Going on a pilgrimage enables one to experience a sense of spiritual awakening. Last December, my friends and I were blessed to be able to accompany the Buddhist chief high priest of Malaysia, Datuk K. Sri Dharmaratana to attend a conference in Bodhgaya, India.
While we were in Kolkata, we learned that our flight to Bodhgaya was cancelled. We had to make last-minute arrangements and fly to Patna instead, and then take a chartered bus to Bodhgaya. It was a four-hour drive and along the way, we passed through rural villages and saw how some of the people lived.
We can’t help but feel thankful that basic living standards and amenities in Malaysia are far better.
When we reached the host hotel, we were warmly welcomed by the organisers, the Association of Buddhist Tour Operators (ABTO). Pilgrimage season there is from October to March as the hot weather and monsoon season in the intervening months render it difficult to travel.
The conference was interesting as we met international delegates promoting their country’s Buddhist tourist circuits. It was an eye opener for us to learn that there are numerous places, including in Malaysia, that we can visit to learn more about the faith.
Alas, with many countries still reporting new Covid-19 cases daily, all travel plans are shelved temporarily. Undoubtedly, many of us are counting the days when we can go on holidays abroad again.
The pinnacle of our pilgrimage was a visit to the Mahabodhi Temple, a World Heritage Site. I believe that every Buddhist should endeavour to make a trip to Bodhgaya at least once in their lifetime. It was under the bodhi tree in Mahabodhi Temple where Buddha attained enlightenment some 2,500 years ago.
With the temple courtyard overflowing with a large congregation of monks, nuns and pilgrims, we tried to practise social distancing as much as we could as we thought it was inappropriate to have any physical contact with the monks.
Nearby at the banks of Niranajana River, we visited the Siddharta Free Children Education Centre and Siddhartha Compassion School II. It was great to see that children in a poverty stricken area have access to education.
We opted for the “auto” as our mode of transport in Bodhgaya, rather than a chartered bus. It was fun riding the auto as you can breathe in the fresh morning air (as well as the stench of clogged drains!). It only cost 10 rupees or 60 sen for a one-way trip.
Outside our hotel, we wore face masks because of the dusty environment. Hand sanitisers were liberally used to ensure our hands were clean always.
All good things must come to an end but not without another setback! We waited for ages for our luggage at the Kolkata airport’s carousel, only to be informed that 20 pieces of luggage were offloaded in Bodhgaya. The airline could only arrange to send our luggage to Kuala Lumpur on their next earliest flight which was two days later. But despite all that, we had a memorable time at Bodhgaya and I’m looking forward to my 6th pilgrimage there. The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.
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