodhgaya.

ABOVE: View of rugged hills to near Lathivana, Bihar, India

I checked in to the Deep Guest House again and then walked down the road to the Mahabodhi Mandir to circumnambulate 3 times. Bodhgaya seems more familiar to me now. Mahabodhi Mandir is just as crowded as it was last time, though the Theravada Buddhist chanters seem to have packed up and gone home – a good thing from my point of view. There appeared to even more Tibetan Buddhist prostrators than the two weeks ago when I was last here.

Rajgir: Isigili, Sonbhandar Caves

On Friday, 18 December 2009, as I was walking along Fraser Road, Patna from the Internet cafe back to Hotel President after my last posting, I stopped by a small shop to buy razors, batteries and biscuits. While in the shop a 31 year old Indian man asked me about my background and what I am doing etc. After a short conversation, he asked me to teach him meditation so I gave him a quick overview of the Mahasi Sayadaw method of Buddhist vipassana (insight) meditation. He and the shop owner were very happy to meet me and listen to the instructions. I hope they benefit.

The next morning, Saturday, 19 December 2009, I went by cycle rickshaw to the Patna Junction train station and bought a train ticket for the trip to Rajgir. It was unreserved and only cost 38 rupees. I found a seat no problem because the train was originating in Patna. It became quite full along the way with many people crammed onto seats. The other passengers gave me plenty of room and I had interesting conversations with some young men in the same compartment as myself. I counselled one young man aged 23 about his plans for the future involving a girlfriend and his attempts to get ahead financially.

All my interactions with Indian people are teaching me a lot about culture and my own limitations. Many times I wished I could speak Hindi/Urdu.

At the last stage of the 4 hour train journey, some young students advised me that the train was unable to go all the way to Rajgir and had to end the route at Nalanda, about 12 km north of Rajgir. So I got off the train with the students at Nalanda and walked about 500 metres to the road to wait for one of the frequent local buses to Rajgir. The other option was a tonga (single horse driven cart) with many passengers. Several buses stopped and what seemed to be three times the buses capacity, crammed on board. Even the roof rack was full of young men. Eventually, one eager bus conductor grabbed my backpack and stowed it into the boot of his bus and insisted that I push my way through to the front of the bus and sit next to the driver, almost on top of the gear stick. The fare was only 6 rupees. Many more stops later, we arrived at Rajgir. I then rode a cycle rickshaw to Hotel Siddarth, Venuvan park (Veluvana) and the hot springs.

I checked many rooms from 2500 per night and settled on 450 per night for a twin bed room with no AC and no hot water. A room with hot water would have cost 800 or 900 (can’t remember). I imagined I could go over to the hot springs for my evening bath. It turned out to be very crowded at the hot springs even at 8-9pm when it was quite cool walking around and I didn’t go in the water. There were many locals and a lot of Bhutanese and Burmese pilgrims bathing noisily at the hot springs. So I had a cold water bath from a bucket. The hotel wouldn’t give me a bucket of hot water either. The assistant manager was very kind though, he walked with me to the hot springs and encouraged me to bathe even though it was crowded.

On Sunday, 20 December 2009, I had breakfast and then hired a driver, Mr Bhima Chowdrey, with tonga to take me to Sona Hill (previously known as Isigili – Gullet of the Seers). It was relaxing to sit cross legged on the tonga and experience a slower more leisurely pace.

ABOVE: Mr Bhima Chowdrey and his tonga outside the Hotel Siddarth, Rajgir, Bihar, India

From the narrow pass between Udaya Hill (east side) and Sona Hill (west side) we climbed up the base of the hill and walked along the top of a reconstructed wall upwards and westwards.


ABOVE:  We passed many goats grazing beside the wall (looking west-north-west) on Sona Hill, near Rajgir, Bihar, India.

ABOVE: A view looking west along a section of the wall on Sona Hill, near Rajgir, Bihar, India that has not been recently repaired. It is narrower than the recently repaired wall on the lower part of the slope

ABOVE: A view looking east along the wall on Sona Hill, near Rajgir, Bihar, India. The nearer section has not been recently repaired and the further section has been repaired. The view also shows the wall on Udaya Hill 

ABOVE: A view looking north east from Sona Hill, near Rajgir, Bihar, India. The lower slope of Udaya Hill may be seen on the right of the photo. The road from Gaya to Rajgir is also visible. The vehicle in the photo is passing the bridge over the small stream

ABOVE: A close-up view of a part of the recently repaired wall on Sona Hill, near Rajgir, Bihar, India

After walking about 500 metres or more up the slope on top of the wall, to the north I could see into a gully between two more ridges that looked like a desperate sort of place that might be a “gullet of seers”.

