October 22, 2009

The Bihar Buddha Trail

Filed under: Bihar,Leisure,Religion — loggers @ 11:23 pm

After a night in Patna, we pushed off for an excursion to the Nalanda and Gaya districts- centers of origin for Buddhist and Jain philosophies. Our first stop was the ancient Nalanda University, a monastery and educational institution, which dates back to the days of Buddha and Mahavir (6th century BC). The institution represented that of a modern-day liberal arts college as it offered courses ranging from Philosophy to Grammar to Astronomy. With living quarters for the monks and designated lecture grounds, and even had international students enrolled from China and Persia at its peak in 5th century AD. While the 5th, 6th and 7th levels have been excavated, much of the ruins remain underground and are yet to be seen dug up by archeologists.

Campus ruins

Campus ruins

Private monk-to-disciple teaching quarters

Private monk-to-disciple teaching quarters

From Nalanda University, we drove about 40kms to the city of Rajgir. One of the first things we noticed were signs pointing to a Japanese temple. We later found that the presence of East Asian countries with heavy Buddhist influence would only increase as we gained proximity to Bodhgaya, the city where Buddha attained enlightenment. We topped off the evening with a sunset ropeway ride down from the World Peace shrine (also built by the Japanese), which is perched upon a hill where Buddha spent time meditating.

The World Peace shrine

The World Peace shrine


The following day, we took another short road trip to Bodhgaya, where Japan, Tibet, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Thailand have all erected their own respective Buddhist shrines with unique ethnic flavors. The town is also home to the sacred peepul tree under which Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment. As a result, the town is a hotbed of tourist activity, where you can also find travelers from all over the world crowded around a snake charmer outside a Japanese temple, before grabbing lunch at a Thai restaurant- something one may not expect from small-town India.

Thai shrine in Bodhgaya

Thai shrine in Bodhgaya

Local shop signs in Japanese 'katakana'

Just another shop sign in katakana


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