Did you all enjoy the way Neela took us to Bhopal, Varanasi and Patna. Are you ready for more?
Link for Part 1: Road Trip to Bihar – Guest Post by Neela Ghante — Part 1
Patna is a very crowded and dusty city, with 3 beautifully decorated railway stations. The Ganga ghat in Patna is an amazing site. The riverbed is the widest in Patna. Ganga actually looks like a sea with large sandy shores and bridges on it as long as 5 kms running across the width. It was an overwhelmingly emotional moment to look at the waters of the river which all the Indians hold sacred at heart. I will never react the same way (with a lot of irritation and scorn) to Chhat Pooja that the Bihari women perform in and around Mumbai. They probably remember the expanse of their river while worshiping the water bodies they find here, merely as a very poor substitute.
On a recommendation from a friend we had hired a guide who was to join us in Nalanda. When we told him, we would be driving ourselves, he gave us many instructions about driving on Bihar roads and the safety measures we needed to take. By now we too had learnt the ‘art’, observing the driver who had driven us for the past two days. Continuous honking and driving on the wrong side are the only guaranteed ways to reach your destination. With this newly acquired skill, we reached Nalanda in no time at all!
With ten thousand students, fifteen hundred teachers, three libraries and lacs of books, Nalanda was the best University of its time in the world. Students came over from all over Asia and as far Greece to study here. It was spread across area of 16 kilometres out of which only 1.5 is excavated by the archaeological survey of India. All the information about Nalanda is available on the net. So, let me write here our reactions about the place. When we entered the campus, we were actually standing on the rooves of the buildings, the actual structure still buried underground. The university was destroyed thrice but rebuilt only twice. We can see the bricks of different periods very clearly. We remembered the song in movie Johny mera Naam (Remember Hema Malini And Deva Anand walking on the brick wall) is shot here. Thankfully today ASI doesn’t give permission to climb these walls. Bakhtiyar Khilji burnt the place down for the last time and with-it people’s moral and self- worth. There are very few historical sites where one feels deep anguish for the loss. For me one was Hampi and the other Nalanda.
Nalanda has a beautiful memorial for Huan Tsang. If he had not visited India, we would probably have never known about the glory of Nalanda. The memorial is very well made which showcases Huan Tsang’s entire journey. He travelled from China through today’s Afghanistan to India and onward to Srilanka, staying in Nalanda for 5 years. The memorial has a few books of sutras translated by him.Nalanda also has a museum to showcase the excavated artefacts. They depict beautifully the coexistence of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.
The biggest advantage of going on a road trip is the detours one can make. On our way to Rajgeer from Nalanda, the guide told us about a small village of weavers where beautiful cotton and silk sarees are woven. Off we went in the direction and found a really small village where everyone is in the same profession. They still do the entire process of getting the thread from the cocoon by hand. The women make and dye the thread and the men weave the fabric. We also went to a market on the road selling khaja. It’s a cross between khari biscuit and chirota and is very famous in the region; a must have on all religious occasions.
We checked into a hotel in Rajgeer and immediately stepped out to see Rajgeer. We saw the Vishwashti Stupa going after traveling in a very rickety ropeway. and also visited Swarna Bhandar which has inscriptions in sankhya script. This city has many folklores about Ramaryana and Mahabharata and the guide showed us the locations. But nothing stands there today as a proof of history. In Patna Museum we had seen the picture of Barabar and Nagarjuni cavesand we were more interested in visiting those. At three pm in the afternoon when we insisted on going there the guide asked us, “Kya afeem peeke nikle ho, patanahi waha sham ko jana kitna risky hai?” Frankly we did not find anything risky in our surroundings. But respecting the opinion of the local man we decided to retire for the day!
Our guide in Rajgeer was excessively worried about our safety. He is worried about women’s safety in Bihar so much so that he has sent his daughter aged 13 for schooling in Ludhiana. We were advised to stay inside the room in the hotel and order room service! (Really??)As there was nothing more to do in Rajgeer, after tending to the car, filling up petrol and checking the air pressure in the tires we went back to our room and did just as advised!
The next day we left for Barabar caves. We drove through the small villages with beautiful green fields and water canals. The caves are the oldest rock cut caves dating back to Ashoka period. The guide told us an interesting story about a fight between the founder of Ajivika sect Makhali Gosalaa and Budhdha, and how their egos clashed. The inscription on the caves reads that these were gifted by Ashoka to Ajivika followers. There are 4 caves carved out of twin granite rocks with two chambers inside each cave. The surface inside is polished so much so that reflection of a person can be seen on it. One of the caves has intricately carved entrance. The caves have platforms to sit and meditate. My friend and I chanted OM sitting on that platform and that’s when we experienced the magic of these caves. They have a concave ceiling of polished granite surface and the sound reverberates beautifully. We have always learnt about the chakras in our body while doing
pranayama. The sound reverberates through these chakra points. It was a magical experience and both of us did not want to move away from that place. The rishis must have found about the chakras in such caves. Do visit them with more time at hand to experience this magic.
