Worldly, bustling and noisy, the city’s streets buzzed with the business of everyday life, in stark contrast to the serenity surrounding the site where Buddha attained his great awakening.
As tranquil and reverent as I felt within sight of the bodhi tree, it was the opposite once I stepped out of the World Heritage Site.
Tourist kiosks littered the streets outside the Mahabodhi Temple complex like a local version of Disneyland.
Lonely Planet describes Bodgaya:
The ambience is a mix of monastic tranquillity and small-town commotion (a booming nonreligious tourism industry has brought along with it the usual invasion of tourist paraphernalia, souvenir stalls and English-speaking wannabe guides).
That sounds about right.
Lassi stands, tailors offering the finest in saffron robes, money changers and fruit vendors were among the commercial offerings on the city’s streets. An even greater variety of shops and restaurants lined the arterial road into the Bodhgaya.
Not quite hungry enough for a lassi — the filling, yogurt-and-fruit drink popular enough that it could be India’s national drink — I instead opted for some phenomenally weak coffee and a fresh-baked bread roll at a nearby sidewalk café. (Note: On a subcontinent renowned the world over for its exquisite tea, don’t order the coffee. That’s what you do in Indonesia.)
From my vantage point, I could watch horse-drawn carts, three-wheeled Piaggio taxis, throngs of monks and assorted livestock — cows, mostly — make their way along the main thoroughfare.
Had I sought ayurvedic or allopathic remedies, there were options for that. If I needed to make a long-distance call, I would be in luck. (Skype worked just fine for this, though.) Were I demanding a fax machine or seeking to buy minutes for my mobile phone, this would be a convenient place to be.
But for the time being, I was happy to be in the moment and watch the world walk along Bodhgaya’s streets.