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.
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.