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Patna via Rajgir and Nalanda

Patna Travel Blog

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A family of hogs, Bihar, India.

Today's destination was Patna, Bihar's capital with 1.3 million inhabitants. Not that there was much to see there, but it was a convenient overnight stop to our real next destination of Kushinagar. A small detour would bring us to two important Buddhist sites in Bihar: Rajgir and Nalanda.

 

After a fulfilling breakfast - yes, after three days I'd finally seemed to have regained some appetite - UK arrived slightly late because of car problems.

Bridge maintenance, Bihar, India.
At a quarter past eight we left Bodhgaya behind, driving northwards through the countryside of Bihar, which at times was green and lush and at others dry and dusty. But wherever you went the surroundings confirmed this state's exceptionally poor status. Certain areas seemed to show traces of this year's floodings and at one point we had to drive through a dried up riverbed because the bridge that crossed it was undergoing extensive repair work.

 

At 10:15 we joined the long queue of Indians waiting for the chair lift to take them up the Ratnagiri Hill in Rajgir. The queue moved incredibly slow and at a certain moment it even completely stopped all motion. After joking about it for an hour it became really annoying after 90 minutes. Strange enough we could see people getting in the chair lift, but the queue didn't move an inch. Finally we discovered what the problem was. The Indians would have one family member stand in the queue and when it was nearly his or her turn, the rest would join in! One woman that was standing directly in front of us, who had been going berserk at a group jumping queue, had some twenty family members join her minutes later.

Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.
Considering the fact that we were the only foreigners around we weren't going to win this battle, so angrily we decided to climb the hill by foot.

 

Halfway up the steep hill we reached Griddhukata (Vulture's Peak) where the remains of a small monastery could be found, as well as the spot where the Buddha had held many preaches for his disciples (among which the Lotus sutra). On top of the hill lay one of those big Japanese Shanti stupa's (Vishwashanti Stupa), not much unlike the one I'd seen in Leh. This one also showed the Buddha in four stages of his life: birth (Lumbini), enlightenment (Bodhgaya), preaching (Sarnath) and death (Kushinagar), giving a nice 'management summary' of our journey of this week.

The nearby Japanese monastery was quite similar to the one in Bodhgaya, but the views from the hill were nice. Since the queue for the downward chairlift was much shorter we opted for this instead of the steep way. At 13:15, three hours after he'd left us at the end of the queue, we finally joined UK back at the parking lot.

Cave at Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.

 

A short half hour drive brought us to our second stop of the day. Nalanda had been another place the Buddha had visited many times but is even more famous for the university that was founded here in the fifth century. An important Buddhist centre, Nalanda was one of the first residential universities in the world and is believed to have housed 10.000 students and 2.000 teachers. Besides various schools of Buddhism (most prominently Vajrajana and Mahayana), students also studied astronomy, metaphysics, medicine and philosophy here. Legend has it that the Nalanda libraries were so extensive; they burned for three months when the Afghans destroyed the university in the 12th century. This, according to some, was one of the causes for the decline of Buddhism in India.

 

We took an hour to walk around among the extensive excavated ruins, consisting of more than 10 monasteries and half as many temples (among which the big Sariputta stupa), all surrounded by well maintained gardens. When we'd seen enough of the crumbling redbrick buildings we had a late lunch with soup and chapatti’s at a nearby restaurant and joined UK for the last stretch to Patna, well after three o' clock.

Stone towers at Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.

 

It took another three hours to drive to Patna and the sun was already setting at five o'clock. As any major city we'd visited, Patna was jammed with traffic. Mostly trucks again; they seem to cover every inch of tarmac in India. It became clear to us that UK was not very familiar with the route we were travelling since he constantly needed to ask for directions and it took some wandering through Patna to find the Ashok hotel.

Foundation of old monestary at Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.

The hotel itself turned out to be the most luxurious place we stayed in so far. It seemed to be frequented by Indian businessmen, so you can imagine the look of horror on the face of the hotel's manager when I walked into the lobby. I certainly looked much more like a low caste untouchable than a businessman. The manager himself had more of the attitude of a fascist leader, oozing superiority and authority, than a hospital host. You guessed it, just my type of guy (not).

 

After dropping our luggage in the room we had a beer in the small bar of the hotel. We'd asked UK to join us, which he thankfully did, ordering a coke for himself. This was the first time we had a real conversation with the man, who (unlike Kimi) wasn't very talkative while driving. He turned out to be a real nice guy and we were able to uncover some of the mysteries about him. Three weeks ago UK, himself 42 years old, had lost his wife after a long struggle against cancer.

Ed at Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.
He had cremated her on one of the ghats of Varanasi. This was the reason why his hair was so short and he was wearing those silly hats against the cold. UK's English was not extremely good, but good enough to follow the major lines of the conversation. He was originally from Bombay but had relocated to Varanasi with his wife and kids. When Bart went off to take a shower I continued to discuss Indian music and movies with UK and he also learned me how Indians can count to 28 using two hands (see if you can figure that out yourself).

 

Patna is a dangerous place to be on the streets at night.

Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.
The local poverty make robberies a serious problem. We therefore decided to stay inside and both had a sizzler dinner in the hotel's restaurant. We retired to bed early again because tomorrow would start early, but not before almost pissing ourselves laughing about a very familiar anecdote about acute diarrhoea in the book about backpacking in India (Sutcliffe's 'Are you experienced?') I was reading. It all seemed less funny when a churning stomach had me visit the loo twice that night.

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A family of hogs, Bihar, India.
A family of hogs, Bihar, India.
Bridge maintenance, Bihar, India.
Bridge maintenance, Bihar, India.
Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.
Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.
Cave at Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.
Cave at Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.
Stone towers at Griddhukata, Rajgi…
Stone towers at Griddhukata, Rajg…
Foundation of old monestary at Gri…
Foundation of old monestary at Gr…
Ed at Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.
Ed at Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.
Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.
Griddhukata, Rajgir, India.
Vishwasshanti Stupa, Rajgir, India.
Vishwasshanti Stupa, Rajgir, India.
Monkey at Rajgir, India.
Monkey at Rajgir, India.
Chairlift, Rajgir, India.
Chairlift, Rajgir, India.
Chairlift, Rajgir, India.
Chairlift, Rajgir, India.
Ruins of the university of Nalanda…
Ruins of the university of Naland…
Ruins of the university of Nalanda…
Ruins of the university of Naland…
Ruins of the university of Nalanda…
Ruins of the university of Naland…
Ruins of the university of Nalanda…
Ruins of the university of Naland…
Sariputta stupa, Nalanda, India.
Sariputta stupa, Nalanda, India.
Ruins of the university of Nalanda…
Ruins of the university of Naland…
Brick manufacturing, Bigar, India.
Brick manufacturing, Bigar, India.
Bihar, India.
Bihar, India.
Patna
photo by: edsander