After expecting to arrive in Gaya at 9pm, the train eventually trundled into the station at 2am. I did initially plan to go straight to Bodhgaya, but as it was the middle of the night, and Bodhgaya is a small town with the population of 30, 000 people and only a handful of guesthouse, I decided to stay in Gaya for the night. I found a cheap guesthouse near the station and went straight to bed. It was possibly the dirtiest guesthouse I’ve ever stayed in, it really looked like that it had never ever been cleaned, since it was built. I also managed to trip the power when I was plugging in my travel adaptor. One thing about India is that in the guest houses the only socket in the room is normally attached to the light switch panel and is invariably high. So when you plug cables into it, they dangle and often don’t reach the ground. This was why I managed to trip the power, the weight of the cable attached to my travel adaptor started working its way loose causing sparks to fly, and when it eventually, inevitably hit the ground, the power went off. While I’m on the subject, another thing that annoys me a bit is the panel of switches, with sometimes up to 10 switches on one board. You have no idea which switch controls which light, fan or more often than not serves no purpose. You end up having to flick 9 switches before you get your desired light on.
After a short sleep in the dirtiest hotel in the world, I got up early, had breakfast and left for Bodhgaya. With a stroke of luck the guesthouse I chose from the lonely planet had one last room left. It was three times the price I was expecting, but I managed to haggle them down a bit. The town seemed a lot busier than I expected and along with the overinflated price of the Hotel I presumed there must be some sort of festival on. And I was right, I was in Bodhgaya during Kalachakra, which is kind of like the Hajj for Buddhists, and the Dalai Lama was in town. Bodhgaya was swarming with Buddhist monks from all around the world, but mostly from Tibet. It was a very colourful sight, all the different shades of reds and oranges of the monk’s robes flapping in the wind. There were literally hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, during the Kalachakra the population of the town swells to over 600,000.
I was looking forward to my short stay in a sleepy town and a break from the big cities. I wasn’t expecting the sheer numbers of people that had swamped Bodhgaya. Initially it was kind of cool, seeing all the different types of people from all over the world descending on mass. But it got a bit annoying after a while, having to queue for everything, and just walking around could be a nightmare. On my first day I visited the Mahabodhi Temple, which is built next to the Bodhi tree where Buddha gained enlightenment. I didn’t go inside as I was put off by the massive queue. I wandered around the grounds and took in the sights of the pilgrims chanting and performing rituals. It was very serene and interesting. While I was walking round I noticed a lot of pilgrims would stop walking and get down on their hands and knees, touch their head to the ground then lie completely flat. I was almost tripping over them at first until I realised what the score was and started to tread more carefully. Beside the main walkway around the temple there is a bronze fence with loads of horizontal spinning wheels, I presume to symbolise the circle of life. People would spin the wheels as they passed, with the effect that the wheels were constantly moving and were never stationary.
As Bodhgaya is a centre for Buddhists pilgrims from all round the world, there are temples here for every major Buddhist country in the world. After the Mahabodhu I visited the different temples, with the Thai, Japan and Bhutan temples being my favourites.
The next day I woke up early as I wanted to visit the Mahabodhi temple when it was quiet. I got there at around 7am, but it was even busier than the previous afternoon. I got in the queue to see inside the temple, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The queue moved at an incredibly slow pace, and after queuing for nearly three hours I was near the front and realised why. All the monks were pushing in, I was getting really pissed off, but found it difficult to give a telling off to a monk. When I finally was inside I realised that the last three hours was a complete waste of time. Inside the temple was a small room with a tiny gold Buddha inside. People were giving offerings which also led to the slow moving pace of the queue.
After my disappointing visit I had a quick walk around the temple, walking past the bodhi tree where Buddha become enlightened, and watched the hundreds of monks in mantra, focused on the tree.
I had a quick lunch then went to the train station to catch my train to Delhi.