I hope that you are all well and have had a much better week than we have!
I was in Agra when I last emailed and from there we set off to Bodhgaya, a small town but the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in the world. It is there that Buddha was enlightened under a Bondhi tree 26 centuries ago.
The travel agent in Agra told us that we would not be able to get a direct train on the day we wanted to travel but not to worry as we could change at Varanasi. He promised us that there would be hourly busses to Bodhgaya.
Now I was a little wary of going to Varanasi as the lonely planet quotes 'Predatory rickshaw-wallahs pounce on visitors like starving tigers on a defenseless deer but this is not the main hassle as Varanasi has a darker criminal element operating around the bus and train station. ' Brilliant! It also goes on to mention muggings and drugged food and drink!
We caught an overnight train and shared our berth with some nice Korean people this time. I slept on the bottom bunk opposite a Korean man and was quite unnerved when two Indian men sat at the end of our beds and watched us for a good half an hour! About 3am a train guard woke us up asking that we check our bags as a number had been reported stolen. Luckily ours were all still safely chained up.
On arrival in Varanasi we marched straight off to the bus station only to find out there was no bus ever to Bodhgaya! We returned to the train station and had to wait an hour in a very disorganized queue to buy a ticket. While I queued Lucy was reading intently and completely missed a man with long dreadlocks, wearing just a loin cloth with painted white skin and a spear! As he was stood next to me I was too polite to shout 'Lucy look at this!' He was refused a ticket as he didn't have a passport.
Our train wasn't until 9pm so we made the most of being in Varanasi and took a boat ride along the Ganges River. As it was midday all the Ghats were quite with the exception of Manikarnike Ghat, the main burning Ghat. We were respectful and didn't take a photo which means I can't show you what a powerful image it was. There were 8 cremations on the Ghat and another 5 bodies on stretchers wrapped in orange cloth waiting to be burned. I was expecting there to be chanting, celebration or crying but everyone was just quiet.
We returned top the station at 6pm as the book said it was dangerous after dark. We sat for a while watching cows cause chaos. It's amazing how a 2 ton bull can sneak up on you and steal a bag!
After an hours wait we were dismayed to find out that our train had been delayed for 6 hours until 3am! Thankfully, and especially for me (I'll explain later) there were dorms at the station where we could rest. We set our alarms for 2am only to find out that the train was then expected at 5am. We woke at 4 to find it had been further delayed till 7am and so on until it finally arrived 16hrs late at 11am!
We spent the last 3hrs sat on the platform and while we were watching a troop of Monkeys run around things didn't seem too bad but then a bird shat on Lucy! Which is at least good luck and certainly better luck than having a monkey shit on you. This was shortly followed by a stack of trays falling on us from a man who didn't realize that if you pile them on your head higher than the rafters it'll never work. I think we were just about at breaking point when the train finally turned up.
To further explain why this was such a bad week for me I have to go back to the start of our journey and discuss something I haven't been mentioning as it is not a pretty topic. As predicted by some of my friends, I started with Delhi belly almost as soon as we had arrived. I tried everything to get rid of it eating lots, eating nothing, curd, Imodium (a short term solution that only made it worse) and antibiotics (as recommended by the Lonely Planet although it turns out they would have never have worked) but all this only served to further destroy my immune system and give me a lovely cold.
Things took a severe turn for the worse when we were in Varanasi and I could no longer even keep water in me for more than 20 min. I resolved to see a Dr in Bodhgaya as it had a 24hr medical clinic. As if to further press the point I woke up with a temperature of 102 deg F and feeling dreadful as you can imagine. We caught a rickshaw to the medical centre, as I couldn't walk the short distance, only to find out that there would be no Dr until 8pm.
Were staying in a simple hostel in Bodhgaya in a little village surrounded by paddy fields. Unfortunately it was full of mosquitoes and whenever we climbed out from under our nets to use the toilet (which was often for me) we were literally sitting targets. As it was unlikely that my anti-malaria tablets were hanging around long enough to do any good we left the 150 Rs a night hostel and I checked us into a posh 2,950 Rs a nigh hotel.
Lucy was an angel running around and moving all our stuff (although she did miss some essential items for me - see the Kolkata entry) and explaining to the nice man, that there was nothing wrong with his hostel. She told him that I was sick and needed to be somewhere with no flies. He looked concerned and told her that everywhere has flies. When she told him where we were staying we paused thoughtfully and said 'Ah that is very expensive. They have no flies'.
About mid afternoon Nurse Lucy realized I was becoming too sick to leave the room and asked the hotel to call me a Dr ASAP. He finally arrived at 7pm and diagnosed me with viral gastroenteritis and prescribed two intravenous injections and a mountain of other drugs (see pictures). Nurse Lucy had to hide in the toilet while I had my injections but then bravely came out to administer the rest of my medicine. Thankfully the drugs worked very quickly and hopefully I will stay well for a while now.
Everyone in Bodhgaya was really nice and showed real concern for my health, even the rickshaw driver tried to refuse the fare to the medical centre. A man we met on the way there said that in Buddhism if you go to a holy place and get sick it is all your bad karma coming out. Now I hadn't realized that I'd amassed quite so much bad karma but I should at least be due some very good karma now.
Unfortunately due to all the lost time I wasn't able to do everything I had planned for Bodhgaya which included an introductory course in meditation, visiting the caves where Buddha spent years of penance and having tea with the Dali Lama. The last one might not have been that realistic but he was in Bodhgaya at the same time as us. I did manage to see a lot of the Beautiful temples on the last day before we caught the train to Kolkata (which was 7hrs late!)