Responsible Travelling – Part 1

In a way, this could be titled ethical travelling, but I would like it to cover cultural issues as well as environmental and other ethical concerns. I don’t particularly like proselytising, but I think that we all need to be responsible for our actions: it makes for a happier world for all concerned.

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So, in no particular order…

Trekking

First of all, when arranging a trek, please try and have a look at the ethical policy of your chosen company. Nowadays, many have a policy of ensuring that porters are properly paid and treated, food is sourced wisely and money makes its way back into the local community. The guides / cooks / sherpas or what-have-yous should be trained to ensure that the environment is treated with respect during the trek. Personally, I feel that from a selfish point of view it makes sense to choose a company that follows these guidelines, because I feel that I will be treated better by them, too. It should not be much more expensive, either.

Secondly, it is not all up to them. One of the most important things we can all do is avoid littering villages and countryside as we trek. Apart from the unpleasantness of spectacular scenery ruined by plastic bags and used loo paper, we can hardly criticise local laxness in this area if we are guilty of the same ourselves.

Deforestation is a major problem in the mountains now, which can only get worse with the effects of global warming. Consequently, anything that we can do to minimise the burning of wood is important, so please do not insist on unnecessary fires to sit around or warm up. You should have brought sufficient clothing on the trek for that. And it seems a minor thing, but if a group of trekkers turn up at a tea house and insist on lots of different dishes, then that will involve a lot of extra firewood to cook them. Try and have the same dish, if possible.

Shopping

Ah, yes. Such an important part of our visit, really. The ultra-cheap clothes, the amazing antique statues, the cheap religious paintings…unbelievable bargains, compared to what we would pay in the west…

…and rather a minefield, unfortunately. Those cheap imitation brand names, as we should all know by now, are usually produced in sweatshop conditions, conditions that would often justify being described as ‘slavery’. As well as being, usually, rather inferior quality. Difficult to avoid them all; after all, who is to say we shouldn’t be buying those attractively embroidered ‘I did the Everest Trail 2017’ or suchlike t-shirts for the equivalent of a couple of dollars?

Well, there is a world of difference between the genuine sweatshop (if I can use such a phrase) and the family sitting around their sewing machines under a tarpaulin beside the stall producing their goods. The latter may be working hard for a poor return, but may be infinitely better off than those with no work and certainly better off than the sweatshop labourer who will earn far less, in conditions far worse. Even today, unfortunately, some of them are bonded labourers.

The antiques…if you go to the Kathmandu valley, you will in many places find the remains of religious statues that have been stolen from their sites beside roads or outside temples. These statues usually find their way to the west to ‘collectors’, or may be sold off to tourists who know no better. In many countries you will need an export licence from the authorities to take antiques over 100 years old out of the country simply to attempt to prevent this sort of desecration. Invariably it is possible to buy modern copies of these items – handcrafted and as beautiful as the originals. It is better for everybody if the traveller contents themselves with these, not least because the smuggler can be hit with a hefty fine or prison sentence. It is also worth mentioning that many of the ‘antiques’ are fakes, in any case.

And the religious paintings. Again, in Kathmandu, Thankas, the paintings that hang in temples, are frequently offered for sale. And again, if genuine, should not be sold. They have probably been stolen. Wherever they are offered for sale, however, there will be bright new paintings for sale – equally beautiful, well made and far cheaper. Spend your rupees on them and support the craftsmen that make a living that way.

BIG or small?

Staying with the shop theme, it seems fairly obvious that by buying from the little shop rather than the supermarket you will be far more likely to be putting money back into the local community. All well and good. Inevitably, though, it is never quite as straightforward as that. Moving south across the border to India, we may find that in the market that we are searching for souvenirs, as well as local traders there may be traders from Tibet or Nepal, Kashmiris and dealers from the city. How you wish to spend your money may pose a dilemma that I cannot solve for you. But at least give it some thought!

The same situation can arise with hotels and trekking companies. I feel that in that situation, the small company or hotel is likely to get my rupees, since, unless I know otherwise, they are more likely to put money back into the local community.