We left the caves and moved ahead as reaching Bodh Gaya would have taken us two more hours. The road to Bodh Gaya was full of craters. The traffic was horrendous to say the least. In Bodhgaya we visited the Sujatha temple, a stupa in memory of a tribal woman who fed Budha when he was fasting. We saw the Mahabodhi temple which has the bodhi vriksha and the statue of Budha. Mahabodhi temple was probably a Shiva temple converted to Budha temple. There still is a Shivlinga right in front of the statue of Budha. There were hundreds of devotees mostly from Japan, Myanmar and Thailand. These countries have built even bigger monasteries here than we saw in Vaishali. They had offered their God numerous crates of bottled water and food packets. I had seen such food offerings in Bhutan but never bottled water!
We were staying at Marasa Sarovar a beautiful property started just a month ago. On reaching there we started enquiring about various routes to Katni in MP and asking the drivers there about the road conditions. As none of them had really gone that far there wasn’t much help available.
As was our practice, we started at 6 am for our return journey with packed breakfast. We were planning to complete it in three days. The first day was going to be tough as we had to cover 600 kms to Katni. The road from Gaya to Dobhi was full of craters but in the morning, there was hardly any traffic. We made it to Chandauli in good time. The weather had turned cloudy and it started raining. As we approached Mughalsarai the traffic started getting heavier. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by trucks and soon the traffic came to a standstill. We waited for about 15-20 and nothing had moved. Finally, two of us got down to investigate. The jam was more than two kms long. We were stuck between three lines of trucks. If we had to reach Katni before night fall, we needed to act now! We started requesting the truck drivers to move their vehicles so that ours could pass through the narrow openings. Imagine two five feet something women banging on the trucks and saying, “oh bhaiyya gadi thodi piche le lena ,hamari gadi nikal jayegi”. There was a point when to the left of the road there was just enough space for the car to move but with a 5 feet deep trench at the side. I asked Vrinda to shut the side mirrors and drive the car almost touching the next truck so as to avoid falling in the trench. She could not see the trench and had to drive by only following my instructions. She is brave……she did it! The Corporate training games conducted to build the trust amongst the colleagues should be carried out on such roads! Some other driver shouted at us,”aap galat side se nikal jate, ye koi Nasik ya Maharashtra nahi hai, yaha koi kanun nahi chalta”! We had renewed respect for our state!
After passing the toll at Mughalsarai, we saw the traffic building up on the flyover. We decided to take the detour and go through the small roads along the fields. At a fork we asked a passer-by whether that road reached the highway and got an affirmative answer. When we reached the highway though, we realised that it was still under construction, with two feet cemented road without a ramp to climb on it. Another passer-by on the scooter was so amused and excited to see three women driving by themselves that he was ready to be our ‘hanuman’. He started picking up big boulders lying around to create a make-shift ramp. We were stumped beyond words and didn’t know how to react. A man with a better judgement told us to take a U turn and follow another road which he assured had access to the highway. Finally, we hit the highway only to get stuck again in the jam caused by a railway crossing. We used the well learned trick, moved the vehicles around us, drove on the wrong side, honked incessantly and reached closer to the crossing! “ye narak hai narak, roj ka yahi haal hai”, said a tractor owner and graciously allowed us to go ahead. On the other side of the tracks we saw trucks lined up for more than 2 kms. There is very heavy illegal traffic of sand in the entire UP – Bihar region. And such traffic jams occur almost every day as the trucks try to avoid the toll gates where the police can catch them. Massive lack of infrastructure adds to the woes!
The entire road through Lalganj is dotted with diversions due to construction of 4 lane highway. It took us 11 hours to cover 350 kms. We had not stopped for any food break. Thankfully the hotel had packed enough food to last us for lunch. In spite of the bad roads none of the tires got punctured through this ordeal. We started arguing about whether we should go all the way up to Katni or take a halt at Rewa. I kept saying, “we will take a call when we enter MP”. The roads in MP did not disappoint me. The moment we climbed vindhya range and entered MP a broad 6 lane, smooth road welcomed us. We finished the rest of 250 kms in 3.5 hours!
After staying in Katni for the night we started the next day for Indore. Indore is declared as the cleanest city in India and it is truly is a very clean city. We had visited it three years ago. The entrance to sarafa (A shopping and eating zone) was stinking at that time. In this trip it was very clean. The common people of Indore including the rikshaw drivers are very proud of this achievement. “Ab hamko bhi aadat ho gayi hai chize idhar udhar na fekne ki”, said one of them. We went to chappan dukan and sarafa. Ate to our hearts content, shopped mithai for people back home and were ready to hit the road one last time the next morning, to end this trip, which many had felt was outrageous and impossible to complete. Needless to say we did reach home hale and hearty!
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