|Bodh Gaya is famous for being the place that the Buddha attained enlightenment. The focal poibnt of this little town is the Mahabodi temple, the site of the Bodi tree where Buddha sat when he reached his enlightened level of being. The tree here today is not in fact the very same tree, which was destroyed a long time ago, but is a tree that was grown from a cutting of the original. Still it certainly serves to set the scene and is a major site of pilgrimage today.
In addition to the famous tree there is the Mahakala cave, where Buddhe spent 6 years in meditation, another tree where Buddhe rested and ate a sort of porridge mix on his way down from the cave, and of course a Buddha footprint (was this man a giant?). The 'Buddha wuz ere' sites are everywhere and it can get a bit amusing at just how much they are selling this place on his presence, but aside from this, the town is still very spiritual in many ways.
Around the town there is every sort of temple and monastery - Thai, Tibetan, Korean, Vietnamese etc, etc - so something for everyone. All of these can be explored by foot but if you do ever come here, it is worth taking the time to explore slightly further afield.
My opportunity to explore came when I got chatting to a young local boy, Sudhir, who was keen to show me around - talking to tourists is his way of improving his English. Putting my trust in this very honest (and devout Buddhist) young man, I hopped on the back of his bike and off we went.
I haven't travelled on the back of a motorbike since I was in Indonesia and I had forgotten what a fantastic way it is to travel. You can see so much more than if you are rattling along in a rickshaw and also that slight thrill that it is a little bit dangerous.
We went all through beautiful countryside and tiny little rural villages. Little children, unaccustomed to seeing a foreigner in the village would run after the bike shouting "Aunty, Aunty, Aunty". I love the Indian way of referring to people as sister, brother, aunty, uncle. New friends are instantly considered family and it is very respectful.
At the end of the day Sudhir insisted I come back to his house to meet his family and have some tea. He lost his mother a few months ago and now he lcves with his married sister, her husband and children (dirty but delightful little creatures), and his younger brother. Their humble little home was not much more than a small white brick hut. So basic, but it was an honour to be invited in. It is always wonderful when these rare opportunities come too break through the cultural divide and get to know people as they really live.
Earlier tin the day I had been to a boys school/orphange to see how it is run. The principle was explaining his difficulty in educating the boys due to limited resources - the government simply doesn't have the money to help, so he relies on public donations. I left my contribution. I haven't been gibing money to street beggars since I got to India as I would rather give more significant contributions to programmes such as this where you know the money will be put to good use. Bodh Gaya is in the state of Bihar, which has one the highest levels of poverty throughout all of India. It is evident everywhere and a good reminder for me as to how lucky I really am.