I probably shouldn’t bury it like this, but CeCe and I have pretty much figured out where we’re going to be next year. See April 14 below.
The overnight train deposits us in Bodhgaya, the city where the Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago. We find a bed at the Bhutanese monastery in town. We’d much rather be in Bhutan itself, but every tourist visa there comes with a stipulation that one must spend $200 per day during one’s visit, so this remote mountain country is priced well beyond our budget. So instead, we opt for the $4 monastery.
The site of his enlightenment is a tranquil place next to a large, modern temple. Adjacent is a bodhi tree, a direct descendent, so they say, of the tree under which the Buddha figured it all out. Monks of all stripes are meditating here and there. One is wearing a full-body mosquito net that reminds me of a bridal veil.
I have diarrhea. Again. Yet another of the joys of India. We’re in Varanasi now, one of Hinduism’s holiest cities. It’s situated on the Ganges, and faithful from all over the country make pilgrimages here, often to die. We are rudely awaken at dawn by what we think is construction noise. Instead, it’s the sound of men, knee deep in the river, slapping soapy laundry against stones on the river’s edge. We take advantage of the early start and walk south along the already bustling river. There are some outrageously coifed and costumed sadhus, holy men, in the midst of ritual movements incomprehensible to us. With their dreadlocks and boldly painted faces, they are half-comical, half-frightening, and seem in no way spiritual, at least in any way familiar to me.
In the afternoon, we attempt to visit Vishnawatha (Golden) Temple, the city’s holiest shrine. After enduring genital gropes by a pair of surly army men (me) and women (CeCe) looking for explosives, and the inevitable pushing and shoving that substitutes for waiting in line here, we emerge into a narrow alleyway. Another army man tells us only Hindus can enter the shrine, but he’s willing to make an exception for a little baksheesh (bribe). We demur, irritated, and make do with some smaller shrines in the vicinity. Unlike everywhere else we’ve been on this trip, even the holy places here are filthy with precious few exceptions.
On a happier note, on the way out we run into a friendly middle-class family who we met on the train a few days earlier. They repeat their invitation for a visit to their home in Chennai, unfortunately located in the southeast and certainly in the wrong direction. We’re headed to Nepal.
This day will be remembered for one of two reasons. First, during an early morning boat tour we see at least three corpses floating in the Ganges. Second, we learn that CeCe was accepted and plans to “attend” Johns Hopkins University beginning in the fall to pursue her master’s in environmental science and policy. It’s an online/distance program, so we’ll almost certainly be relocating to Madison, Wisconsin so that I can work on my master’s in agriculture and ecology at the University of Wisconsin. (I’m just waiting to figure out funding. There’s a good chance the school will help find some way for me to pay for my tuition.)
We celebrate by making plans to escape to Nepal the following day. We had expected to spend six weeks in India, but lasted only nine interminable days. Although on our return from the mountains we may try again with a visit to the Taj Mahal and some quality time with the families of friends. Maybe.