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Old 7th May 2009, 15:47   #16
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One of the most detailed travelogues on the forum if I may say so. Beautiful and thanks for all these details and wonderful, professional quality photographs that added to a great read.
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Old 7th May 2009, 22:34   #17
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Default International Monasteries - II

The ice chilled, bottled, mineral water was heavenly and gave us the thrust to move ahead. We had decided to hire a tricycle for next destinations. We first visited the Chinese monastery. The Chinese monastery, as it reflects on India’s relation with it, was the least remarkable.
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Besides the Chinese monastery, lies the Shechen monastery. Shechen monastery is the only one where we came across a lot of monks. But they didn’t speak English or Hindi, so no luck communicating with them. This monastery follows Nyingma (literally ancient) school of Tibetan Buddhism. It was built by Shechen Rabjam in 1996. This monastery has a medical clinic that was open when we went and there was a small queue of patients.
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The beautiful idol of Buddha has been imported from China and is more than 200 years old.
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A painting depicting Siddhartha Gautam’s marriage.
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We then moved to Japanese monastery. The Japanese monastery is spread in largest land mass among other monasteries. It runs a school that imparts free education. It also runs a hospital but it was closed owing to the weekend.
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The monastery has a beautiful wooden idol of Buddha. I couldn’t garner any details as there was not a single soul in the monastery.
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We then decided to visit the Math (as it is called). This is interesting. As part of the checkered history of the Mahabodhi temple, this is another important aspect. Around 1590 century CE a follower of Adi Shankaracharya, Gosain Ghamandi Giri, finding Mahabodhi temple abandoned, established Mahabodhi temple as a Shiva temple. There was a Shiva Linga established in the main temple sanctorum till late 19th century CE. It was during the 19th century CE restoration that Buddha’s idol was brought back and Shiva Linga moved to the Math.

Actually there could be a much earlier connection of Mahabodhi temple with Shiva. Historians have found some evidences of Shiva worship in this temple dating to 8th century CE. There’s a Shaivite monastery adjacent to Mahabodhi temple to mark the place where Adi Shankaracharya and Buddhists had elevated discussion.

After long struggle and court battles, as per the current arrangement the Mahabodhi temple is governed by the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee (as per Bodh Gaya Temple Act, 1949). This committee has total 8 members (4 Buddhists and 4 Hindus) and is lead by Gaya district magistrate who should be a Hindu. And if the district magistrate in not a Hindu, a Hindu chairman would be appointed by the State government.

The Math had moved lot of Buddhist sculptures into the Math premises leaving Hindu sculptures at the Mahabodhi temple premises. During renovation, the reverse happened. Most of the Hindu sculptures have been moved to Math premises and the Buddhist sculptures have been moved back to the Mahabodhi temple premises.

They don’t allow taking pictures in the Math premises but I was able to cajole them to allow me to take some. The premise has enviable collection of sculptures of Hindu deities.
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Mahant's seat
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The sprawling Math premises…
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We met the Mahant who sits in this room. He believes that this is a Sainik Math and has stood for Hindu rights whenever Buddhists have crossed their line. I have no claims to the authenticity of his audacious claims but the Math has been successful in neutralizing the efforts of the Mahabodhi Society that wants Buddhists only claim over Mahabodhi temple.
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If you recall my Hoysala travelogue, I had written about a slab with 9 images in the Koravangala temple. There was almost similar slab at the Math but I was not allowed to take a picture. It had Ganesha in the beginning.
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As we concluded our Math visit, our tricycle fellow suggested that we visit the Sujata temple. We happily agreed. The Sujata temple is on outskirts and gave us an opportunity to see a little more of Bodh Gaya.
We first crossed the Phalgu river. The vast dry river bed amazes you. It’s difficult to believe that a river having such a vast bed flows only for couple of months during the rainy season.
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You can see the bridge that we crossed in the background…
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We finally arrived at the last turn that took us to the Sujata temple.
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Coming Up: Sujata temple and concluding pictures of the Mahabodhi temple
To be continued…
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Old 7th May 2009, 22:43   #18
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hmmm interesting travelogue - very nice pictures and good narration.
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Old 8th May 2009, 11:52   #19
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Default Mahabodhi Temple - II

I am not sure if you closely observed the last picture of my previous post. I was distressed by two facts – the people in this region are abjectly poor, and they continue to have many children.