ABOVE: A view looking north from Sona Hill, near Rajgir, Bihar, India toward an interesting gully. An old section of wall is just visible on the right side (east) of the gully.

ABOVE: A view looking north from Sona Hill, near Rajgir, Bihar, India toward an interesting gully. An old section of wall is just visible on the right side (east) of the gully.

ABOVE: A view looking west at the lower slope of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India. A small red Hindu shrine is visible at the base of the recently repaired wall. 

ABOVE: A view looking north at base of the recently repaired wall on the lower slope of Udaya Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India 

ABOVE: A view looking south west at Sona Hill from the lower slope of Udaya Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India. A Hindu shrine is just visible behind the tree on the left side of the photo. The bridge over the stream is outside the frame on the right.

Mr Bhima and I went down to our starting point and then I explored the small stream heading southwards between the Sona Hill and Udaya Hill. There was a car wreck in the middle of the stream and a lot of rubbish and algae.

ABOVE: A view looking west from under the road bridge located between Sona Hill and Udaya Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India

Then I walked westwards along the southern base of Sona Hill towards the mysterious gully I had noticed earlier.

ABOVE: Another view looking west at the lower slope of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India. This photo is taken from a location close to the road bridge between Sona Hill and Udaya Hill

ABOVE: Another view looking south west at the lower slope of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India. This photo is taken from a location close to the road bridge between Sona Hill and Udaya Hill

ABOVE: A view looking west at the lower slope of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India


ABOVE: A view looking north along a section of wall that has not been recently repaired on a hill north of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India. This wall leads northwards on the eastern side of the interesting gully mentioned earlier in this blog

  
ABOVE: A view looking west along a section of wall that has not been recently repaired on a hill north of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India. The dry stream that runs along the base of the north side of Sona Hill is visible on the left of the wall

I intended to walk into it much like the more than 500 Paccekkhabuddha (non-teaching Buddha, unlike our Gotama Buddha who was a Samasambuddha) had done in the Isigili Sutta. However, Mr Bhima forbade me to walk into the gully because there were bees or wasps there that would attack us.

ABOVE: A closer view looking north into the interesting gully near a hill north of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India, mentioned earlier in this blog  

Instead I climbed another wall, one that had not been reconstructed or had very little recent repair. I could look into the gully and took a few photos of gully and surrounding landscape. It is a beautiful place. I would really like to visit it again.

ABOVE: A view looking south along the wall located on the eastern side of the interesting gully near a hill north of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India, mentioned earlier in this blog. Mr Chowdrey is visible walking along the wall towards the camera. A dry stream is just visible in the photo at the base of Sona Hill in the background.  

ABOVE: A view looking north along a section of wall (right side of photo) that has not been recently repaired on a hill north of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India. The interesting gully is between the rock formations in the centre of the photo

 

ABOVE: Another closer view looking north west from the eastern side hill above the interesting gully near a hill north of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India, mentioned earlier in this blog  

I could not see the famous Kaalasilaa – black rock. Maybe it has been destroyed by nature or removed by humans since the time of Lord Buddha. Maybe I just needed to explore more… As I was about to return to the tonga, 15-20 local women came walking up the hill. Mr Bhima told me they were going to collect sticks. I didn’t take photos of them.

ABOVE: A view looking north west from further north on the eastern side hill toward a different gully near a hill north of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India  

ABOVE: Michael Kalyaano near a section of wall that has not been recently repaired on the eastern side of a hill north of Sona Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India  

After returning to the tonga, we went to the village just south of the narrow pass between Udaya Hill and Sona Hill. Mr Bhima had some chai and a smoke. I didn’t drink the chai because it had a burnt smell.

ABOVE: A view of the road leading toward Rajgir that goes between Sona Hill and Udaya Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India. The photo was taken 2m from the road side cafe where Mr Bhima drank chai. There is a village behind the camera view   

ABOVE: A view of the road leading away from Rajgir that goes between Sona Hill and Udaya Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India. There is a village behind the gate in the centre of the photo

Going northwards through the pass, we briefly stopped at a stupa which Mr Bhima told me was an old Buddhist university. It appeared to have rooms for monks and larger rooms for meetings though overall it isn’t very large. There were no official signs on site indicating what the site represented.