Water, water everywhere…

…but most of it comes in plastic bottles which end up littering the environment, or refilled by unscrupulous rascals with what could be contaminated water, to be sold on again. Avoid this if you can (not always possible, I admit) by taking water purifying tablets and using the local water – read the instructions carefully to see exactly what is required – or using the boiled and filtered water available in some places (See info in places such as Lonely Planet guide books). If you buy plastic bottles, scrunch them up before disposal to prevent their re-use.

In some places, such as Ladakh, you can find environmentally minded laundry shops, where the soapy water is disposed of properly, rather than just poured into local streams. May they prosper and multiply!

 

The Past in a Foreign Country; We Did Remarkably Similar Things There

Or, following in my father’s footsteps, or something like that.

Putting up some old postcards of Darjeeling earlier this week set me to thinking. And, let’s face it, anything that can achieve that is a good thing!

I have posted before that my father spent time in India, both during the Second World War and in the days leading up to Partition. If you would like to re-read it, the link is here: My Father In India

In this post, I mentioned that when I first visited India in 1989, at least, my first proper visit rather than simply passing through on the way to Nepal, I visited the Red Fort in Delhi, taking plenty of photographs, of course.

Some while later, at home, I was going through some of my father’s photographs, and discovered that I had taken a photograph of a view of the mosque in the Red Fort that was almost identical to one that he had.

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Above: the one my father had. And, below: the one I took.

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Looking at the minaret in front of the dome closest to the viewer, it seems I took my photograph from the archway to the left of the one my father’s photograph is taken from, but otherwise we must have been standing in the same spot. My father would have been quite a bit younger at that time than I was when I visited the Red Fort, and the circumstances very different. But I’m sure that he felt the same sense of awe that I did.

Now there are mature trees behind the mosque, a couple of low hedges in front, and the creepers on the wall have gone.

Otherwise, the view is the same.

And because my father is no longer here, there is an extra poignancy to this; although our footsteps crossed and merged at this place, thousands of miles away, and we both must have lingered in this same spot and, who knows, possibly thought similar thoughts, the passage of time means in reality we might as well have been tens of millions of miles apart.

And this led me to look more closely at his other photographs.

There are not many, perhaps thirty or forty of them, but it is strange that when he was on leave in India, one time, he went with a few chums up to Nainital, and again there appear to be photos taken from spots where I have stood. The images are not the same, this time, but again our footsteps must have crossed.

I think the greatest regret I have about this, other than the obvious one that he is no longer alive, is that I cannot talk about these places with him. But just sharing them is good, even if it does make me feel sad.

Historic Darjeeling

Digging into my (admittedly rather small) old postcard collection, I came across a few picturing Darjeeling.

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On this first one, other than the title, there is no information on the card. It is unused (as are the other two here), so I do not even have a postmark to help me guess what date the picture was taken. I would guess, however, that although the postcard was probably printed in the 1930’s, the photo could be ten or twenty years older than that. It looks as though the road on the right is The Mall, and the one running from left to right a little way below the skyline could be Hill Cart Road. Looking through a magnifying glass, it is possible to see that there are plenty of pedestrians, but I cannot make out a single vehicle. The photo would have been taken from a high spot on Dr Zakir Hussein Rd, near where the TV tower now stands.

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The second one is simply labelled ‘Native Village, Darjeeling’, and is the representation of a hand-tinted black and white photo. ‘Darjeeling’ is much more than the town, of course, and covers a large area all around it. Other than that, I could not hazzard more than a guess where this village lies. Searching through a few internet sites, however, I found another copy of this with a date of 1910.

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Finally, ‘The Railway Loop above Tindharia, Darjeeling’. Also hand coloured, this particular picture appears to be a copy of a photograph taken in 1880 by Bourne and Shepherd. Also known as ‘Agony Point’, this was built to enable trains to tackle the steep gradients by spiralling around instead of going straight up or down. It is renowned for being an incredibly tight loop.

Perhaps this is also a good place to slip in a link to my previous blog post:

My First Long Trip to India (5) in which I wrote about my impressions of Colonial era India when I visited Darjeeling for the first time.

Trapped!

It’s snowing here, and I fear we are completely cut off from civilisation.

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Well, this is the UK; we don’t exaggerate a great deal, but our experience of bad weather, especially here in our little corner of the country, is not quite as extreme as in some other places, so cut us some slack, will you?

