January 20, 2014

After the most exquisite wedding, I’d ever seen and a few bites of wedding cake, we whisked ourselves away to the Delhi airport to catch a small plane.

To my delight the flight attendants of Indian airlines all wore beautiful saris & served chai tea! We were on our way to one of my favorite places in the world: Bodhgaya.

As we landed, the vegetation at the edges of the runway was lush and green and everything seemed to sparkle.

We got our luggage and stepped out into the sunshine - we spied our friend Mohammad. We hadn’t seen him in 10 years! He looked older & wiser.

The young man with him piled our suitcases into the SUV and we jumped on the road into the main town, riding alongside other cars, rickshaws, bicycles and pedestrians.

I looked out the windows, the sunshine beaming on a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes & motion.

Everything looked so new and fresh since the last time I’d been in 2003, when I came for a week-long Kalachakra ceremony, led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

We drove until we reached the dirt roads of the town. We piled out of the car. Mohammad and the young man carried our heavy suitcases down the dusty road to Mohammad’s newly built guesthouse.

Familiar smells wafted their way toward me - a blend of spicy wood fire smoke, cow manure and sweet incense.

I had forgotten that this world is devoid of the sterile cushion that exists in the U.S. - between you and that more visceral sense of real living - children with bare feet playing and smiling, women washing dishes or hanging clothes alongside the goats, chicken, pigs and stray dogs.

Here you cannot get lost in your own thought, your own tiny mental world, when a big wide world full of beauty and aliveness exists all around you.

The guesthouse was a quiet refuge from the busy-ness outside. This was a new guesthouse Mohammad built - his second one - and each room has its own bathroom with a shower (wow!). A window next to the beds let in soft sounds of children playing in the streets, and chicken clucking in the yard next door.

Ten years ago Mohammad had a restaurant made by hand with mud walls & mud floors. Every year they re-built the restaurant for busy season, and Mohammad employed many men from the community. His menu was an eclectic range of Indian, Chinese, and Tibetan food. He even made banana pancakes & chocolate pies.

Now Mohammad’s Restaurant was a permanent cement structure with a water purifier (!) and even wifi. How times change ... Now Mohammad of course has a cell phone (or two).

The last time I was in Bodhgaya I lived there for a month - this time we only stayed three days. We cherished our time: with our friends and family, walking around the town, exploring and re-discovering, and spending time at the stupa.

The stupa is a gorgeous structure built in the place where Sakyamuni attained enlightenment over 2500 years ago. After leaving his kingdom (he was a prince), he studied with many meditation masters and practiced in solitary retreat until he became enlightened under the Bodhi tree. Descendants of this original Bodhi tree stretch their arms across the courtyards under the stupa, offering shade and support to meditators.

Imagine a place where millions of people come from all over the world to quietly make prayers and wishes - imagine the kind of positive energy that charges the air and ground in that place 

The first day we visited the stupa we napped at the base of a gorgeous statue, curling up on the large warm bricks. We snoozed in that dreamy way, like falling asleep on your mother’s lap as a child ... until we awoke to dogs licking our ears.

There are many stray dogs that wander into the stupa grounds. I’m always a bit wary of stray dogs in India ... these three caramel-colored dogs were tentative and sweet. We patted them before they sprung off. 

On our last day in Bodhgaya we returned to the stupa to make an essence of the Bodhi tree - we sat in meditation with the monks and nuns and watched the essence infusing in the sunlight.

The Bodhi Tree essence is amazing. It enhances love - an overwhelming love that pacifies negative emotions. It helps us cut through fears and anxiety, and experience unwavering peacefulness, all-encompassing love, open-heartedness and tenderness. It also magnifies patience and the ability to accept others as they are.


Here are some more photos I wanted to share with you ...

statue in BODHGAYA


Footprints BODHGAYA
Historical Art BODHGAYA

Love + flower petals, 

katie hess