ABOVE: A view of a stupa (or ruined building?) north of the valley between Sona Hill and Udaya Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India.There were no signs indicating the significance of this site. The sign in the photo is a warning not to damage the building

We continued northwards back along the route we had taken to get to Sona Hill.  We stopped briefly to look at the ancient chariot tracks in solid rock. One story to explain the tracks is that they were made in ancient times by the frequent passage of carts and chariots through this area. Mr Bhima explained that locals believed the tracks were made by Ajuna’s chariot driven by Krishna and that other dents in the nearby rocks were made by Bhima (also from the Mahabharata) as he fought with an opponent.

ABOVE: A view of ancient chariot tracks in solid rock north of the valley between Sona Hill and Udaya Hill, Rajgir, Bihar, India

We continued further about 2-3km then turned left on the road to Sonbhandar Caves at the base of Vaibhara Hill. In Middle Land Middle Way, Ven. Dhammika wrote that two caves were carved for the use of Jain Ascetics. However, Mr Bhima and the local guide explained that in fact the caves were used by Buddhist ascetics.

ABOVE: A view looking west at the Sonbhandar caves near Rajgir, Bihar, India. The walls and roof of the cave on the right (north) have collapsed

Most of the carvings in the caves appear to be Buddhist.

ABOVE: A Buddhist carving on a wall in one of the Sonbhandar caves near Rajgir, Bihar, India. The Dhamma wheel is visible in the lower centre of the photo. The photo is not very clear

ABOVE: A Buddhist carving on a wall inside the northmost of the Sonbhandar caves near Rajgir, Bihar, India. The Dhamma wheel and lions are visible lower section of the photo
ABOVE: A badly damaged Buddhist carving on a wall inside the northmost of the Sonbhandar caves near Rajgir, Bihar, India. The Dhamma wheel and lions are visible lower section of the photo. Perhaps the tree at the top of the photo represents the Bodhi tree


ABOVE: A badly damaged Buddhist or Jain carving on a wall in one of the Sonbhandar caves near Rajgir, Bihar, India

The local guide was emphatic that the caves were created for the use of Buddhist ascetics. He also claimed that there is an ancient 3 mile tunnel connecting the southern most cave with the Sattapana cave.

He pointed to creases in the rock which formed the shape of a door way. At the very top of this crease, at the apex of the “door”, was an indent. The guide explained that the British had placed a cannon outside the window of the cave and fired at this crease in an attempt to open the door. They could only dent the rock. These stories may or may not be true.

ABOVE: A dent at the top of a “doorway” located on the inside wall of the southern-most Sonbhandar cave near Rajgir, Bihar, India 

ABOVE: Another view of the dent at the top of a “doorway” located on the inside wall of the southern-most Sonbhandar cave near Rajgir, Bihar, India. This image shows more of the door shaped cracks. This crack on the left side is not complete and becomes smooth.

ABOVE: Post holes located outside the Sonbhandar caves near Rajgir, Bihar, India. These holes would have held up a roof and veranda outside the caves. I speculate there was a platform or wooden building above (no other sources to verify)

I asked him some questions about the Sattapana cave being rather small to hold a meeting of 500 monks for the First Buddhist Council. He said that it was much larger in the past but was damaged in an earthquake in 1934 (and possibly many earlier earthquakes?). He repeated his assertion about the tunnel linking Sattapana Cave and the southern Sonbhandar Cave.

I also asked the guide about Sona Hill, Isigili, and he recommended not walking along the wall or around the area because local people might be dangerous. I mentioned that I had already been there this morning and he was surprised. Mr Bhima then spoke with the guide in Hindi.

While taking some photos before leaving a 60 year old well-dressed Indian man escorted by 3 younger men suggested that the carvings were of Jain origin. I pointed to the top-knot, Dhamma wheel and lions which all indicated these were images of Lord Buddha. He then spoke loudly in a kind of monologue about the loss of Indian culture and one day India will be a slave again… I tried to leave gracefully… He told me he was a district judge for Bihar state.

Back on the Tonga and northwards to Rajgir for lunch at the Green Hotel and then into the Rajgir town to the only known Internet cafe. Unfortunately it was not working, either the connection would drop or the computer would freeze up.

I was exhausted from all the climbing and after a bucket bath, I had a 2 hour nap. Then I read more Patisambhidamagga (The Path of Discrimination) translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli. This is an excellent book though possibly only interesting for scholars and Buddhists who have been intensely studying other Theravada Buddhist texts.

Ananda Stupa – Ramchaura Mandir

On Friday, 18 December 2009, I ate breakfast and then headed to Patna Junction train station to possibly buy some train tickets for future journeys. I got some help from an official at the Bihar Tourist office located in the train station to hire an auto rickshaw to visit a stupa reputed to be one of the two stupas constructed after the death of Mahathera Aananda (Lord Buddha’s personal assistant in the last 25 years). The stupa is not well maintained and currently has a Hindu temple on top – the Ramchaura Mandir.

