March 30, 2011

Bihar is the epicenter of this Age of Kali. Its politicians are literally convicted criminals and gangsters, a trend started in the early 1990s when Lalu Prasad Yadav came to power. It is also the heart of some of the worst caste violence in all of India, with entire villages being slaughtered in one night and random killings in every caste. Kidnappings, murders, and robberies are all common occurrences throughout the state. The roads are unsafe during the day, and straight-up dangerous at night. My trusty guidebook consoled me by writing:

“both states [Bihar and Jarkhand] remain seriously troubled by poverty, a lack of infrastructure, inter-caste violence, corruption, and general lawlessness… Buddhist pilgrims and tourists have on occasion been robbed, and few travelers spend much time here”

I had to see if it was as bad as the stories, my friends, and my guidebook made it out to be. Plus, Buddhism’s largest and most famous pilgrimage site, Bodhgaya, is in Bihar, and the cheapest flight to the area was to Patna (not sure why…), AND many of our staff and now my friends at Lebanese Point are from Bihar, and I wanted to see their homeland.

So I said “screw it” and went, not without a fair amount of apprehension. And actually, it was quite nice. Sure the infrastructure is in shambles, and there were certainly more bike taxis, but it wasn’t much different than much of South India. There wasn’t much to do, and I didn’t stay too long (only a full day and night in Patna and Gaya, en route to Bodhgaya), but I did have a great conversation with some college kids who timidly thought that I might be from there (a fair [explaining the whiteness] Muslim [explaining the out-of-place-ness] was their explanation).  They said they had never talked to a foreigner, and went on to ask some pretty intelligent cultural questions, mostly regarding marriage and girls. Only one of them spoke decent English, and he had apparently learned it from watching American movies (Tom Cruise is his favorite actor).

Once I got to Bodhgaya, I was really in Bihar in name only. I was safely surrounded by countless Sri Lankan and South-East Asian tourists in a fully-fledged religious town. Bodhgaya is the location of the spot where Buddha gained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, and a descendant of the original tree, as well as a group of temples and shrines dot the surrounding area. I made some friends, Sudhir and Om, who took me out to the cave where Buddha spent six years fasting and engaged in deep meditation before coming down and gaining enlightenment, and also to a movie in Gaya (Golimar). I ended up staying a few nights there in a monastery, and truly enjoyed the spiritual peace and quiet.

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