My First Long Trip to India (2)

And so, fifteen years after my first trip to India, I was back again in Delhi.

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Eventually I felt brave enough to leave the café and go off to do my tasks. First of all, I had to sort out my train ticket, so I headed off to the Tourist Bureau (The Official One!) at New Delhi Station. But as I headed up the steps towards the office, I was stopped by a friendly chap who told me it was closed. ‘But no bother’ he said. ‘You come with me and I take you to Tourist Office where they sell you ticket’.

Before I realized what I was doing, I turned to follow him. By the time that we were out of the station and threading our way through the taxis and crowds on the concourse I had remembered that this was a common ploy to get people to ‘Tourist Offices’. Nowadays I have no problem with using them – in fact I will often seek them out to buy me tickets, but more of that later. I glanced up at my new best friend, who was a few steps ahead of me, and peeled unobtrusively off and headed back into the station.

I went back up the steps towards the Tourist Bureau. The first thing that struck me was the silence. Downstairs, all was noise and smells, colour and chaos, but up here was a big, gloomy, echoing corridor, empty as far as I could see. After wandering up and down for a while, I found the Bureau which was, naturally enough, open, and fairly crowded. Inside, whilst I awaited my turn at the counter, I chatted to a fellow traveller from England who decided that it was his task to lecture me at length on how to approach getting a ticket out of Indian Railways. Foremost amongst this advice, he said, hectoring me sternly, was keeping your cool amidst all the provocation, bureaucracy and hassle.

Eventually, he was called to the counter. They went through his application form and documents with him, seemingly finding fault with something. He lost his cool with them, and left without a ticket.

I chortled quietly to myself.

When it was my turn, I found the process fairly straightforward, although long-winded. But I left with my ticket to Gaya stashed securely in my wallet.

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Why Gaya? Gaya is certainly not a tourist destination, but it is the nearest town of any size to Bodhgaya. When I had decided to come to India, instead of limping around Britain in pain, I had come to the conclusion that instead of just travelling around for three months or so, I should at least spend some time doing something worthwhile.

We all like to think that we’re having an existential crisis at times. Okay, that’s probably not true. But lots of us do. What is an existential crisis, though? Is it simply that we are going through a time in our history when more and more of us question our role, our place in our society? Or could there be more to it than that? It certainly would now seem to be a time when many people in the west have come to doubt whether the values that they are taught are actually of any importance, and indeed whether they really have any value at all.

On the other hand, there are just as many members of that society who feel that the whole subject is just bunkum, and that those who complain about these things are merely whinging, work-shy degenerates. Sod your existential issues, mate, I’ve got a family to feed.

Is it really, then, just so much nonsense? Maybe our situation is such that we can afford to have these crises now; that we now have the opportunity to address them. When life is simply a struggle to keep a roof over one’s head and to put food on the table, then one’s priorities are very different from those with the leisure to ponder ‘life’s imponderables’. In past times, we would have had to just carry on regardless, although there were writers then who recognised and explored them, such as Hermann Hesse and Somerset Maugham. The only other realistic option, other than becoming a vagrant, would have been to completely renounce the world and to join a monastery or become a hermit.

India, though, handles these things rather differently. Hindus have a duty to seek pleasure and success and to accumulate wealth, but also, eventually, to renounce the world and seek moksha; liberation, after the discovery that the other three paths give no lasting satisfaction. This is seen in the persons of the many ascetics who wander the land, or live alone or in ashrams, having given up all worldly possessions.

Bodhgaya is in Bihar, the poorest state in India. It is also the place where the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. For this reason, there are many Buddhist temples there, attracting a goodly number of Buddhist pilgrims, and, naturally, not a few tourists, and also a number of charitable projects.

And a few rogues.

I was attracted to the idea of spending time there, both to experience the temples and atmosphere, but also to work for a while on one of the projects. I did some research whilst in the UK, and arranged to help out at a project that comprised a school and orphanage in a village on the outskirts of Bodhgaya.

Smugly pleased with myself for obtaining my ticket to Gaya, I then went to find an Internet cafe and e-mailed everyone, then meandered back to a café for lunch.

Two days later, I was in Bodhgaya.

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50 thoughts on “My First Long Trip to India (2)

    1. When I first went to India it took me a few days to realise that a ‘Tourist Office’ wasn’t some sort of official place set up by the government to help tourists, but was in fact usually a private enterprise like all of the others that touts attempted to steer the unwary to. After that, I was okay!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ve come across loads of them throughout India, and guide books such as Lonely Planet always warn you about them. After a while, though, I came to realise that they could be very useful for the tourist, especially the Western one, but I shall mention this later in another post!

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  1. Interesting read..Bodhgaya is popular only among the buddhist circuit. Of late, quite many Europeans and Americans are heading out to explore this circuit, but it has been quite popular among the Japanese and other Asians . Looking forward to the Bodhgaya Chapter…I’m sure there’ll some more “India Adventures”
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love it. I often wonder if we’re biologically programmed to have these existential crises – though other times/other societies would call them something different.
    Such crises could be part of the process whereby we accept that one part of our life is done and we need to move on to the next. That’s not inconsistent with the Sod You viewpoint: The process is individual, and the Sod You-ers are at a different stage of it.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Nah. Tell them to sod off. Some people call it mid-life crisis, but believe me, I have one every 10 or 12 years. It’s more like skin-shedding. As I tell despondent 20-somethings, the first is the worst. The second (30-something) may not be much fun either. There’s the mortgage to think of, so you can’t obey your impulses.
        But after that, you know they’re meant to be.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. You know, now that you mention it, it does seem like every 10-12 years I have some major change: change of job, residence, marital status, retirement. I never really thought of them as a “mid-life crisis”, just as life going through its changes – usually a good thing although sometimes uncomfortable. I wonder what the next one will be.

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    1. I fear that openings are few and far between, nowadays. It seems that no one wants to build a little hermitage on their estate and install a hermit, any more. I can’t think why not. They probably want a virtual hermit.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Mick, You do know how to raise up Suspense; but You have left us wondering what You did do in Bodh Gaya. Maybe in some other post?

    Glad You have come to know the ways to get around in our country! Great!

    As far as becoming involved in social issues, etc, it is not a question of Either-Or, is it not? We DO have to get involved in them, and give a goodly part of our God given time for that. Or else it is We who suffer!

    Kudos on Your Efforts, and Regards. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder how different that will be? The Indian restaurants in UK still serve a mixture of dishes – ones such as ‘vindaloo’ which were invented for the west and which do not exist in India, but also plenty of dishes that are exactly the same as those met out in the subcontinent.

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  4. In which year did you travel?
    Before internet booking was introduced in India it was very popular to contact a booking agent ( as they are called in India) or a travel agent. In order to save a day leave ( since the booking office works during office hours and one would expect a long queue) and all the hastle at ticket office many were using such services. Even many hotels used to provide this faciltiy for guests.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This trip was 2004. I still like to use them, though. I tend to make up my mind to catch a bus or train at fairly short notice, and i like to be able to go into an office and ask them to book a ticket. This saves me any hassle, and to pay 50 or 100 rupees on top of that is nothing for a tourist.

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