My amateur guide said this is a Mahavir temple (he meant the Hindu God Hanuman, not the Jain teacher). Mahavir means “great hero” in Hindi or Sanskrit and is a title used both by Jains and Hindus to refer to different beings. Buddhist texts refer to the Jain teacher by his ancient name of Nigantha Naataputta.

Along the way there and back we drove across the Mahatma Gandhi Setu bridge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahatma_Gandhi_Setu) – the largest river bridge in the world towards Hajipur. The bridge itself was quite a bumpy ride due to the many joins not lining up properly and moving up and down with heavy trucks.

On the way, we were stopped by an aggressive policeman (his face reminded me of a vulture) who tried to get a free ride to some place that would have taken us way off track. He shouted aggressively in the face of the auto driver who plaintively pointed at me and said we were going in another direction. The policeman just waved his stick around and then pulled the driver behind the cab where I couldn’t see and demanded 50 rupees before letting us go. I was told this happens all the time. I witnessed it myself in Gaya, Bihar when three police men tried to get into the auto rickshaw I was in. Luckily they changed their minds when they noticed me.

Another time in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, when I was on my way to Sarnath, a policeman got in and rode for free most of the way. Luckily he did not divert us from the path we were supposed to be on. I suppose the police men need to get around and don’t have patrol cars as in Australia. Even so, it is not good to be so aggressive and then demand money etc.

Once over the bridge in Hajipur, we took directions many times from pedestrians and the way became extremely bumpy, even a motocross bike would have problems with some parts of the road. I held on as we violently jerked around and didn’t bump my head or other parts.

We finally arrived at the site and I took many photos as I walked around. I paid respects to the site and remembered Mahathera Aananda. I was a little doubtful about the place. It is definitely an ancient stupa but I am not sure if it was the right one.

ABOVE: The guide (left), driver (centre) and local boy (right) next to the auto rickshaw we used. The Ramchaura Mandir is the yellow painted building in the background on top of the Aananda Stupa, Hajipur, Bihar, India. The photo is taken looking south east

ABOVE: The Ramchaura Mandir on top of the Aananda Stupa, Hajipur, Bihar, India. The photo is taken looking south east

ABOVE: A view looking west toward the gate on the south side of the Aananda Stupa, Hajipur, Bihar, India. The circular brown things are cow pats drying in the sun. Local people in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh commonly stick cow pats to the sides of buildings to dry before being used as fuel for fires. They are made from a mix of straw and cow dung
 

ABOVE: A view looking north on the south side of the Aananda Stupa, Hajipur, Bihar, India. The brown bricks below the yellow wall are possibly the remains of the ancient Aananda Stupa. The circular brown things are cow pats drying in the sun
ABOVE: The Ramchaura Mandir on top of the Aananda Stupa, Hajipur, Bihar, India. The guide and driver both offered flowers and coins in this container (havan kund)


ABOVE: The Ramchaura Mandir on top of the Aananda Stupa, Hajipur, Bihar, India. The guide and driver both offered flowers and coins in this container (havan kund). The red painted statue in the niche is Hanuman

We stopped for chai 3 times during the journey. It took almost 3 hours for the complete journey to and from.

After learning the hard way, I’d like to share the easy way to get to Ramchaura Mandir with future pilgrims. To get to the site from Patna, take an auto rickshaw from Patna Junction train station for about 600 rupees. After crossing the Mahatma_Gandhi_Setu bridge take the first left (turning westward), go about 100-200m bending road then at the t-junction, turn right (head westwards again). The road is good most of the way if you follow the right roads. Then keep heading west for a while – maybe 1km. The road is good but becomes very narrow and leads to a series of Indian sweet shops with a 4-way crossing. Take the left (southwards) and the road will soon become quite rough. Keep going for about 200m and then turn left (eastwards) at a 4-way crossing (maybe the second or third along the way). The Ramchaura Mandir is about 30m down the road on the left. You need to have a Hindi speaker with you who can ask directions and confirm you are on track. Get double and triple confirmation from many other locals along the way.

I’ll go to Rajgir by train tomorrow morning (Saturday, 20 December 2009) and then maybe to Gaya and on to the Betla National Park. I’d like to see what a forest/jungle looks like in India because many monks had spent time in forests during the time of Lord Buddha. After that, I may go to Varanasi for a night then Allahabad/Kausambi, then Lucknow for its museum and then Sankasiya and so on.