Moving ahead, the story goes like this: after leaving Lumbini, Siddhartha Gautam first came to Rajgir where he started his ascetic life. He then moved on to learn under two Brahmin teachers. Although he gained from the learnings, he wanted to achieve more. He then took to total deprivation as a means to find enlightenment. Realizing that he is not meeting his goal of enlightenment by engaging in deprivation, he agreed to take food. Sujata temple is a place that marks the event of Sujata offering Kheer to Siddhartha Gautam to break his fast unto enlightenment. After abandoning this approach Siddhartha Gautam went to the Pipal tree across the Niranjana (Phalgu) river and found his enlightenment which we today know as Mahabodhi tree.

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You can see those flounces put up by Buddhists pilgrims from other countries indicating the popularity of this place
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Just south to Sujata temple is a Shiva temple where Matang Rishi is believed to have meditated. Goddess Matangi finds mention in Buddhism as well as Hinduism.
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This Shiva temple is part of Gaya circuit. There are interesting interpretations that historians have made about why Gautam Buddha chose Gaya. Gaya was an important pilgrimage center among Hindus even before 6th century BCE. Gaya remains an important pilgrimage center till date. It is mainly associated with the Shraddha ceremony. Siddhartha Gautam seems to have over come his conventional death and became Gautam Buddha. The name Bodh Gaya was invented later to distinguish Buddhist association.

The Matangi Yantra
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As we hopped back on the tricycle, these kids with smiling faces were to chase us for more than a kilometer begging for money. As we passed thru the lane, more kids kept joining them.

We finally left the tricycle at Siddhartha Vihar. A quick bath and we were ready for our second visit to the Mahabodhi temple. We walked down this time. There were relatively more people at the temple and with the evening breeze; we felt nirvana in the temple premises. There are Buddhists from many countries who are staying in Bodh Gaya and many of them were meditating quietly. We did meditate as well until a tourist Tamilian (there’s no offence meant here) family broke the silence by their continuous clatter, right under the board that reads to maintain silence. However I was surprised that it was only me who got disturbed, others meditating there continued to be in trance.
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Let me share this last picture from today. You may think that this history is enough and why the hell I had to write so much. If you are an Indian and will ask this question to anyone in Bodh Gaya – how much time do you feel we need to go around? The answer would be – Jyaada se jyaada 2 ghante sir.
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We ended the day with a dinner at the same restaurant where we had our lunch – Om Restaurant. I had ordered Paneer and he gave me Tofu in the name of Paneer. But I loved the preparation.

Corrigendum: We had visited the ASI Bodh Gaya site museum after the Shechen monastery that I forgot to mention in my previous post. Please don’t miss visiting the museum.

P.S: Due to lack of time we couldn’t visit some good places
  • The oldest and the most beautiful monastery – Tibetan Monastery
  • The tallest Buddha statue in Bodh Gaya (it has been designed by Mahabalipuram artist and built in Japan)
  • The Japanese and Tibetan temples
  • Sujata Stupa (some 15-20 kilometers from Bodh Gaya)
  • Temples of Gaya. Vishnupad is the main attraction and was last renovated by Ahilya Bai Holkar of Maheshwar
Comming Up: Tomorrow we visit Barabar Caves enroute to Rajgir
To be contined...
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Old 10th May 2009, 15:39   #20
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Default Arriving at Barabar Hills

After reaching Bodh Gaya I had immediately realized, for various reasons, that it would be impossible to use public transport. The reception desk at Siddhartha Vihar was kind enough to help us contact a travel agent. After negotiations and considering various options, we zeroed on Maruti Omni. Indica’s ground clearance will not be enough for the bad roads, and Innova would remain unutilized with just two of us and especially when we had no intentions to use Air Condition.

26th April

The car was at the hotel at 6:00 hour as decided. However as we had a long and tiring day yesterday, we were ready to leave only by 7:00 hour. A quick stop for fuel, and we were on our way.
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Source: Eicher Tourist Map for Bihar (Used here only as illustration)
Route: NH83, Bodh Gaya – Gaya – Belaganj – Barabar

As soon as we were on highway, I told to myself that this is impossible. But slowly the reality dawned on me. And I thanked my decision to hire this cab. Bihar is ridiculously populous or at least that's what one will conclude looking at the crowded vehicles. The roads that would be considered as interior roads, will have only over crowded vehicles, was hard to believe. You name it – cars, buses, tractors, two and three wheelers, et al.
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On NH83, after Belaganj, we took a right turn for a country road that would take us to Barabar hills.
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The roads kept deteriorating as we progressed.
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First view of Barabar hills
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Frankly speaking I had only read that there are caves at Barabar hills and that they are worth visiting. Additionally, Barabar found mention, for the archeological finds, in a few books that I had read. That’s all I knew about this place.