Now, if it was raining hard, we wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Or eyelids…there could be a grammatical issue here, but I’m not going to pursue it right now. This is the UK, so we do rain. We may not get a monsoon, but, hell, we get more than enough of the stuff. We get floods and high tides and days and days of it pouring out of leaden skies onto us. We get so much of it that if we ever get a period of more than a week without rain, we officially declare it a drought and order everyone not to use hosepipes and make it compulsory to take baths with a friend, and ration it so severely that all we have to drink is beer.

Actually, we should declare a drought most weeks, I reckon.

But back to the present. I had been planning to walk to the nearest large supermarket to do our regular shop for large items, but now this doesn’t look nearly so attractive. And, quite frankly, nor does the thought of the return trip with a rucksack full of catfood and soya milk and other heavy bulkies.

And what is worse, we are running low on essential supplies; eggs, bread, beer…you know, essentials.

Of course, we can get some of these round the corner at the little shops in our own little high street, but because of the severe arctic conditions prevailing outside, we have been reduced to glowering at each other and using psychological warfare;

‘I thought you wanted a newspaper.’

‘I do. I thought you might go and get it.’

‘I’ve got a blog post to write and, anyway, I’m not worried whether we get a newspaper or not.’

‘We’ve got no eggs. Don’t you want an omelette this morning?’

‘I’ve had cereal.’

‘You always have an omelette on Saturdays.’

‘Not always. We need milk soon, too. I only put a splash in my tea, you use much more than me.’

‘Grrr’

‘Snarl’

But you can get everything delivered, now. Perhaps we could get our eggs delivered by Amazon drone, since this is the coming thing. And Amazon sell everything in the world now, or will do soon.

‘That doesn’t sound a good idea,’ says my wife (we’re talking again, although we still haven’t gone to the shops) ‘perhaps they will just put a chicken on the drone, instead, and when it reaches the customer’s house the drone could automatically give it a hormone injection to stimulate egg laying, then return to base afterwards.’

Of course, the calculations would be quite complicated; they would have to take into account the weight and body mass of the chicken, the number of eggs required…heaven knows what else. But I like the idea of parachuting in emergency chickens.

I’m a little worried about the larger items, though. Crates of wine or sacks of rice might pose an altogether different and somewhat stiffer test. How big are the drones? It’s all very well in theory, but none of want drones the size of a 747 landing in our streets with a new refrigerator and a week’s worth of potatoes for the neighbours.

Oh, it’s stopped snowing, now.

We’re better than you are!

I don’t buy into this ‘My country is better than yours’ crap.

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Are we talking about the political systems? I suppose we are, because that’s what seems to be grabbing all the headlines.

Yet the countries that seem to be the subjects of this particular debate are all, on the surface, at least, democracies. So, no difference then?

Hmm…

It might be ‘Our country’s values’, of course, because that’s another hot one at the mo.

Hang on, though, what does that mean? People were banging on about that yesterday, but I’m more than a little uncertain whether such a basket of goodies actually exists. ‘We are against racism and misogyny!’ Sounds good to me, only that’s not true. Some of us are, certainly, but you only need to spend a reasonable amount of time in any pub on a Saturday night, to hear plenty of racist and misogynist talk. And not just pubs. In every walk of life, you can hear this talk: doctors’ waiting rooms, shops, offices, bus stops…

We’re hardly perfect.

If a country is the sum total of its citizens, then you will struggle to identify that country’s ‘values’.

Culture? Culture cuts across borders, it is not constrained by them. We read books and see films and plays that have been written and produced by artists worldwide. Frequently, we have no idea where they actually hail from in the first place.

‘But,’ I hear an angry shout, ‘it is our indigenous culture that makes us great!

Uh-huh? I am often bemused when a famous painting in a British collection is under threat of sale to a foreign buyer and there is a collective wail of ‘Our cultural inheritance is in danger!’ Bemused, because nine times out of ten the painting in question is by an Italian or French or German or artist of some other nationality.

If we only had British paintings in our gallery things would look rather different.

And the Elgin marbles? Ours, dammit! Our inheritance!

