My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
Bodh Gaya, in Bihar, northern India. (No! I’m still in northern Newfoundland trying to get a new transmission for the boat.)
Everyone talks about how much India has changed in the last two decades – so I was shocked by what I found all along the Ganges when I returned. Not a single place – not a city nor a town or a village – had reliable 24-hour electricity. My dismay was so great I wrote an essay about it: Goodbye Mother Ganges.
Certainly the most shocking place I visited was Bodh Gaya precisely because it didn’t seem to have changed at all, although I’d never been there before. On my 2000-mile walk along the Ganges I did walk to Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first sermon, but did not go about 50 miles south from Varanasi to see Bodh Gaya. I had no particular or personal interest in Buddhism at the time.
But, having become a Buddhist since then, I was determined to make up for this lapse. When I finally stepped off the train in Bodh Gaya it really did seem as if I’d stepped back 25 years. The sights, the sounds, the smells were exactly as I remember them everywhere else in northen India from the time of my pilgrimage. But these had since changed because of the huge increase in private cars that cough their fumes, blare horns all the time, and insist that they are more important than people walking, bicycles, mules or horse-carts. In Bodh Gaya in 2008 there were still few cars and plenty of room for an elephant to gently saunder down the main road.
The place where the Buddha reached enlightement is just outside Bodh Gaya; a very quiet park with a temple, stupa, monks, nuns and pilgrims. After the cacophany of noise and press of people everywhere else, the peace of the garden was a true blessing. I stayed for hours and was very reluctant to leave. This was partly because I wanted to take home a leave from the Bodhi tree. The sign see photo above) says quite clearly that pilgrims must not touch or attempt to pull leaves off the tree.
So I sat and waited. For hours. Eventually a beautiful green leaf fell to my feet. I took it away and gave it to a Thai friend who has it framed in his home.