A tryst to Bihar

22nd Jun 2014

            I got off the train after a long journey. It was hot and humid day of June in Patna. The city was more crowded than I thought and people nicer than I was told. Soon enough I found a bus for Rajgir. Which was supposed to take me there in less than 3 hours, but it took me 7 hours before I reached there. Roads were really bad. On our way to Rajgir I could see beautiful green farm patches, small hills and lots of palm trees.  Bus was overcrowded with people and I observed an unusual thing upon asking a local guy about it. That there was no Government bus in Bihari countryside but private runners, and to my surprise they were cheaper than the cheapest government bus in Gujarat.  That evening it was raining heavily, sight was nice but my bags became drenched. First casualty! Finally I landed in rajgir after seeing new Nalanda being constructed on the way. I had no idea about how it would be like to be in Bihar And I told myself, “Here you are, boy!”

            I went to central part of Rajgir and found a stay in a hotel called, “tripti’s guest house”, which would be the nicest place to stay in that small hill town. I took a room with big balcony and good view; and the hosts were very nice Bengali family. After setting my luggage down and having a bath, which was a privilege after sweating for more than 48 hours, I went out to find some local food. I could not help but notice a ‘Desi’ food point, I found a dish called, “litti” which was made by gram flour, and I found some local chaats. Upon taking my camera out to photograph various colorful containers of “chaat” stole, the tender found it amusing to get photographed and gave me fistful more! How nice! And I ended up eating full just with 35 rupees.

            Next morning I woke up only to find tons of mosquito bites on my arms and legs. I got ready by 6 AM to explore the small place. I was scheduled to do Pawapuri temple and Nalanda on that day. The small place was wonderful early in the morning. What I liked about this place was, you could see more ‘Tangas’ than motor vehicles. Tangas were undecorated horse carts like Victorian buggies, with comparatively small space and I think unofficially commissioned local transport. I took some photographs of local drama and finally found a bus to go to ruins of Nalanda University. While on my way to there, I bought the best ‘Khajas’ I could find in the country. Buses usually stop at place called ‘Silav’. Silav is place to buy the best khajas in country. Bus dropped me to big gate of Nalanda. Nalanda was a place for learning in old times. People all over from Asia used to come here to learn and became scholars; some stayed here their entire lives to work towards some cause. Nalanda was majorly a hub for Buddhist teaching. The complex was beautifully built and quite advanced for a 1500 years old structure, although it was destroyed partially. I just wonder how it would have been when it was functional.  Halls full of apprentices and masters, teachings echoing in tongues I wouldn’t know, and a rare blend of various nationalities with one goal.  I can just imagine that.  Then I went to see some farmers and talked with them. I was surprised to see the level of poverty and injustice done to farmers who tilled such fertile land. I was moved, upon getting to know, the prices they got from market, and the amount they paid to pesticides and seed companies. The family was very nice and I spent the afternoon with them. Then I headed to see some more places and returned ‘home’ by 8 PM.

            Next morning I took off for Bodhgaya, which is told to be the place where Buddha obtained his enlightenment under a Peepal tree which is called, “Bodhi vriksha” after roaming places to places for fourteen years and meditating for long periods. Well it was 80 kms from Rajgir. It was a pleasant cloudy morning so I was relieved from the concern of heat. I decided to board the roof of bus for taste of adventure. Best decision! I enjoyed 3 hours early morning ride on top of bus and I could see green hills, green farms and a single lane road full of trees which forced us to duck every once in a while to avoid the slap from branches hanging over road. I was not alone on the top of that bus and it at least had a few dozen of people on that bus. What amused me was the collector, who climbed on top from bus while the bus was making its way on road, to collect ticket fees. That was dangerous. Buses were really crowded and in bad shape in Bihar. Still it was cheap and effective.  Another thing that amused me was, the collector was fighting a passenger verbally for sum of 3 rupees. Wow! I got off and saw the Mahabodhi temple after a dispute with security at the entry which ensued upon I mistakenly got in ladies’ checking cabin. I sat under the Bodhi tree and tried to feel and take everything in.  After visiting some more temples I came back to Rajgir to see Rajgir around. I found a Tangawala and negotiated for a better deal. He showed me around. I saw one museum which displayed story of Mahavira and Jainism, Venuvana, which is basically a bamboo forest with a beautiful small pond in middle of that, a hot spring, where I took bath after a long day, and local chaat stores. The old man knew pretty much about history and it was really beautiful experience to travel by tanga while listening to the stories and history about the place.

            Next morning I went and trekked the whole way to Pagoda or ‘Shanti Stupa’. Shanti stupas are always placed on top of hills in places. In Rajgir they had a cable car which they called the ‘lift’, but I decided to walk up. When I came down I went to see one lake nearby the Stupa, which can be accessed by a tanga. They charged too much. But I paid 200 just so I could have view of that place. By now I felt really tired and hung over from last night’s “Tadi” drink which was additional bonus with heat and dehydration. Tadi is basically Palm wine, made by locals in hilly tribal areas. It’s cheap, it’s good and it’s awful for next morning when you wake up. In outskirts of Rajgir you could find them in small bamboo woven huts. That too plenty of them.

            I took a bus to go to Kakolat falls. It’s 60-70 kms from Rajgir. In bus I could strike conversations with local youth. I talked to few boys about their future planning and how people thought in Bihar. I was pretty amused to see everybody wanted to become an engineer here.  Every boy I met was much more qualified than I was, academically speaking. They wanted government jobs without much effort and lacking the drive for creativity yet their eyes were full of dreams. Everybody was pretty amazed, when I would tell them I was from Gujarat. I finally made my way to Kakolat after changing 2 buses and getting my ticket paid by an old man, walking in green farms, and asking for lift. Kakolat was a picnic place for Biharis. Lot of people from neighboring towns would come here on weekends to have fun. After having a bath and swimming in the pool up there which receives water from a 50 meter fall, I came down. There I met a friendly group and we had some funny jokes about politics in Gujarat. They offered me lunch and lift way back. Before leaving Kakolat I had a nice Sattu drink from a stole on gate. Sattu was basically gram flour and they would put flour, chopped onions, lemon juice, water, coriander juice and some salt. Et voila! This drink is must try and it’s best for summer heat and humidity.

            Before coming to Bihar, I was told by people, that many bad mishaps take place here and it’s easy to get robbed or murdered or kidnapped here for money. And I heard some pretty bad stories about that place. But here I was in heart of Bihari countryside without any prior knowledge about that place. I had spent an unforgettable week there. And people were so good, and their hearts as much warm as much their lands were fertile.  It was green, full of small hills, caves, rich history behind things. I spent the evening with the family at guest house. I went to railways station and by request of few kids there, I showed them how to play guitar. I took Budhpurnima express and took off for Benaras for another adventure.