Appreciating Buddhism in the place Buddha was cremated

Posted: January 7, 2011 in India
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At last we found the Indian border on January 3rd. The border town of Sunauli is instantly forgettable. Like most land locked border towns, it is a rabshab dusty mess of half-hearted shops and touts galore. Tired from a fews days of illness and a bumpy bus journey followed by 4km by rickshaw to the border post, we opted for luxury and shelled out for a taxi to Gorakhpur, the gateway to Kushinagar.Given it was a 2hr ride and we’re tourists, I was fully expecting some wallet rape. However, I was pleasantly surprised to get a fixed fee of R1,200 (only $28). We hopped in eagerly.

Absorbing the sights and sounds of India

The journey to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh awakened me to India’s incessant pulse. Everyone loves their horn or bell (feel free to make puerile gags). Our driver leant on his horn the entire journey and gave us a headache.

The towns we passed were awash with colour and smells. The waft of streetside food hit me at every corner and the smells are tantalising, a heady mix of spices. The constant energy is incredible and it baffles me just how many shops this country can have. It truly is a nation of shopkeepers.

Journey to the heart of Buddhism

From Gorakhpur, after the pain of sorting our train ticket for the next day (Muneeza had to queue to get a form, then queue again to get the tickets, then queue again to get them validated – a mere 45mins), we jumped in a jeep taxi to Kushinagar. The jeep taxi was fun; first we had to bargain the price as it was creeping up and they tried to charge us for 3 seats instead of 2; then we had to condense our body matter to fit another person on the tiny bench upon which we perched. By the time driver man put the pedal to the metal, there were 15 people in the small jeep. The driver was half out, half in the jeep. How would British Health & Safety officers cope with that? However, for a bargain $2 we got to our destination in just over an hour.

We hopped in a rickshaw to find the temple in which we planned to stay. 10 seconds later we arrived! Linh Son Temple is a Chinese Buddhist Temple with a simple guest house to the side. Rooms are basic but have hot water and cost only $8 per night. That night we eat next door at the lovely Yama Cafe (huge bowl of veg noodle soup costs $1!) and met a cool Dutch girl who converted to Buddhism 5 years ago and is doing the Buddhist Route through Nepal and India to combine meditation with learning. Very interesting conversation.

Exploring Kushinagar

We woke early on the 4th and took the walking tour of town. First we headed to the far end to visit the Ramabhar Stupa which sits on the site where Buddha was allegedly cremated. It’s a very inauspicious ruin but sitting and staring at the place where one of the most influential thinkers in world history had walked and probably was cremated, was rather intoxicating.

From the stupa we walked back towards town and stopped into the various temples en route. The pick of the bunch were the Monastery and the Thai Temple where we sat and looked at a huge representation of Buddha wrapped in ornate golden cloth. It was a peaceful experience and, if I’m honest, it had a spiritual appeal. It is rare that a place of worship elicits any response from me other than pure interest but this temple had a unique atmosphere that warmed me.

We got back to the guest house early afternoon and had a few hours to relax before hopping on a jeep taxi back to Gorakhpur for our night train to Varanasi.

Musings on the world of Buddhism

I’m no expert and never will be but I am genuinely interested in Buddhism. The main reason is that Buddhism is more a philosophy rather than a religion. It doesn’t place a supernatural deity at the heart of its belief structure, rather it relates to one’s mind and soul and your relationship with the world. I can relate to the concept of karma, the link between cause and effect and the duality of life, the battle between good and bad. I’m not really sure what I think but it’s something I am reading more about to try and inspire my mind and nourish the soul.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a convert to any belief system but I’m always keen to see which enlightened thinkers can make sense of this contradictory and often obtuse world.

love jamer & muneeza x

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