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.