The treasures filling our museums from all the countries we colonised and asset-stripped…

Maybe it’s our religious inheritance. Christian, according to a lot of the stuff I hear.

In 2015, 42% of the British population identified themselves as Christian. (British Social Attitudes survey) Those who actually attend church regularly, however, number only 5-6% of the population.

The vast majority of the British population do not go to church, so how can we be a Christian country?

What about our history, then?

Well, good and bad, like most countries. We abolished slavery in the 1800’s – all well and good, but we had profited hugely from it in the years before. The lot of a slave in the British West Indies, for example was horrendously barbaric.

Empire? Pfft.

Votes for women? Eventually, and only after a concerted attempt to trample the movement underfoot, using a fair degree of violence in the process.

Everyone will have their own ideas of what we do well, of course. I am proud of the fact that we give our share of aid to projects designed to eradicate poverty and disease around the world, and disaster relief. I am grateful that despite the failings of the system (and they are many) we live in a country where our representatives can be thrown out and re-elected on a regular basis. We cannot, in theory, be held without trial, and we are not in constant danger of being mown down by gunfire in our streets and schools.

But, before we get too cocky about that, remember how things can change over time.

Vigilance, my friends, vigilance…

4th February 2017

I was reading through my travel journal for 2005, yesterday.

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The Bodhi Tree at the Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya

On 16th March I arrived at Bodhgaya, for my second visit to this lovely small town. Because I was going to be away from England for my eldest daughter’s birthday, she had asked me to write and send her a poem. I wrote this in the evening after visiting the Mahabodhi Temple, and after meeting with Indian friends I had not seen for a year, and thought it entirely suitable to dedicate to her and to send her.

There is a crazy wisdom here;

I am at the heart of all things Buddhist.

Good friends make life bearable.

Gentle people give me hope.

An unexpected friend gives me unlooked-for joy.

I am here,

This is the eye of the hurricane.

The still point in the centre of the universe.

My hope for the world,

My hope for you.

Unquenchable love.

I don’t write a great deal of poetry, because I don’t feel it is really my forte, but in the light of current events around the world, it seems worth posting here. I revised it a little before I sent it, but this was the original draft.

Sending everyone hopes and thoughts of friendship, peace and tolerance.

 

Three Weeks in Middle Earth

This is a re-post of something I put up not long after I had started this blog. Since I now find that I am read by many more people than I was then, I thought I’d revise it a little and bung it up again.

With grovelling apologies to J R R Tolkien…

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Our holiday began with a couple of days home stay in Hobbiton, the only settlement of any note in the Shire. Unfortunately, this rather set the tone for the rest of the trip. Immediately, it proved impossible to pick up a mobile signal of any kind, a problem we were to encounter time and again throughout Middle Earth, which made trying to alter our travel arrangements extremely difficult.

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Our host claimed that we had been given what he called ‘the best room in the house’. Hole, more like, in every sense. One could be forgiven for thinking that flush toilets had never been invented. Admittedly, it was pleasant in a rather rustic, bucolic sort of way, and the meals were everything that we could have wished for, but the beds were a nightmare – ours seemed to be made for a child, and Cheryl and I lost count of the number of times we banged our heads on the low door frames.

Then, looking for entertainment, we visited three of the bars in the village, all of which advertised themselves as gastropubs, and I’m afraid that each was full of tobacco smoke and were quite simply too noisy. Incidentally, it was in the third one that we visited, that this guy we spoke to slipped me some odd ring, and since then a whole lot of strange dudes seem to be following us around.

The courier seemed a little surprised at our complaints, the following day, claiming that for most tourists Hobbiton is one of the highlights of their holiday, but agreed that we should move on a day early, if he could not find better accommodation for us. As a result of this, we went on to Lothlorien, which could not have been a greater contrast. Two days there at least made us appreciate Hobbiton – where that had been rather rough and ready, noisy and dirty, Lothlorien was simply bland, boring and anodyne. Entertainment seemed to consist solely of rather highbrow concerts and book readings, restaurants were all rather expensive and uninteresting and we felt that we should be tip-toeing around the whole time, hardly daring to speak other than in whispers. At least, though, the oddballs that had been tailing us disappeared for the duration.