We take a left turn and pass thru a village
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And finally Barabar dream came very close to fulfillment
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An interesting analogy: Barabar hills have a long history starting from the time of Mahabharata and have been called with various names. The latest name Barabar has been attributed to the hills because all the hills seem to have same height (sari pahadiya barabar hain).

We reached Barabar hills at 9:30 am. There was not a soul around and the day had already become hot. However there’s a tourist guest house (that we didn’t knew existed) and as we started to get the hills, a guard from the tourist guest house offered to accompany us. He said the caves remain locked and only he has the keys.
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To be continued…

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Old 13th May 2009, 16:45   #21
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Default Mauryan Rock Cut Caves at Barabar Hills

The guide informs us “sir, this whole route has been recently done by the government.” Otherwise, the climb would have been much worse.

As we start climbing we notice a temple atop one of the hills. On enquiring the guide informs us that in the month of Savan, this place see lacs of pilgrims visiting the temple. There is a Shiva temple there and much ancient and revered by the local populace.
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We were more interested in the Rock Cut Caves. As we continue climbing, I was surprised (many surprises to follow) with this small plateau among the hills. The land is fertile in this area when compared to the farms around.
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Rock Cut Caves at Barabar
There are 3 rock cut caves at Barabar hills. These rock cut caves are considered to be one of the oldest specimen of rock cut caves found anywhere in India. They belong to 3rd century BCE and were built by Mauryan king Ashoka. Some of them may have been used by Buddhist monks but were built primarily for Ajivika ascetics on the insistence of Ashoka’s queen. All the three caves are cut out of a single granite rock. These caves are one of the finest example of workmanship of Indian artists belonging to that period. Today we import the famed polishing machines from Italy but the Indian artisans of that time polished the interiors of these caves manually and the quality of polish will put machines to shame.

Some tit bits of architecture in these caves have Egyptian resemblance – like the design of the doorways. This actually indicates the maturity of international collaboration in those times. Of course having a Greek ambassador – Megasthenes in the Mauryan court and his account of Patliputra and Mauryan Empire in general is an important source that gives us a peek into the life during the Mauryan rule in Magadh and the vast Mauryan Empire that stretched from Bengal to Gujarat from east to west and from Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan to most of Karnataka from north to south.
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************************************************** *****

The apathy of Bihar government is visible as soon as one reaches the caves. The board that provides information about the caves was lying in one corner.
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Most of the inscriptions of these caves have been deciphered as mentioned in the board above. The inscription at the Karn Chopar cave…
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A Shiva Linga and some human figurine inscribed on a adjacent rock.
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The entrance; you can see that owing to today’s degenerated human mind, people have scribbled all over the rock.
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I doubt if even today’s advanced machines can polish the interior of a cave in this format. And polish, that can survive for 2500 years
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We moved to other side of the same rock for the remaining two caves.
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The first one is Sudama cave
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It contains two chambers and has polished interior. There are some drawings (I can only make out the horse) on one of the walls of the cave. I am not sure if you will also be able to make out the same.
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There would have been an idol here that had been stolen and was never found.
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If your net connection and time permits, you can look at this short video that takes you inside the cave. The person you see is our guide.

Another video tries to present the brilliant echo that’s created inside the second chamber of the Sudama cave. Please ignore my voice. Unfortunately, by mistake, I deleted the better video in which our guide had presented the same.

The third cave is the Lomas Rishi cave. Historians agree that the work for this cave started during the reign of Ashoka but the work couldn’t be completed. The caves have not been polished from inside and are incomplete. However they have decorative elephant frieze on the doorway which no other cave at Barabar has. This cave might have been used by Jain monks.
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If you remeber the news that Lalu created some 4-5 years back when he wanted to host his rally at Barabar hills near the caves. The Central government had to intervene and a Supreme Court order finally detered him. He has left his marks anyways - the incomplete stage that was being contructed for Lalu to host his rally!!!
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There’s a well near these caves. The locals believe that water of the well has therapeutic and digestive properties and our guide insisted that we drink that well’s water to quench our thirst. It was almost noon and the sun was blazing at us.
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Just next to the well, there was a family picnicking. They were from a village in West Bengal and have come to Bihar to attend a marriage in a near by village. They were eager and happy to get photographed. Actually they wanted me to take down their address and send the pictures to them.
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Our guide wanted us to return so that we can visit Nagarjuna caves (again belonging to Mauryan period but have been constructed by Dasaratha, the grandson of Ashoka and were most certainly used by Buddhists monks). However I traded Nagarjuna caves for the Shiva temple on the hill. Our guide, though he was not very keen, decided to accompany us.

