I’m currently in Gorakhpur, another dusty, smoky, dirty north Indian city. I lashed out and decided to stay in the moderately luxurious Shivoy Totel in a “Maharaja” room. It has a dining table, lounge chairs for 5 people etc, ensuite and a king size bed, all for 2300 Indian rupees (about A$55) per night. This includes buffet breakfast too.
I took a train from Gaya to Varanasi where I stayed at Hotel Gautam in the Lahurabir district for 500 Indian rupees a night. It was fairly basic but OK. I then rode an auto rickshaw (tuk-tuk) to nearby Sarnath (the place where Lord Buddha gave his first discourse and helped five followers attain arahant). I stayed one night at Sarnath at the Uttar Pradesh Tourist Bungalow for 600 Indian Rupees a night. This room was even more basic than Hotel Gautam in Varanasi. Even so, the location was conveniently close to all amenities.
The Archeological Museum at Sarnath was very interesting and well worth a visit. Amongst other items there is one very impressive large statue of Lord Buddha. You can see a photo of it on Wikipedia. I walked around the park and circumnambulated the Dhamek Stupa, the location for the first discourse. I later walked 500 metres down the road to the Chaukhandi Stupa which commemorates the location where the first five disciples of Lord Buddha greeted him after his enlightenment. The park with the Dhamek Stupa was being visited by local Indians who appear to use it for recreation. Incongruently, there were many young Indian couples canoodling among the ruins. This behaviour is quite contrary to the teaching of the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.
It is amazing that Buddhist sacred places are not respected while at the same time non-Hindus are not allowed at some Hindu sacred sites nor are non-Muslims allowed at Muslim sacred sites. I would not advocate banning non-Buddhists from accessing Buddhist sacred sites, only setting up an environment where non-Buddhists are instructed on the ways of showing proper respect. Indians don’t seem to realise that Buddhists may be concerned about this insensitivity. Perhaps Buddhists with compassion and equanimity accept all this as part of the disappearance of Buddhism. As civilization declines toward barbarism once again, all traces of Buddhism will eventually be erased. Many zealots have already tried to do this in India during the past 2000 years. It is likely that zealots of the future will continue the tradition. Then one day at some distant time in the future when conditions are favourable and civilization has risen to new heights, Metteyya Buddha will arise to teach the Dhamma once again.
Sarnath hotels seem to be fully booked by Indian wedding parties. Many Indians prefer to get married in winter. Every night since I left Bodhgaya, I have seen and heard wedding parties and preparations for parties in Uttar Pradesh (Varanasi, Sarnath, Gorakhpur and the villages along the roads in between). It seems to be a custom to hire a brass band who may have only had one week of music lessons to play loudly up and down the street. There were also loud fire crackers late at night and maybe even gun shots even as late as 1 AM. All this is weird to me – culture shock.
Then I autorickshawed back to Varanasi and rode a local bus to Gorokhpur (where I am now). The bus ride was terrible. It only cost 150 rupees and stopped at many places. I sat on a bench near the front of the bus surrounded by luggage and many passengers standing in the aisle etc. I left Varanasi around 9 am and arrived at Gorokhpur around 5 pm. Luckily I ate a good breakfast in Sarnath because there was no chance to eat on the trip. I didn’t get off for a toilet break either. My tummy was well behaved and I practiced patience (essential for travel in India). Since leaving Gaya, I had begun getting symptoms of a cold and by the time I got to the hotel in Gorokhpur, I was exhausted and aching all over. I rested well and ate a good meal last night (Veg Thali – a variety of curries with a variety of naan bread etc.).
Again I hired driver (Mr Paras Maurya) with a small car (Tata Indica) to drive me around to various Buddhist locations around Gorakhpur. Today, I went to Kushinagar (death place of Lord Buddha) which is about 55km east of Gorakhpur. Kushinagar was a relatively peaceful and pleasant place. I circumnambulated the reclining Buddha image in the Parinirvana Temple and then the new Parinirvana Stupa (covered in graphiti from ground to 2 metres height) built on top of an older Stupa that marks the spot for the Parinibbana of Lord Buddha (the place where Lord Buddha died). The park was pleasant though again there were many non-Buddhist Indians using as a recreation park. I reflected on death, that all beings will die and we need to work now for our salvation.
We then drove by an old Burmese temple ruin and then stopped to walk around the Makutabandhana, the cremation-site of Lord Buddha’s corpse. This place was just another park surrounding a pile of old red bricks. It would be good if this was treated as a sacred place rather than as a park cum archeological site.
On returning to Gorakhpur, we drove to the southern edge of town near Ramgarh Tal Lake where we stopped to tour the Lord Buddha Sangrahalaya, a Buddhist museum. Mr Paras, my driver and I, were the only visitors during the hour we were there. I had a personal tour by Mr Sanjay – one of the curators. He said I was very lucky to be able to tour all these sacred places and meditate etc. I could not speak Hindi and my driver’s ability to translate was not very advanced though he tried. The collections were interesting and worth a visit.
Using Gorakhpur as a base, I plan to go to Kapilavastu and Lumbini tomorrow (Sunday, 13 Dec). Kapilavastu was the home town of Prince Siddhattha Gotama, before he left home to become a monk and be enlightened as the Buddha. Lumbini was the place where Prince Siddhattha was born. I plan to go to Sāvatthī (now known as Sravasti) on Monday, 14 Dec. Sāvatthī is one of the places where Lord Buddha stayed most often. He delivered more discourses there than any other place.
I will stay at the Shivoy Hotel for a total of 4 nights and will probably be fully recovered from this cold by early next week when I leave Gorakhpur and probably go by train to Patna via Varanasi. I would like to visit Varanasi and also visit Rajgir again. Rajgir is special for me.
I had some news about the mooted 6 month meditation retreat to be led by Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw. The venue has changed. I will post the contents of the e-mail in a separate blog. This means that my trip to Lumbini/Nepal will be a day-trip only. I now intend to do my next meditation retreat in Sri Lanka at Na Uyana Aranya. I’ll write more on that another time. I may arrive in Sri Lanka around the end of December.