Travelling in this way is tiring. I take it easy sometimes by resting an extra day in some places. I will be happy to stop in Sri Lanka at a meditation centre for a few months and meditate again. I miss meditation and a community of sincere Buddhists.

Northern Indian is a bit macho, dirty and noisy. I prefer clean, quiet and peaceful. Nevertheless, this is an important journey and maybe the only time I have the chance. If I came again, I might go on an organised tour group with Buddhist friends to fewer places and with more comfort and convenience. Now I’m going alone where I want when I want and have to pay the price of inconvenience and discomfort. I am not lonely even though I am alone. I have the Dhamma as a companion. I am happy and full of joy when I remember I am walking in places where Lord Buddha and other Arahats walked

I have found few to talk with who understand me or with whom I can relate to – but this is normal for me, even in Australia where so few people are Buddhists or even if Buddhist, understand the Dhamma in a similar way. So as usual most communication is relatively superficial because it is about worldly things such as cricket, salaries, status and food. In significant ways, there is a lot in common between Australia and India. People who have heard the Dhamma are rare in this world and those who have some understanding of it are even more rare.

Vaishali and Kesariya

I went to Vaishali and Kesariya by taxi yesterday (Thursday, 17 December 2009). It was a long day with some minor hassle at the end when the driver tried to cheat me by claiming I’d given a 500 rupee note when in fact I gave a 1000 rupee note. He didn’t get away with it because a 22 yo young man who the driver invited along to be an interpreter sided with me as a witness. The driver was upset with the young man but only with words. It was an unnecessary end to an otherwise good day.

The taxi fare was 1400 rupees for a journey under 200 km in one day and 7 rupees per kilometre after 200 km. So I paid 1730 rupees for the total journey. If you are taking a taxi in this way, it is vital to agree when and how the fare will be paid prior to departure. Also get agreements in writing with signatures from the driver/agent and yourself with copies of the documents for everyone. If there are problems, mention “police” and take out your mobile phone as though you are going use it. It is good to have a reliable independent witness as I did.

Vaishali is the location of the ancient capital of the Licchavis – possibly the first form of democratic republic or confederacy in India and one of the first in recorded history. Lord Buddha visited Vaishali many times and the many of the locals became followers at that time. At the time of Lord Buddha it may have been known as Vesaali.

Vaishali is about 50 km north of Patna. About half the road was sealed and the other unsealed half appeared to be having a major upgrade as we drove through. At the Vaishali site, I saw the a museum, two tanks of water (large rectangular ponds), Asoka pillar and the Ananda Stupa. I also paid respect to some of Lord Buddha’s relics located in a new Japanese built “World Peace Pagoda” at Vaishali.

I didn’t take any photos at Vaishali. If you are keen to see images, you can search Google with “Vaishali” and “Bihar”.  The Wikipedia page on Vaishali also has good photos.

To get to Kesariya, we then drove further north over 30 km or more of very rough bumpy and dusty roads crowded with the usual cows, goats, buffalo pulled carts, pedestrian farmers, children, dogs, bicycles, auto rickshaws (motorised 3 wheel open taxis), cars, trucks, buses
etc…

Kessariya was known in the time of Lord Buddha as Kesaputta and was the place where he gave the Kalama sutta. Soma Thera’s commentary on this famous sutta is well worth reading too.

Kesariya is still not well known on the Buddhist pilgrim circuit and the Indian Government is currently upgrading access roads and building facilities on site to service the Buddhist pilgrims and other tourists expected to visit the place.

ABOVE: A view looking south from the gate towards the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India 
There are niches for Buddha statues that have all been damaged (probably deliberately).
ABOVE: A view of one of the many larger than life sized Buddha statues at the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India

ABOVE: Another view of one of the many larger than life sized Buddha statues at the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India. Above the statue in the background are new repairs to the top of the stupa
 
ABOVE: Another view of one of the many larger than life sized Buddha statues at the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India

The stupa is very wide and tall. One side is currently exposed (cleared from trees, scrub and dirt).

ABOVE: A view of some new incomplete repairs to the top of the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India 

 ABOVE: A view looking north west from the south east base of the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India
 ABOVE: A view looking south west from the north east base of the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India

 ABOVE: A view of the ruins of the centre kuti/shrine room at the eastern base of the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India. This particular ruin showed signs of recent damage and recent removal of ancient bricks. I state this because rain would have washed away the red dust on the top layer of bricks.  
 