It looked to be a tall order to climb more than 600 steps in that scorching sun. But I had 73 year old aunt who was extremely delighted with her visit to the caves and wanted to explore further.
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To be continued…

Last edited by akbaree : 13th May 2009 at 16:47.
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Old 13th May 2009, 17:36   #22
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WOW. Great travelogue. Thanks a lot sir for writing in detail and posting all these pictures.
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Old 13th May 2009, 21:45   #23
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Originally Posted by unni.ak View Post
WOW. Great travelogue. Thanks a lot sir for writing in detail and posting all these pictures.
Originally Posted by phamilyman View Post
hmmm interesting travelogue - very nice pictures and good narration.
I am glad you are liking the travelogue. I have just reached middle of 2nd day. I have to reach the 7th day when this journey ends. But I firmly believe that destination is only that small part of the entire journey as anything else.
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Old 14th May 2009, 17:19   #24
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Default Baba Siddhanath temple at Barabar Hills

The board put up there by the government of Bihar suggests presence of temple since the Gupta period. The structure was further renovated/extended in the 7th century CE.
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As we proceeded towards the main climb for the temple, out of no where, I realize there’s a natural water body right there.
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The lake sees a lot of boating action during the months when pilgrim throng the temple in large numbers.
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Our guide informs us that there’s a high ranking political boss visiting the place that evening and the fishing is being done to prepare delicacies for him. He also gave me the name of the fish that I don’t remember now.

We were literally dying of heat as we continued to climb
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I wonder how beautiful the place may look in monsoon. The dry bed of phalgu river as seen behind the hills
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As the temple started coming by, we were again surprised by these awesome rock cut images.
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Later I realized that there are many such rock cut images on offer. I was really mesmerized by the beauty and the richness of this place.
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All of us believe that we have made progress and we are now in 21st century CE. But have we completely lost it? We may be making progress, but then we need to respect our heritage.
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Although I couldn’t meet anyone who can give me more information on these rock images but I feel, stylistically they can be considered belonging to between 4th and 6th century CE or may be earlier.

Just towards the final approach of the temple, we found many ancient idols lying scattered.
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We were finally there
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The main idols in the temple are Shiva Linga and Durga
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Many idols lie scattered around the temple as well
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There is this ancient guest house situated in front of the temple
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Look at this
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How an ancient structure like this can be been taken for a ride
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The temple premise however was an oasis in that otherwise cruel afternoon. Strong breeze was extremely refreshing and what I just saw, my eyes were refusing to believe.

I have to say this. According to local legends, this place was ruled by Vanasur (who was the Senapati of Jarasangha from Mahabharata). He did fortify this region and the remains of the walls can still be found. But our government and Archaeology department is too busy to do any further research at this place. Unfortunately only detailed study and research can bring to light more facts about our history which we consider only as mythology.

As we got back to our car, the driver appeared to be very disturbed. He was extremely worried why we took so much time at this place. Although I respect his concern, I wonder when our folks will understand heritage.

There’s a museum at this place that was constructed to display finds from this region but now that lies in a dilapidated condition and there’s hardly anything inside.
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Our guide recommended that we visit Kauva Dol, another hill nearby, where remains of a Buddhist monastery have been found. We bid him good bye and leave for Kauva Dol.

To be continued…
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Old 16th May 2009, 22:19   #25
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Default NDTV Video

While managing my videos on YouTube, I found this video of Barabar caves that has been uploaded by NDTV. I am sure most of you would have seen the NDTV program: 7 Wonders of India. It had concluded in early April'09.

The most interesting part is that the guide that is in the video below, is the same person who had accompanied us to Barabar caves and then to Siddhnath temple. I never realized that he has come on NDTV and he also never told us that. The guide's OM chant is their in the video (though not long enough) and the NDTV anchor also tries her luck with that as I did in my video.