But forgive me if I say little of the journey from Hobbiton. Several days through a bleak, cold and windswept landscape, with nothing to see and no accommodation other than our tents. The last part was the worst part, though. We travelled through some ghastly, cold tunnel, where we felt threatened by attack from bandits at any moment, and all sorts of dreadful noises kept happening. It was simply awful, but the courier insisted that it was normal and quite safe. I will be putting in a strongly worded complaint about him after we return.

And the problems we then had at the border were simply unreal. It seemed at first that they were not going to let us into their wretched land. The ringleader appeared to be a particularly unpleasant and overweight, orange-haired elf who was waving his arms around in a strange fashion and shouting, with a horrible bright red face. ‘Were we Dwarves? Had we not just come from Moria, which was one of the restricted lands?’ Were it not that there happened to be a judge in our caravan, I don’t think they would have let us in. As it was, the red-haired elf muttered something about locking us all up and making Lothlorien great again and stared at us most aggressively until we were out of his sight.

However, I don’t want it to sound as though it has all been bad, and that we have done nothing but complain. Possibly the best part of the trip so far, certainly for Cheryl, was staying in the eco lodge in Rohan. She was delighted that we were so close to horses the whole time, and the lodges reminded her strongly of the yurt that she stayed in on a previous trip away. Our hosts were friendly and happy to indulge us in our whims – mine to sit outside the lodge at sundown with a glass or two of the local (admittedly rather rough) ale, and Cheryl’s to help with the mucking out in the stables.

Personally, I definitely preferred Gondor, a modern, forward-looking country with a booming economy. Although some border regions are still occasionally subject to unrest, the capital, Minas Tirith, is considered by the Foreign Office to be safe to visit, although I was less than impressed when our caravan was attacked by a lone Nazgul, which succeeded in killing two of the armed escort that the travel company had provided for us for this stretch of our journey. Our courier, however, assured us that this was an unusual occurrence and that all steps would be taken to ensure that there would be no repeat. It was after this, though, that they suggested we abandon the day trip to see the ruins at Osgiliath, which was rather a disappointment, and something that we had both been looking forward to.

It was equally disappointing to find that they absolutely refused to take us to Mordor. We met a number of folk in Gondor who assured us that it is completely safe to travel there now, and that visas could be easily obtained at the border crossings. So eventually we booked a couple of nights on a houseboat there, through one of them. We did do our research, and after speaking to several of these guys, we are happy that what we are paying is a reasonable sum. After all, it may not seem much to us, but it is a lot to people living in these third world places. This did entail us having to make our own way there, but it proved easy enough to book a place on a caravan leaving tomorrow morning, through a friend of the houseboat guy who we met in a nearby bar.

One great plus here, is that the authorities apparently consider it vitally important that a good signal is available for everyone, which is very welcome after a couple of weeks of mobile coverage that has been, at best, very patchy. I would have been in touch sooner, but that has proved impossible. One consequence of this is that it has taken us some twenty minutes or so just to update our profiles.

Ah, the guy on the front desk has just called to say that these caravan dudes are here to meet us. We are packed ready, and just need to slip away without being seen by the courier. We have left him a note. I’ll keep you updated what happens!

Darren

Sent from my iPhone, Minas Morgul.

‘Mr Business Brain’ or ‘Trying to blow my own trumpet without ever having learned how to’.

In today’s alternative ‘Alice in Wonderland: ‘When I use a word,’ Trumpty Numpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less’.

Lewis Carroll obviously saw this fellow coming.

Just thought I’d share that with you. Anyway, back to the task in hand. After two ridiculously hectic weeks, I now have to do my best to catch up with everything. Onward!

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I don’t have a business brain.

I look at my clutter of short stories and paintings, my carvings and photographs and think ‘I should be able to at least make a bit of a living out of all of these.’

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But I don’t. And then I wonder ‘how on earth I am going to do it?’ and go ‘aaargh!’ and run off into the distance.

It really doesn’t help.

And so, if I had to have made a New Year’s Resolution this year, it would have been to sort all this out. I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it for any longer.

To begin with, then, how about attracting new blog followers?

Dressed in a loincloth and brandishing a spear (not a sight that sensitive readers should try to picture in their minds), I go charging out onto the lightly wooded WordPress plains, hunting new blog followers.