ABOVE: A view looking south of the ruins of the three kuti/shrine rooms at the eastern base of the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India. This view clearly shows the centre room is much lower than the outer two rooms. It seems that someone has recently been removing bricks from this site. This picture shows a recently constructed Hindu temple located on the north eastern base of the stupa

On the side of this ancient and sacred stupa I noticed a lot of graffiti. There were Indian people’s names such as so and so was here or someone loves someone. These were probably inscribed with a key or other sharp object. There was no sign of any authorities protecting the site from such desecration.

ABOVE: A view of some of the graffiti on the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India

ABOVE: A view of some of the graffiti on the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India

ABOVE: A view of some of the graffiti on the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India
 

 ABOVE: A view of some of the graffiti on the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India

However, I observed the construction of a ticket counter building and possibly what might become a small museum near the current main gate. I noticed a concrete fence was partially constructed around the stupa. I was told via an interpreter that a Japanese hotel will be built adjacent to the site.

ABOVE: A view looking north west at what might become a small museum and ticket office for the Kesariya Stupa, Bihar, India

Shravasti (Saavati) and Patna Museum

8:30 AM, Monday morning (14 December 2009) my new driver (Mr Abbas Ahmad) with a classic white Hindustani Motors Ambassador car picked me up at the Shivoy Hotel. We drove north for a while and then generally westwards stopping for a cup of chai and other necessaries before reaching Shravasti around 1:30 PM.

ABOVE:  Mr Abbas with a classic white Hindustani Motors Ambassador car. The photo was taken while we stopped to drink chai near a railway crossing on the road between Shravasti and Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, India

The road is very rough in many places making it only possible to crawl along at about 20 km/hr. When passing through towns we frequently moved along at walking pace. The larger and older Ambassador car is more comfortable to ride compared with the smaller and newer Indica. However, the rear seat in this old model was a bit high and my head brushed the ceiling. I passed time on the journey listening to audio suttas which I had recorded in Myanmar in July this year. Every time I listen to these suttas, understanding seems to deepen. I listened to the Dhatuvibhanga Sutta (Analysis of Properties/Elements), Latukikopama Sutta (Simile of the Quail) and the Kitaagiri Sutta (At Kitaagiri). All very deep and significant.

On arriving at Shravasti (Saavatthi), we stopped briefly at the Sri Lankan Temple, Nava Jetavana Vihara but the monks were not available so I went across the road to walk around the Jetavaana Park.

I was hassled by local beggars and men suggesting they could be tour guides. I relied on Ven. S. Dhammika’s book – Middle Land Middle Way, A Pilgrim’s Guide to Buddhist India. It cost me (a Buddhist Pilgrim) 100 rupees to enter the park while Indians, most of whom are Hindu and Muslim tourists only pay 5 rupees.

ABOVE: A view of some ruined ancient monasteries at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India

Little remains of the original features. Most of the ruins are red brick remnants of later monasteries and stupas built to commemorate the significant places in the park.

ABOVE: A view of some ruined ancient monasteries at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India

ABOVE: A view of some ruined ancient monasteries at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India 

ABOVE: A view of the supposed Ananda Bodhi tree at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India. It is doubtful that this is the original Ananda Bodhi tree though many faithful Buddhists and the tour guides like to think so

ABOVE: A view looking northwards on the path leading to the Gandhakuti and the Kosambikuti at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India


ABOVE: A view looking northwest from the path leading to the Gandhakuti and the Kosambikuti at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India.  The ruins behind the trees are possibly ancient monasteries and/or stupas for the relics of Mahaathera Saariputta and Mahaathera Mahaamoggallana



ABOVE: A view looking west to the Kosambikuti at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India.  In the background are some of the many Indian tourists walking on the grass despite many signs indicating that it is forbidden to walk on the grass 

ABOVE: A view looking west to the Gandhakuti at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India

ABOVE: A view looking west on the location of the Gandhakuti at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India. The image shows an area of the Gandhakuti that appears to be most revered.  This whole area is covered with ancient buildings that were constructed well after the time of Lord Buddha

ABOVE: A view looking north on the location of the tank at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India. The tank is not well cared for compared with the rest of the park. Algae and other plants are growing in the dirty water

ABOVE: A view looking north-northeast at the ruins of ancient monasteries near the location of the tank at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India. These ruins may be recently excavated and no signs were visible indicating their significance

 

ABOVE: A view looking west on the location of the tank at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India. The image shows the massive new Buddha statue and chedi being constructed by Thai Buddhists (judging from the style)




ABOVE: A view looking west toward the massive new Buddha statue and chedi being constructed by Thai Buddhists (judging from the style) at Jetavana Park, Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India 

After walking around the park, paying respect to the Ananda Bodhi tree, the Gandhakuti and the Kosambikuti and inspecting various ruins, I left the park for an hour to visit the Sri Lankan Temple and view the beautiful paintings of episodes in the life of Lord Buddha.

