There wasn't a lot of information available about Rajgir but one intriguing bit of information was how we get around, the best way we are reliably informed is by tonga - but what is a tonga???? It is a small horse and cart affair and they vary from the plain and even tatty to the absolutely blingtastic, covered with tinsel, paint, frills and glitter and the horses are pretty too!!!
! Our hotel is very close to the famous hot springs and the temple that has been built up around it and as we head there a tonga driver clops over and although his is not the most glittery of them all we decide to hire his services for a tour of the sites. We are taken to a couple of ruins, one of a water tank, where we meet a family who ask us about 20 questions, we answer 2 and then smile and pose for a number of photographs, when the daughter explains that they love having their photograph taken with foreigners!!! Well I guess it makes up for the street photos I have taken myself since being here :S I don't think there are many white tourists here, there are a large number from Japan, but not so many westerners and we are attracting a lot of interest. We smile and wave and almost stop traffic which is quite funny, but it will be good to be home and not be the subject of so much attention!!!
We go to a ruin of a prison, and to be honest other than a small wall but thick wall, there is very little to see, but it is here I saw the most heart wrenching thing of my trip so far. I guess I should put this in to perspective, every day we see pitiable sights, people with diseases which can be cured, homelessness, hunger and hopelessness. Although you cannot be immune from these things, you cannot let every sad sight upset you, or else you wouldn't be able to continue, on the other hand we are humans with the capacity to feel and to lose that would be a dreadful thing
. As we were being driven away from the prison ruin, a young boy maybe 7 years old ran after us carrying a little girl possibly two, who was blind. He ran after us for several minutes with the little girl crying pitifully. I know my Auntie Mair and Uncle David have their heart wrenching memory of India, I believe this will be mine. I am writing this almost a full 24 hours after the event, and I can still see that little girls face, I think it will be a long time before I forget it. The driver wouldn't stop, and we had no change on us, as we had given it all to a man who didn't have the use of his legs and with the limited English he had, was attempting to act as a tour guide around the ruins. He didn't ask for money and was trying his best to earn a few rupees in a society that doesn't do much to help the disabled. You cannot help everyone, and handing over a few rupees will help feed someone today, but their problems are all still there tomorrow.
But we move on and before long we are taken to the main site of the day the Japanese Peace Pagoda, or stompa - I really love that word. Anyone still paying attention may remember we also visited one in Darjeeling, but this one was bigger, brighter and bolder. But to get there we had 2 choices a first class walk, or a ride on a rickety chairlift , as it is on the top of a not inconsiderable hill - woo hoo a fair ride to start the journey lovely. Each chair only took one person and I went first it was great fun as watching the people coming down their faces reflected emotions ranging from terrified, to excited, to trying not to look at the strange white person. I looked back to see Martin about 4 chairs behind me with his camera glued to his face so I knew he was enjoying himself :o)
We get to the top and admire the view for a while but visibility isn't brilliant but the sun is shining
. The pagoda is lovely with 4 representations of Buddha on it, each signifying a different stage of his life and journey through enlightenment until death, and we visit the small temple next door. There was an enormous drum and there was a monk banging it rhythmically, I suspect it never stopped as while we were there another monk came in and took over without the rhythm being lost. We made an offering and received a blessing and some sweets which had been blessed, and were very tasty, we are not sure if we were supposed to eat them or not, but waste not want not. We decide to walk down and visit a site where Buddha used to meditate and gave a number of sermons. It was emblazoned with lots of prayer flags and Tibetan shawls and the views across the valleys were absolutely stunning. We walk down and back to our horse and driver who takes us to the hot springs and the temple. We know we are going to be shown around by a priest and asked for a donation in return for a blessing with the water so we are not surprised to be accosted as soon as we set foot inside. It is a chaotic place with people bathing everywhere and running around half dressed. We get splashed and blessed and wander around, although the waters are warm, even hot, thankfully they are not smelly. We walk to a viewing platform and look across the valley, everywhere you look on top of the hills you see shrines it is a lovely place. You could easily spend a number of days just walking the pilgrim paths to the various shrines dotted around, we are sad that our time here was reduced by the delayed train, but such is life
. Perhaps we will come back to India and do the spiritual trail starting in Calcutta and come back here again. We make a brief stop at the Japanese temple and the sun is now starting to set and the evening beginning to cool. We get dropped off near the temple, agree a pick up time and price for the morning and go for a cup of tea and some lovely vegetable pakoras.
We wander back to the hotel as there are some mean mozzies around here, probably supercharged by the hot springs so we go back to the hotel and order dinner we get accosted by a shop owner in the hotel foyer and watch Tom and Jerry on Cartoon Network as it is the only thing we can find not in Hindu. We have numerous power outages and hope the lights are on for us to get up early tomorrow!!!!!
We wake late it never surprises me how absolutely tired you can get doing absolutely nothing. We decide to treat ourselves to bed tea - Darjeeling really ruined us - before starting the day. We go downstairs for breakfast, and once you look around you can see that the hotel owners are doing their very best to renovate the hotel bit by bit and are concentrating their money on the rooms. However Martin told me that he walked in last night, and went to walk out again, but the owners were very nice and asked him to see a room before he decided, and we are both glad he did. The dining hall is a bit of a miserable room with no natural daylight but it seems clean enough, so we get our breakfast before heading out.