|A short 5 hour train ride from Varanasi took us to Bodhgaya, famous as the place where Buddha gained enlightenment 2500 years ago while meditating underneath a Bodhi tree. The town has only a small, permanent population (~30 thousand), but pilgrims from all Buddhist nations come here to study, pray and visit this spiritual place.
We had come here to attend a week-long, introduction to Buddhism course (what better place to try to understand Buddhism?) taught by a monk and nun at a relatively quiet (anything under 100 dB is considered quiet in India) retreat center set in the middle of rice fields. The course included lectures, discussion, yoga and many hours of daily meditation. An interesting aspect was that we were asked to keep silent for the duration of the course (except during discussion sessions) and we stayed in separate rooms. Also, meals, which were excellent, were taken in silence.
Overall, this was a very interesting week. While neither of us has "found religion", we enjoyed learning more about Buddhist philosophy and meditation techniques, something we will try to apply to everyday life. The food here was the best we've eaten during our travels. Simple, fresh, vegetarian food with an Indian flair. Yummy! The only thing missing was some good wine (not allowed, unfortunately!)
Most of our time was spent at the Root Institute (where we took our course), but we did venture into town a few times where we visited the Mahabodhi temple, a world heritage site, built on the spot where Buddha is said to have been enlightened.
Caught an overnight train to New Jalpaiguri, the gateway to Darjeeling and surrounding hill stations. On the train, we met a university student who caught us off guard by asking if we had a "love marriage". He was lamenting the fact that his parents forbid him from marrying the girl he loves as they insist on an arranged marriage (his girlfriend is poor and of the wrong caste). He has even offered to pay his father the dowry he would have gotten from an arranged marriage (>$20 thousand US). His parents have told him they will disown him if he doesn't do as they say so he is currently trying to find work overseas so he can leave India, marry his girlfriend and "be free". We hope he makes it!