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Clare’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 30 Mar 2008

Location: Bodhgaya, Bihar & Jharkhand, India

MapWell it seems unbelievable (possibly at times interminable) but my time in India is drawing to a close. The last week or so has been hectic to say the least and tomorrow I start the journey to the Nepali border hopefully to meet Amy in Pokhara where she will have just finished the 3 week Annapurna Circuit Trek.

Lizzie and I said goodbye about a week ago after we took the bus together from Dharamsala to Delhi. Our last few days in the hills were lovely. When we were out walking one day when we found a little guest house a lot further up in the hills and booked to come back to it over Easter Weekend to really get away from it all. We took a very dicey taxi ride up there (the road seems wider when you are walking!) and holed up on our balcony with amazing views from the saddle of the hill over the plains below and up to the snow-capped peaks behind. We intended to hike to the snow line on Good Friday but the weather was a bit rubbish and we just stayed put with some books and warm drinks instead. We did hike to a gorgeous little cafe along the valley by a waterfall through beautiful rhododendron woods - a bit of a taster of what I have to come in Nepal. So on Easter Sunday we came back down to McLeod Ganj and hopped on the night bus to Delhi. Easter Sunday also coincided with a Hindu festival called Holi, which is usually a riot of waterbombs, paint and sometimes over boisterous behaviour from the Indian male, but they didn't seem to celebrate it in Buddhist McLeod Ganj so we were spared any dunkings and paintballing. In the morning Lizzie headed to the airport to fly to the picture postcard Andaman islands and I hopped on a train to Agra, my nemesis.

Yes, Agra is officially a total dump. I knew this and tried to minimise my stay there, but sadly, due to the train situation, was consigned to 2 nights. Obviously the Taj is sublime and there was great excitement as we all raced in as the gates opened at 6am to recreate the 'Princess Diana lonely on a bench' shot. However the rest of the time there was purgatory. The food was terrible, hotels dismal and attitude of the locals reprehensible. I had to bribe the Post Office customs officer to send a parcel which was already sewn shut to avoid the charge of getting it re-sewn - the first time in 4 parcels that this has been an issue. I also had a run in with a Bullock on the street and came away with massive bruise and scrape on my arm from his horn. (After being stepped on in Pushkar I'm beginning to develop a bit of complex about loose bovines) Luckily I did meet some nice people a Dutch girl called Linda and an American called Sam so we 'did' the Taj together and then travelled onto Varanasi.

Varanasi is one of the longest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the current incarnation is the produce of 3000yrs of development. Not that much actual development appears to have taken place however. The city buzzes along one side of the Ganges which had slowed and widened since I last saw it in Rishikesh and hums with people bathing, burning and bartering by its sacred waters. Its a truly amazing sight but one which I struggled to really enjoy. I think the fact that I knew I was reaching the end of my time here coupled with the intensity of the tiny alleyways filled with speeding motorbikes and their accompanying blaring horns (they never seem to consider slowing down as an option over piercing my ear-drum with the horn), massive cows and bullocks leaving their fragrant offerings splatted on the floor, begging kids and hassling hawkers, left me numb and annoyed. Its the sort of place you have to put effort into and I think all my Indian effort was exhausted in Agra. That said the dawn boat ride along the river to view the goings-on on the Ghats was brilliant and well worth the trip there. I was however pretty happy to hop on the train two days later to get away from the smell and smoke of burning human bodies and get to the haven of Bodhgaya in Bihar a few a hours, but million miles away.

Bodhgaya is a tiny little town in the countryside but is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in the world. It was here under a Peepal tree, in a garden, that Buddha sat until he reached enlightenment. Its actually a little bit of a tourist trap these days and the tree is one taken from cuttings of the original which was destroyed a few hundred years after Buddha died, but either way its a peaceful little place to spend a day or two and I was happy to get away from the city. Visiting the temple was slightly amusing as its about 40 degrees at the moment and you have remove your shoes, so the whole way round the complex you see people scampering from shady spot to shady spot as their feet reach melting point! Its also slightly surreal because each country which has a Buddhist following has a temple & monastery there in the style of the home design, so the Thai temple is just like one you would see in Bangkok, the Bhutanese, Japanese, Tibetan ditto etc. So you can take a tour of the Buddhist world of Art and Architecture in about 2 hours!

I also had a ridiculous situation at the Post Office which was such a perfect way to round off being in India. First of all the very elderly Post Master who appeared to have learned to use the single office computer yesterday, refused to believe that the U.K. wasn't actually the U.S.A and kept quoting me prices on that basis. Some extensive consultation with pretty much everyone in a 200m radius ensued before I convinced him that we are a country independent of the U.S (debatable these days). I did stop short of pointing out that until 50 years ago we did in fact count India as the Jewel of our pretty extensive world empire! He then gave me 2 A4 sized pages of stamps to attach to my parcel - sadly they only had stamps of 15Rs value left and my parcel cost 850Rs. After I had attached the 56 stamps to my parcel it looked like a bad attempt at wallpapering! At least Mum'll know which one it is if she has to go to the sorting office!

So tomorrow is the border - this is my last full day in India. Can't believe I've been here for 4 months, but am really looking forward to Nepal and the next bit!