When I tried to enter the park again, I was told by officials at the gate that I would need to buy another 100 rupee ticket. Each ticket is only for one entry. This is a commercial enterprise and disrespectful of Buddhist Pilgrims. Each time I enter a Buddhist sacred site in this way it detracts from the religious experience.

We drove past the Jetavana park and had a quick look at the almost completed construction of a massive Buddha statue and chedi seemingly funded by Thai Buddhists. I saw what looked like Thai Buddhist lay people doing landscaping near the site. It seemed quite strange.  I speculate that they may be followers of Thai Dhamakaya but I’m not sure. I didn’t enter the gate because they wanted visitors to take off shoes and walk over rough paths to get a closer look at the Buddha image and chedi. 

We drove further to the old walls of the ancient city of Saavatthi. I took some photos of the walls and the supposed stupas for Angulimaala (famous serial killer who converted to Buddhism and became and Arahat) and Sudatta (Anaathapindika – the wealthy benefactor who funded the monastery at Jetavana park at the time of Lord Buddha. One story is that the Sudatta stupa was in fact his former mansion. Maybe it was his mansion and then became a stupa later… Here is a sutta about Sudatta and a story about his life. While taking photos of the Sudatta stupa a 10 year old girl-beggar tried to open my day pack from behind me. A male labourer who was working on the path entering the stupa grounds, noticed her and wacked the back of her head. Nothing was lost but the scene spoiled the spiritual ambience – little that there was with beggars and no other Buddhists in sight. Apart from me and Mr Abbas, there were a few Indian family tourists climbing the stupa, the labourers and the beggars.

ABOVE: A view looking northwest at the Angulimaala stupa located within the ancient city walls of Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India  

ABOVE: A view looking southeast at the Sudatta stupa located within the ancient city walls of Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India   
 ABOVE: A view looking east the road leading through what might have been the western gate and walls of the ancient Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India   
ABOVE: A view looking north at a profile of what might have been the western gate and walls of the ancient Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India. This photo was taken at about 8AM Tuesday morning (15 December 2009) just before returning to Gorakhpur

I went back to the Sri Lankan temple to wait for an Indian Monk who would guide me to the site of the Eastern Park, the former palace of Migara’s Mother (Visaaka = AKA Vishaka). While waiting an agitated Indian man aggressively interrogated me about why did some Australians beat up some Indian men at a pub. I explained that there are stupid people all over the world including in Australia and India who drink alcohol to excess and lose their inhibitions that may normally prevent violent and other bad behaviour. I explained that it is dangerous to go to places where alcohol is consumed in any country. The Indian men who were beaten should not have stayed at the pub so late or, even better, should not have gone there the first place. Pubs are dangerous to mental and physical health, not to mention bad for spiritual development. The Indian man seemed to want to pursue the matter further while continuously claiming that he had no grudge against me personally… I then asked him in turn, why do Indian authorities have a racist policy regarding entry to parks such as Jetavana where Indians only pay 5 rupees and foreigners pay 100 rupees. He was embarrassed at this and backed down quietly. At that moment, the Indian Bhikkhu came in the gate and I had a face-saving means of getting away from the interrogator.

The Indian monk, Bhikkhu Tevimalayogacharya (not sure of the correct spelling since this was translated from Hindi) was very friendly and spoke reasonable English. I wished once more that I was fluent in Hindi. He said he was ordained in Sri Lanka 8 years ago and had returned to Shravasti 7 years ago. He said he was previously a Hindu from the Brahmin caste and found Hinduism inadequate and so converted to Theravada Buddhism. He has arranged for a kuti, a bathroom/toilet and a simple guest hut to be constructed on the site of an Asoka Pillar commemorating the place where Visaakhaa (Migara’s Mother) built a large monastery (Migaaramaatupaasaada) for Lord Buddha at a park (Pubbaaraama) outside the eastern gate of the ancient city of Saavatthi. It was about 2km down the road heading east from the main gate of Jetavana park. We turned left (north) from the road at a place where there appeared no sign indicating the significance of the place and passed over rough roads through villages.