‘Aha, there’s one!’ I think, spotting a potential follower grazing harmlessly beside the River of Inspiration. I sneak up on them, then hurl a ‘follow’ at them, hoping that they will respond in kind.

Er, no.

It’s just not me, unfortunately. As I have mentioned in the past, I find it incredibly difficult to blow my own trumpet. And I will not ‘follow’ someone just for the sake of getting a ‘follow’ back. I do understand that anti-social media make up the platforms I have to work with, but for some reason I have not yet got my head around using them properly. So for blogs, I shall carry on as I always have. I don’t hunt for followers, I let them find me. Then if they follow me, it is presumably because they like what I’m writing.

Of course, they might simply be after a follow in return, but that won’t happen unless I like what their site does.

I do need to be more professional, though. For a start, then, I have begun to properly update the information on each site I use – such as the ‘Author Profiles’ on Goodreads, Amazon and LinkedIn.

So please feel free to connect with me on those sites – Goodreads LinkedIn. I promise I will put up more book reviews on Goodreads, and try to work out just what the hell LinkedIn is for.

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I shall sort out the prices on the paintings and photography websites.

What? Oh, Paintings and Photographs – thanks for asking!

Making Friends with the -Crocodile

And I need to find new ways to promote my novel Making Friends with the Crocodile. 

And then, there is this blog. I must regularly update the information on the ‘About’ page and the ‘My Writings’ page.

Do I need to simply be bolder in my approach to all this? Should I put a ‘shop’ on my blog?

I don’t know. But, learning how to properly use the limited anti-social media I reluctantly and sporadically do take part in (other than blogging), is a priority for me.

But I’m damned if I will ever use Twatter, though.

Venice…a bit…

Call me arty. Call me something, anyway.

I’m in the middle of a ridiculously busy couple of weeks, so in place of one of my usual ‘witty’ and ‘well-argued’ posts, here are a small selection of pictures that I recently put up on my Picfair site.

I still don’t even have time to catch up with anyone else, but I will in a week or so. Honest!

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Marionettes, masks and puppets in a shop window display.

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Arches and columns reflected in floodwaters.

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Gondolas. It’s Venice, there have to be gondolas.

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Umbrellas. It’s raining. You get umbrellas.

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Chairs in a rainy St Mark’s Square.

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The Venetian version of a backstreet. Or backwater. Whatever.

 

Bodhgaya (2) – A Special Place

About six months ago, I put up a post on Bodhgaya (which you can find here if you wish to read it again), and promised I would find a few more photos to post another time.

This is another time.

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My first picture is of the entrance to the Mahabodhi Temple, which is built on the site where the Buddha achieved enlightenment. The first temple was built by Emperor Ashoka, in the third century BC, and the present one was erected in the fifth or sixth century AD. Visitors remove their shoes (or face a one hundred rupee fine) and descend the steps from the garden that surrounds the temple.

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Just before reaching the entrance itself, they will pass this small chorten – one of dozens surrounding the temple – garlanded with marigolds.

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Many more chortens surround the temple and can be found around the gardens themselves, these ones beside a carved sandstone balustrade.

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But the Mahabodhi Temple is by no means the only Buddhist temple in Bodhgaya. As the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment, it has naturally been the focus for many Buddhists from around the world, and there are many other temples built by those from the various different branches of Buddhism. This one is one of two Tibetan temples.

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On the edge of Bodhgaya, this twenty five metre tall statue of the Buddha was erected in the grounds of the Japanese Daijokyo temple in 1989.

But Bodhgaya, naturally, is more than simply its temples. Although it is quite naturally a major tourist attraction, it is also home to many people, and daily life is not much different from other towns in Northern India.

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As you approach the temple areas from the northern side of the town, this is a fairly typical scene. In the distance, the share auto that plies between Bodhgaya and Gaya is filling up with passengers, and men and women shop for essentials.

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A woman carries a basket of dried cattle dung, which will be used to fuel the cooking fire.

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And on the edge of the town, the scene quickly becomes rural once again.

From Thursday I shall be away for a few days, but will catch up with comments and other blog posts once I am back.