Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Hello from Nepal (21st November 2007)

Hi All,

Friday. We have crossed over the border (no hassle, no fee and no queue) and into Nepal (The Peoples Republic of Nepal as the graffiti over the border post informs us).

We have spent one night in a Korean monastery in the Lumbini temple complex. The monastery is quite new and is in the process of being expanded. It is very clean, smart and has a simple renunciate feel to it. Great Digs.

Lumbini (the Buddha's birthplace) is very well developed. The archaeological site is surrounded by a large walled complex. Inside the complex there are many monasteries and temples from lots of different traditions. The small village of Lumbini is firmly outside the wall and you do not get to see much of local life from here.

The complex is clean and well organised with paved roads and maps connecting everything together. It's kind of cool and also a little weird, a little bit like a Buddhist theme park. Could be in the US! (almost).

Last night spent in Sinouli (India) on Nepali border. A really dusty noisy polluted little town. Felt like the wild west. The Hotel was quite poor with mold and vermin droppings on the sheets. we took the deluxe rooms with TV and Air Con (both broken). We had to get up in the night to hide our biscuit stash, clothes and other edibles from the mice.

Saturday. Kapilavastu (Northern India).
The place where the Buddha was raised.A large stupa and beautiful lotus pond. A very well maintained site. A bit of a whistle stop tour, but time for a short puja and offerings.Driving to Kapilavastu from Lumbini should be a quick affair - there is an almost direct road. Unfortunately, due to political disturbance from the Maoist rebels this border crossing is currently closed due to regular shootings and attacks on the border guards. We realise later why we were advised

to sleep on the Indian side of the border. The large towns and cities are relativley safe for foreigners, but rural areas still present a slim chance of trouble and possible kidnap.

Sunday. Shravasti. The Jetta Grove. a wonderful park where the Buddha spent many of his rains retreats. A very beautiful and atmospheric place, helped by a glorious sunset over a massive Buddha image on the horizon. Our tour coincides with a visiting minister and political rally. Lots of noise and people outside of the park itself.

Monday. The anniversary of the day of Dr Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism and also the day of a Hindu river goddess festival. Lots of floats and music and fireworks and quite a lot of drinking and singing. We have to get to Gonda to catch two trains. Our driver warns of possible road closures and mild civil unrest (fighting due to drinking and possible religious clashes) so we arrive at the station early. This is the first time a see a cow walking down a railway station.

Three busy weeks of pilgrimage come to an end. Padmadeepa and Paul are making their way home via Delhi. I carry on my adventure alone to Bhopal (for the Sanchi stupas complex) then to the TBMSG/FWBO centres in Nagpur, Pune and Bhaja.

We are all in good health and spirits. So much to say ....so little broadband!

Love to All,


Hello from Bodhgaya, India (9th October 2007)

Hello me Ducks,

Wow what a place. One week here and still getting blown away by it all. The sounds, sights (and smells!). Its a very crazy place, but it kind of grows on you.

Arrived at Delhi airport and was kidnapped by a crazed rickshaw driver. After a very hairy rider around South Delhi we eventually convinced him to take us to our hotel, but it was hard work (and it cost us). You have to learn quickly here. Haggle hard. Set a fixed price and then be firm. Very un-English.

People are very friendly. The beggars are difficult to deal with, it's so hard to know how to respond for the best. I set off a small riot today by giving out a bag of sweets to some kids in a local village, hundreds of kids just appeared out of nowhere and there weren't enough sweets to go around. I just had to drop the bag and run. You have to learn quickly here.

Had a great couple of days in Sarnath, the place of the Buddha's first teaching. We stayed at Dr Jain's Paying Guest House. Great food and hospitality. Met up with our local Order member Dh.Shantigosh on the small piece of land the FWBO/TBMSG has there. We had tea and biscuits and met some of the local mitras.

The FWBO/TBMSG site is very central to Sarnath and almost opposite the main stupa, which marks the spot of the Buddha's first sermon.

Varanassi was a real hard experience. The worst pollution I have ever experienced, thick choking smog (a mixture of exhaust fumes and more exhaust fumes with a little burnt cow dung thrown in for good measure).

A boat trip on the Ganges was interrupted by torrential rain. It started with big hard blobs of rain - like marbles or small golf balls, then it just opened up. We sheltered with our boatman, some street hawkers and other passers by in a temple dedicated to a local river god, sited on the gats. We were the only tourists in sight, but we were treated with warm hospitality and hot chai (sweet milky tea).

I managed to upset the temple Brahmin with a mix up over a mis-placed camera and things turned a bit nasty for a moment, when I received a vitriolic telling off from our now less than hospitable "host". Our boatman/guide laughed off the incident (although I have to say it shook me up a fair bit). Theft can be a serious business in India (public beatings are not unheard of) and the possibility that someone sheltering in the temple was a thief had caused quite a lot of excitement and not a little mistrust.

We ended the evening being lead through the tiny back alleyways of Varanassi, in the pitch black (a powercut) by two street hawkers who we didn't know. At one point we ended up in a dead end. Paul, Padmadeepa and I looked at each other and couldn't help wondering if it was a set up or a mugging. Fortunately, we were just lost in the dark and eventually found our way to the silk shop they had been trying to steer us to. We managed to extricate ourselves from our very happy salesman eventually and tipped our hawkers to take us back to a cafe we knew from earlier so that we could arrange to meet up with our driver.

By now the storm had passed and the rainwater (with less savory stuff floating in it) was just below our knees as we waded our way down the streets. We survived our little adventure, wet, filthy, tired and very relieved.

Today is our last day in Bodhgaya, the most important Buddhist Pilgirmage site and the place of the Buddha's Enlightenment (the Vajrasanna). A wonderful place. So much atmosphere, packed with pilgrims from all over the world. A very moving experience.

Outside of the main temple there is much to see here, so many temples representing Buddhist traditions from the world over, and places of significance from the Buddha's life, such as Gaya Head, where the Buddha delivered "the Fire Sutta". We were shown around by Dhammamitra Munish an excellent tour guide.

Puja under the Bodhi Tree at 6am this morning. Fantastic! So many people, so much noise.

Lots to say. The food is OK. We are all in good health and good spirits. Cash is bit hard to get hold of. Trying to get cash from ATM's is a joke. If you come here, bring travellers cheques (Dollars or pounds). Being in India is often a taxing and tiring experience. But worth it.

I offered Tsultrim's kata (white scarf) at the Bodhi tree.

Hope you are all well.

Jayasiddhi (mosquito bitten but fighting on).

Reporting in from the Hermitage

Here is a copy of a reporting in that I prepared for our AHS Quarterly Journal (called Tendrel). As the journal is only available to member...