Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Great Indian Journey 9



By Manuwant Choudhary

Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach.

So even while driving in India food and water is a great concern.

The dhabas are the best bet. They are simple and cleaner than the restaurants you may come across in India’s smaller towns. The cheapest food we had was near Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, a full meal for just Rs.32 for two persons.

But the dhaba dal-roti can get monotonous and so while we were back on the highway, we decided to take a de-tour of 20 kilometres just to have lunch at Bodh Gaya. We were real hungry.

Bodh Gaya is my favourite place in Bihar and Buddha my favorite story since I was a child. In fact, as a student of history in the exams I would always answer the Buddha question amongst the choices given and I would get 20/20. I remembered because I liked.

So I was never a good student. I liked only a few historical characters!

The story of Buddha has influenced the world like very few stories. A prince Siddharth (protected by his father all the time and never allowed to see the miseries of the world) of a small kingdom in Nepal sneaks out on a chariot ride in his town and happens to see a sick man, and asks his charioteer who is this man and why is like this.
The charioteer replies, “Your Lord, this man is sick. He is unwell.”

As the chariot proceeds, he sees an old man, and asks why is he bent from his hips and why does he need a stick?”
The charioteer replies, “Lord, he is old, every human being born in this world gets old with every passing year.”

Then Siddarth sees a dead man..a corpse.... with family members crying, and troubled by this he again asks why is this, “Sir, that which is born must die one day.”

Siddarth is troubled and sad. Just then he sees a holy man in saffron robes without a worry on his face. He asks why is this man so free of worry? He looks so happy.
“Sir, this man is a holy man. He understands how the world is and is enlightened.”

The four sights transforms Siddarth who becomes a seeker of truth, questioning everything.
Many years later after doing every kind of meditation Buddha while sitting under a banyan tree in today’s Bodh Gaya receives enlightenment…. The Four Truths he calls them….Siddharth become The Buddha or One who is enlightened.

There is suffering in this world.

The cause of suffering is desire.

To overcome suffering one must overcome desire.

To do this one must follow the eight-fold path….(a moral code of beliefs and action)

While Budhism itself spread across India and many emperors became Buddhist, today Buddhism has a small presence in India.

But at Bodh Gaya itself you can see that Buddha’s message has spread across the world…

As I sat there under the peepul tree behind the temple and watched little monks grab every leaf that fell off the Bodhi tree, I found peace.

We had Chinese food beside some Israeli tourists, one of them resembled Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif.

And then we were on our final leg of our journey and the toughest. The roads at Sasaram are non-existent.

But I had to visit one more historical site…Sher Shah’s tomb at Sasaram. Sher Shah, an Afghan, was the Governor of Bengal & Bihar and he overthrew the Mughals but he died when a bomb accidentally went off.

To this day I admire Sher Shah as India’s best ruler and administrator since he built the Grand Trunk Road from Calcutta to Peshwar (now Pakistan), the Sarai’s (guest houses), planted trees, a postal service by horses besides introducing land measurement. All this he did within 5 years while fighting battles all the time.

In fact, his finance minister was a Hindu, Todar Mal, whom Akbar continued with after the Mughals returned, and Akbar became Akbar the Great. Akbar for the next 60 years consolidated on the foundations laid by Sher Shah.

However, few tourists visit Sher Shah’s tomb and Hindus and Muslims have encroached in the area. There are 55 cases in the Patna High Court.

The tomb itself is a great monument. Surrounded on all sides by a lake which is naturally filled by underground pipes coming from the surrounding hills, it’s a marvel. It even had semi-precious stones and paintings on its walls but with age all that is gone.

To me it did not look like a tomb at all. It could be anything – a parliament, a durbar hall, a garrison, but not a tomb.

A private security guard on duty agreed with me. He said Sher Shah was not Shah Jahan who would build his own tomb. Sher Shah fought the Mughals to rule India. Its just that when he was killed accidentally, they buried him here. “If you visit any village nearby you will see tombs of Hindu soldiers loyal to Sher Shah killed in the battles. He recruited all his soldiers from these villages.”

Inside, Sher Shah lay alongside his bodyguards, his wife, his cook and all his servants – all of whom had died in the bomb blast.

When I began my journey in the west of India, I saw the sun kiss the horizon from the east and now in the east from the archway of the tomb I could see the sun set in the west.

I stood alone.

I prayed at the tomb of India’s forgotten emperor.

* I would like to thank all my friends and relatives without whose support this journey would not be possible and my readers who've been with me on my journey for the past week, leaving useful comments.


irajeshme said...

Welcome Home Manu,
To the land of Budhha the peace seeker who enlightened the world. to the land of Sher shah who could so much in five years in the seveteenth century, that still remains the basic of indian infrastructure.
also welcome to the land of 7 criminals charged of murder sitting in the parliament and many in the state legislators, and hundreds in the making.
Welcome to the land of laloo and all the heart of socialism, where roads never get built, and 400 year old infrastructre is demolished. where it takes 15 years for a laloo to be the hero of the indian parliament.
Welcome home Manu.

Barun said...

Congratulations for making this journey. You are a braveheart for undertaking this drive across north India from west to east.
I think it would be great if you write another post, giving your suggestions to others who might want to follow your track, and drive from one end of India to the other. You could give the distances, between different places, possible night halts, recommend dhabas, quality of roads in different stretches, do's and don'ts, etc. I think this will be quite a valuable documentation for others who might be thinking of undertaking a similar journey. I hope you will under more such journeys.
your blog is getting junk. You might need to moderate the comments.