Day Thirty-Three: Bodh Gaya to Delhi, One-Month Mark
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
One month has passed since we landed in India, and we’re back where we first started: Delhi. Can’t believe the one month long anniversary is upon us!
(On the train ride from Bodh Gaya to Delhi)
I’m coming back to Delhi with this familiarity tinged with slight angst – mostly because of what’s hit the news post Diwali. According to the NYT, new levels of air pollution have taken over the city and spread like wildfire, causing 1800 schools in Delhi to close down for an indefinite amount of time, keeping about 1 million kids at home where they’re apparently safe. Breathing in the air is equal to inhaling about 40 packs of cigarettes a day, and keeping your doors open for more than a minute can have detrimental effects on your health. They say it’s the post-Diwali pollution mixed with higher levels of agricultural burning from outlying towns. Probably not the best time to be a tourist (or anyone really) in Delhi, but luckily for us, it’s just a stopping point between now and our trip up to Rishikesh (time to finally bust out the facemask?!).
I’m happy I sought out medical help in Bodh Gaya through the lovely friends we made over there, Vicky and Indra (through a connection to our other amazing friend back home, Sevananda). Believe it or not, even after my food sickness bout on Diwali, it’s taken me DAYS to make a full recovery. Just yesterday, I could still feel that my gut wasn’t back to normal likely from the heavier meal I had the day beforehand at Be Happy Café, of all places.
Their friend, Anil took us by motorbike to a small, unassuming clinic. Turns out, much to what I suspected, my stomach was on the up and up, but took a major downturn when I ate spaghetti, humus, salad, and carrot cake the day I felt better. The doctor gave my stomach a few presses, and assessed that my liver was now infected and had to be extra careful in times of stomach illness.
Now, I’m on five different meds to make up for this careless oversight, plus bland foods (I mean BLAND) for the next five days – we’re talking plain rice, dal kitri, bananas, and fruits -- the usual suspects for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Been feeling weak and a desire to crawl into fetal or horizontal position every chance I get, Netflix by my side with some kind of glucose-powdered drink in hand.
We are now en route to Delhi as evidenced by all the pollution coating everything it touches. Outside my train window, everything is covered in this smoky brown haze, almost a visual representation of my life force these past few days from Varanasi to Bodh Gaya (land where Buddha achieved enlightenment) – a daze of wrestling with practicing presence and feeling the deep dark hibernation of hurting and healing. No lie, it’s been hard times. In the darkness though, glimpses of light have given me reason to come up for fresh air and remember that the pain, want to scream at the top of my lungs frustration, weakness, judgment and unending stagnation are all transient and can be as much or as little a part of my experience as I allow it. Wisdom is there if you choose to put energy into seeking it out.
Of the days we spent in Bodh Gaya, one was had and worth capturing, on November 4th:
Indra, Vicky and Anil took us out by motorbike to trace the steps of Siddartha Guatama at each stage of his search for truth, culminating in the story we all know well when he sat under the Bodhi tree and experienced enlightenment. It’s been a while since I read the book so it was a real treat to have such knowledgeable and friendly locals take us around. The details are foggy to me, but we started at a cave where Buddha (after coming across the four sufferings) first sought refuge for 6 years seeking truth without any food or water – 6 YEARS! We sat inside the cave channeling this energy, but the thought of not eating or drinking for such a long time went over my head completely.
The most exhilarating part for me was walking in Buddha’s footsteps by motorbike with the exception of our barefooted trek across the river (where Wylie had his first and holiest float in the river – happiest human ever). Upon crossing the river, we came upon a 1000-year old tree, called the Banyan, which had nothing to do with Buddha’s path, but everything to do with a holier being older than all of us, as old as nature and reminder of our very long past. Buddha had left the cave after 6 years and found himself wandering the land to his second stop, where he meditated under a tree at Sujata Temple.
At this stop, Buddha (now an emaciated human on the brink of dying of starvation) was offered rice milk from Princess Sujata who felt compelled to give him nourishment, helping him achieve a major insight: the Middle Way -- in other words, no extreme of either complete attachment or non-attachment will lead one to enlightenment. The best path taken is one that’s balanced and sustainable.
In a way, walking the steps of Buddha gave me pause to contemplate the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death. As an expert on sickness at least on this trip, I was more enraptured with the other three and realizing how much a part of life they all are in Indian culture. None of them are hidden the way they are in the Western world, especially death. While walking back from lunch at Be Happy Café, we spotted two newly born goats, fresh from the mama goat’s womb. They were panting in a fragile shaken state on a hillside covered in bodily fluids, feeling the first sparks of life, oxygen, really of it. We even saw mama goat chew up her umbilical cord! Birth in all its raw and vulnerable glory, right before our eyes.
You’re probably wondering if we ever made it to the Bodhi tree where Siddartha achieved enlightenment as we know the story today. Fortunately, we made it inside the temple grounds enough to see the tree and sit amongst all the pilgrims of the world meditating both in silence and chant. The incredible energy was palpable, and I could have sat there for hours. Unfortunately, my stomach started to act up in a big way again, so we had to cut our visit short.
(Fast forward again to the train – now)
That’s as much as I can process now. My mind is as free floating as the PM 2.5 dust particles in the Delhi air. Time to rest and mind-wander until we reach the crazy capital for round two.