A morning walk in Bodh Gaya

A morning walk in Bodh Gaya January 7, 2011

Just some text to pass the time…

I woke up early enough this morning, for me at least, at 7:30. Then proceeded to play the “snooze” game for an hour, returning again and again to my pleasant dreams under the warm covers, knowing it would be cold once I emerged from my blanket and mosquito net.

Finally though, I did emerge, had a bit of water, and put on the electric kettle for coffee.Turning on the lights, I sat at my comfy “reading chair,” legs propped up on my extra bed which has become an office area of sorts… I pick up “Lulu in Marrakech,” a fluffy novel about a witless female 30-something CIA field officer stationed in Morocco with an English lover… Oh the intrigue! Not really. The book was left behind by a student and, feeling nostalgic for the time I almost followed a 30-something CIA analyst lover to Tunisia, I decided to pick it up. Soon it became clear that it was one of those books that I would read on only to be done with it. And done I was, at last, this morning.

But the high point wasn’t finishing the book, it was my coffee, hedonist and coffee-lover that I am. I’ve done a tiny bit of research, aided and spurred on by another student, and discovered a tiny trick or two for making better French press coffee. Letting the boiled water cool a bit is one thing, but I never would have tried pouring in just a bit of water first, enough for a shot of espresso perhaps, and stirring that around; allowing it to froth up naturally, and then pouring the rest of the water in. I’ll experiment some more, but I think that has made quite a difference.

I put on my new rings – two Tibetan silver rings with the text “Om Mani Padme Hum” written around them. One on each ring finger, the only finger on which I’ve ever felt comfortable wearing a ring. With one more package – books – be sent home, I head out the door.

On the way out I agree to pick up our water reports – testing to see if our drinking water might be the source of some, or many, of this year’s illnesses. I don’t go to the post office, but instead to an elderly man just outside the vihar gates. A retired post office worker – just like my father – he has a cheerful, toothless, sun-withered face. He invites me to sit with him beside the open fire that burns outside his shop; several other men sit there also, speaking in Hindi. We make some polite conversation as my new package is inspected, weighed, and papers for shipping are filled out. The conversation around me ranges from friendly in tone to business-like, at one point the man next to me confirms, “Robert’s group?” – yes – “Hindi?” – nahim (meaning “no,” one of the few Hindi words I do know).
Onward I walk, through Pacchatti Village, a once-separate area now swallowed by Bodh Gaya. It’s quieter though, the roads too narrow for cars. A few bicycles pass, and a motor bike or two. But most traffic is on foot, like me. I find myself wishing I had my camera: goats and cows wrapped in burlap bags (against the cold), colorfully pained walls and children playing happily… 
Emerging from the village, I am back in busy Bodh Gaya, along the Tibetan Market road, near what appears to be a make-shift amusement park under construction. Passing by the Kalachakra field, I look at some more Tibetan jewelry. I purchased some last week – rose quartz earrings, a pendant, and a necklace (for who exactly I don’t yet know), managing to talk down an earnest old Tibetan man to Rs. 400 (about $9 US). And yesterday I took these to a friend at the vihar who makes and sells some jewelry, asking her what she thought of them. She was impressed, and asked what I paid. “Guess,” I suggested. “Between three and four thousand,” she guessed, giving me some confidence in the prospect of making some wise purchases here.
Here a nice necklace: Rs 350, a silver ring: Rs 200… I said I would come back. And I will.
But for now I am on a mission to the ATM across town (really about 2 city blocks further). As I pass the Mahabodhi Society – the busiest part of town – I pick up a beggar, a boy of 8 or 10 speaking softly and repetitively in Hindi. I feel for him, as I do for all of the homeless lined up on the sidewalk there, but I’ve learned that the best thing to do is to bypass any direct support for them, instead helping out the local charities that provide sustainable relief. I’m told that the poor come here from far and wide – some speculate that they are brought here – because of opportunities with generous foreigners. This is often not good for them, separating them from whatever social ties they may have, and isn’t good for the locals either. So, I continue my pace, occasionally saying nahim to my new friend, who follows close at my heels.
I lost him only when we passed a cart of sorts. A platform, attached to an old motor-scooter, with walls and a roof, blasting some kind of religious music, painted in pink. As we passed the boy stopped, jaw open in wonder, staring into the window of the little house (think of a mid-sized dog house or something you might find 4-5 year old kids playing in). Inside was a young cow, with astonishingly clean brown hair and also painted in pink in spots, wearing a garland of orange Chrysanthemums. So bizarre. So India.
I made my way on to the ATM, managed to get my Rs 10,000 (about $200) without much trouble and began my trek back. Passing by a rickshaw, I realized it would be quicker to jump in than to walk. “Tibetan Market, das rupaye,” I told him. Ten rupees. About twenty-five cents to pedal me around for about 10 minutes. Phrases like “slave wages” had crossed my mind in my first weeks here, but now I accept it as a part of the web of life here. Things are different in India. As I ride we nearly run over a man whose whole body is covered in a thin layer of dirt, or ash. He sits motionless at the side of the road, his legs curled up below him, one hand resting against head. The rickshaw driver yells at him, “Ooiiyee!” Sounding like an irritated drunken Australian. 
Dropping me off at Mohammad’s Restaurant – recommended by Lonely Planet and a perennial favorite of foreigners here – I pay the driver. He touches the money to his chest in thanks and we part ways. I turn to the Tibetan DVD vendor outside the restaurant, spotting one titled “Massive Popular Vietnam War” with a picture of Mel Gibson on the front – and Chuck Norris below him surrounded in flames. On the back are about 50 movie titles… I turn instead to the Tibetan titles. “Richard Gere is My Hero” looks interesting. Both are only Rs. 150…
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