ABOVE: A view looking north east at the Indian monk, Bhikkhu Tevimalayogacharya (not sure of the correct spelling since this was translated from Hindi) Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India 
ABOVE: A view looking north east at the kuti of Bhikkhu Tevimalayogacharya (not sure of the correct spelling since this was translated from Hindi) Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India. The monk’s kuti is on the left side and the guest’s kuti (unoccupied) is on the right with a flag on top. The remains of an Asoka pillar are not visible in this photo on the right side
ABOVE: A view looking south at the Asoka pillar  Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India. Hindus have shaped it to look like a lingam, painted it red and placed a Shiva trident in the ground next to it

It was almost dark and the mosquitos were out so we went into Bhikkhu Tevimalayogacharya’s kuti where he prepared non-milk chai with fresh cardamom leaves. I paid respects to the Buddha image inside the kuti and followed some chanting. It was a good feeling to be near a real Buddhist monk and an Indian one at that.

We talked Dhamma and Bhikkhu Tevimalayogacharya gave me a list of Sutta that Lord Buddha delivered at this site. Of the 20 rains (vasa) that Lord Buddha spent at Savatti, he spent 6 at Visaakhaa’s monastery in the Eastern Park. Bhikkhu Tevimalayogacharya encouraged me to stay overnight and even to stay for a long time with him. I was tempted to do so, however, I feel committed to going to Sri Lanka to meditate at Nau Yana Monastery before deciding where and whether to settle down any where. I explained my plan and and paid respects once more before leaving. I’d like to return to this place again.

For me, Bodhgaya (Mahabodhi temple) and Lumbini (Panditarama) were the only other places where living Buddhism was visible. It may be that in the other places I visited, the monks and lay Buddhists were inside their various temples practicing. I didn’t see them at the times when I visited.

Mr Abbas, my driver, who had also been in the kuti and drank tea was keen to get back to the hotel (Uttar Pradesh Tourist Bungalow) and eat dinner. I was also very hungry. We ate a relatively late dinner around 8pm. The hotel assistant manager who spoke good English told me the hotel would soon be renovated. It was quite basic but adequate for pilgrims. I heard that the nearby Lotus Nikko Hotel costs 8000 rupees a night. I was grateful to only pay 450 rupees.

ABOVE: A view looking south west  at the Uttar Pradesh Tourist Bungalow Shravasti (Saavatthi), Uttar Pradesh, India. Mr Abbas’ Ambassador car is visible on the right side of the photo

We drove back to Gorakhpur the next day (Tuesday, 15 December 2009) and I arranged my onwards train to Patna scheduled to depart at 10:20PM. It was an uncomfortable journey  in 3rd class sleeper. When I booked there were no more tickets for 2nd class and no 1st class on that train at all. I seemed to be the only foreigner at either station. The train stopped at Hajipur Junction, the station for a twin city across the other side of the Ganges from Patna. Patna is the capital city of Bihar state and has an estimated population of 1.3 million so it is about twice the size of Gorakhpur. It seems to be more developed, though nothing like Bangkok.

Arriving at 5AM, Wednesday, 16 December 2009, I got an autorickshaw from Hajipur Junction train station to Fraser Road Patna for only 200 rupees.  I had been unable to book a Patna hotel while in Gorakhpur so I knocked on a few doors this morning getting the message “we’re full” until I found Hotel President. I have a twin room with ensuite for 650 rupees (about A$16) per night. It is close to the Patna Museum. I showered, ate stuffed paratha and yogurt washed down with 3 cups of sweet milky chai and then napped for an hour because I had not slept well on the train.

After a delay due to a visit by an Indian Government Minister, I paid 500 rupees as a foreigner to enter the Patna Museum escorted by an armed guard to the second floor padlocked room where the Buddha’s relics are stored. I paid respects to the relics which are not visible. All the visitor can see is a small closed pottery container.  The guide and guard told me that the relics are stored in the small pot in the centre of the model of ancient stupa at Vaishali (Vesaali). I saw the small pot which I wasn’t sure was the original pot. I was only allowed to take one photograph.

ABOVE: A view of the display apparently holding Lord Buddha’s relics that have been obtained from the ancient stupa at Vaishali, Bihar, India

This contrasts with the similar display at the India Museum, Kolkata which was viewable to everyone who entered the museum (foreigners 100 rupees and Indians 5 rupees). No special fee was required there and unlike the Patna Museum the relics themselves were visible.  This led me to speculate that perhaps the relics at the Patna Museum had been stolen or possibly corruptly sold to a wealthy private collector for a huge amount of money.

I then walked around the rest of the museum and was delighted to see some excellent early Buddhist statues and the Didarganj Yakshi. Many of the Indians visiting the museum were young couples and groups of young people on group dates. Some approached me and asked where I was from and tried to talk about cricket. I walked around the museum clockwise and went back to the Hotel President for a rest and dinner.