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Old 16th May 2009, 23:27   #26
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Pheww this is one detailed travelogue and photologue my friend. A definite reference resource in itself. Admire your enthusiasm and passion. Was a wonderful read. I can thoroughly understand your keen interest for the details, but was a little too detailed for me .
keep it coming. Nice photography as well.Wonderful to see all that gaya has to offer.
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Old 17th May 2009, 14:29   #27
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Originally Posted by pranava999 View Post
Pheww this is one detailed travelogue and photologue my friend.

I can thoroughly understand your keen interest for the details, but was a little too detailed for me .
I am sure many others have similar view.

The thing is, I bought this book - The Penguin History of Early India by Romila Thapar in 2004 (as I was interested in knowing history). For almost 3 years every time I attempted to read the book, I left it mid-way after reading first 3-4 chapters. It is an excellent book but reading a technical history book can be damn boring. Further, it's impossible to remember unless one is memory whiz.

I like travelling. So I adopted this way of learning history. I now prefer travelling to historical places and make all efforts to grab any offered opportunity. It's like discovering history.

I hope that all of you will continue to enjoy this travelogue.

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Old 19th May 2009, 17:27   #28
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Default Kauva Dol

The route for Kauva Dol is a real adventure. The car was taking the maximum abuse due to administration’s apathy towards providing good facilities.
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After moving with the periphery of the Barabar hills for some time, we turn south west and pass thru a village
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This stock of grains is perhaps all that these villagers have. The poverty continues to sadden me.
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We finally turn north and the Kauva Dol hillock is in front of us
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Behind this hillock, are the remains of an undated Buddhist monastery. The idol of Buddha is one of the rare idols in terms of its big size and is carved in black stone. I would believe that the idol belong to the time of Pala dynasty as it’s the kings of Pala dynasty who have bought the black stone to this part of India.
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I am not sure if this monastery remained incomplete or was ruined. Most probably the monastery or its remains would have existed before the Pala kings decided to bring the idol here.
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There’s a village right there and you can see how history and present lie together but having almost no concern with each other. On the south eastern side of the hill, you have these marvelous rock cut images. These rock cut images would also belong between 4th and 6th century CE if we consider the same analogy that we considered for the rock cut images at Barabar hills. However, I feel that these images are stylistically different from the ones on Barabar hills. Check it out for yourself…
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For some reason the below one is my favorite
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When you discover a part of your history, you try to preserve it, but not here.
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We then leave for Rajgir
To be continued…
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Old 19th May 2009, 23:09   #29
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Default Arriving at Rajgir

At 3:30, we finally leave for Rajgir.

From Gaya, we could have taken NH82 to Rajgir which is, I am told, is well maintained. However we were taking a shortcut route as shown in the map below.
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Source: Eicher Tourist Map for Bihar (Used here only as illustration)

As we progressed on this shortcut route, I was only enjoying. The road is a beautiful country road cutting across the heartland.
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And then comes one of the biggest surprises of my life. I must have paid thousands of rupees in toll tax but this is something unthinkable. We were to cross the dry bed of Phalgu river as there is no bridge. And oh my God, I need to pay 60 rupees as toll to cross that dry bed. You can see in the picture below a guy standing with a book in his hand. Of course that book is just for show, he didn’t gave us any slip.
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After crossing the dry river bed, we reached this village – Khizar Sarai.
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We passed thru 3-4 more villages. The last village was Jethiyan. Near Jethian, a new railway line is being laid down.
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We finally reached Rajgir at 6:30 pm where we had booking in Hotel Tathagat Tourist Bungalow.

Tathagat Tourist Bungalow as seen from Vaibhargiri hill.
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To be continued…
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Old 24th May 2009, 12:54   #30
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Default Rajgir - I

We had our dinner at a road side dhaba/restaurant. This dhaba/restaurant became our adda for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the two days and three nights that we spent at Rajgir. The owner of the restaurant is a man with many shades. As per him, he is leading the youth wing of Lalu’s party (it there’s something like that). He said in couple of years he will become the mayor. He has done his M.Phil (in ancient history) from a college in Maharashtra and is seeking admission for Ph.D in Magadh University. His name is Bablu Kumar alias Shakti. As we discovered during our stay, he is quite a well known figure in Rajgir.

Looking at us (laced with books), he offered to give us company during our stay. And we happily agreed. With a commitment to start our day early tomorrow, we retired for a good night's sleep.

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To be continued...
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