I went to Bodha Gaya pilgrimage from 11-25 Dec to 2010 with Pyone, the longest trip apart from my regular 4 weeks rotations in the Oil and Gas field and the earlier 6 to 7 month work stints in various remote areas of Myanmar. The 10 day journey to the north was my previous record.
Aung Ko Oo and Linn Zaw Win could not accompany us as both of them could not take leave. It was our third trip together without either or both of them, the first in 1979 April, to Dawei, with about 12 classmates before AKO was born and the second one last August to Naypyitaw, when we had to go to get Education Clearance for Pyone’s passport.
We went along with the DarNa BodhaGaya pilgrimage group. We chose it after inquiring at several groups because of its iteniary (which includes the Taj Mahal, Red fort at Agra and New Dehli tour), its long history of handling the BodhaGaya pilgrimage and its price which is the best, as it quoted the rate in USD and the Myanmar currency was strong. We were not disappointed with the trip although we could not spend time as much as we wanted at several places (I wanted to sit for at least half an hour gazing at the panoramic view of the YaMonNar Nadi when we were only allowed an hour at the Taj Mahal); this is to be expected of group tours (I usually plan my own iteniary and had gone along with 2 tours only, the trip to Cameroon Highlands, Penang and Melaka in 2006 and one to the South East: KawThaung, Ranong, Beik trip in 2007).
There were 29 people in our group which included 2 monks and a family of 3 who did not make the complete 15 day / 14 night trip, but only the 1 week trip and left us after Nalanda / NarLanDar as the 2 parents were both over 80. However, our group leader, ShweMyinTin U Nyo is 86 and it was his 80th trip to BodhaGaya and there was an over 80 lady too.
We had to leave in Yawgi clothes for easier customs clearance at both Mingalardon and Gaya airports and also needed to wear it for the robe offering ceremonies on the circuit.
I met Naing Lin Aung unexpectedly at the immigration queue. He was on his way to BKK to go to Mae Sot to AD-1 rig and although he was at the top of his queue near the counter, he was worried because of the nearness of the departure time of his flight. As a Myanmar citizen, he had to queue up in one of the 2 long lines. Foreigners had an easier entrance at a different counter that has no queue at all. I went over from my queue and had a talk with him. We discussed about the drilling schedules that will be done by Asia Drilling in Thailand and at Mann oil field. As we had got to the airport 2 hours ahead of departure time, we had some time in the departure lounge. However, the departure of the MAI airbus was delayed for about 15 minutes due to the lateness of the last passenger to embark (maybe it was the slowness of the immigration; I wonder what would happen if a Myanmar were travelling on a different airline that would not wait. I did not notice any calls for near departure flights to come to a separate counter).
Departure time was 09:45 and the flight was very bumpy after lunch while serving beverage and it had to be stopped. We did not get anything to drink after the flight became smooth. The coffee time was over; I still have the MAI sugar and creamer packet at home. The flight took 2 hours and we arrived Gaya at 10:45 India time.
There were also 2 long lines at the Gaya immigration counters and it took us over 1 hour to pass through. As our place got near the counter, group a lady from the Mizzima pilgrimage group which was behind us went to the counter and placed a pile of passports of their group on the counter and the Indian immigration officer did not protest. After some time, that lady called one of her group near her. When the persons at the counter were finished, she moved the pile of passports towards the immigration officer who called the top passport holder, which was the person who the lady called up. She then called all others to come up to the counter and they all passed in front of us. When Pyone complained, one of them replied: NyiMaLay should also have piled your passport. This is contrary to the usual procedure which is for all to queue holding their passport. However, this is the Myanmar way of life and the Indian Immigration!
The bus which collected us at Gaya airport took us all the way till we were taken back to Gaya airport at the completion on 25-Dec (except the 12-Dec tour near Gaya because some roads that day could not be travelled by the bus).
Gaya and Bodha Gaya are different but nearby places. A shopkeeper in Bodha Gaya specifically replied that he was born in BodhaGaya when I asked him whether he was born in Gaya. The Gaya airport seems to be on the outskirts of Gaya and it was a short bus ride to Bodha Gaya, maybe about 7 minutes, first through sparsely populated areas with large compounds and later fields and then varioius monasteries of different countries. We were not shown which the real Gaya is, but on our return from the trip to Gaya, the road that branched from the highway passed through a town before we arrived back to the Myanmar monastery / Burmese Vihar and it might be the Gaya or it might be BodhaGaya town too as it is continuous with the part of BodhaGaya where the Burmese Vihar / Myanmar kyaung is.
The first time I got to the BodhaGaya temple, I was overwhelmed. There were hundreds of Tibet pilgrims praying in their style all around the middle compound and even some in the inner compound and around the Mahabodi temple, first and third place / TatTa. HtarNa, the Continuous PaHtan chanting ceremony by monks of the 6 Buddhist countries (Bangaladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand), the many Thai pilgrim groups in white and also the many Indian Hindu pilgrims.
During the pilgrimage we got to the following_
BodhaGaya: the first 7 places after Enlightenment / TatTa. HtarNa, Maharbodi temple, DokeKhaSariyar cave, the stupa / pagoda remains where once stood the house of Thu.ZarTar, the rich man’s daughter (another rich man’s wife); the place where Thu.ZarTar offered milk in a gold bowl; the place where the gold bowl was placed into the Narinjara Nadi / river (although the Narinjara Nadi is wide, about half a mile, there was no water but only sand during our stay); the place where an old man offered 8 handfuls of grass; the MaHant palace (the Indian Buddhist monk who owned the majority of land near the BodhiGaya site); king Mindon’s Zayat and inscription.
Nalanda, Rajgir / YarZaGyo: cart / chariot wheel marks on rock; Rajgir / YarZaGyo city walls; king Bimbisara / BeinMaTharRa’s palace site; the Japanese stupa; the GizZaGote hill top monastery remains where Buddha stayed; the NyiTaw Arnandar cave and the Shin TharRiPoteTaYar cave on the GizZaGote hill; Bimbisara / BeinMaTharRa’s jail and prison cell site; the site of Mango plantation of ZiWaKa; the place near Nalanda where the future ShinMaharKatThaPha departed with his wife to meditate separately; the ancient Nalanda Buddhist university; modern Nalanda Buddhist university; Hindu hot water spring bathing place; the ThatTaPanNi cave on the WayBarRa mountain top where the First Buddhist Synagouge / Convention was held; Venuvana / WayLuWun / the bamboo forest / grove monastery / vihar / kyaung donated to Buddha by king Bimbisara / BeinMaTharRa king of Magadha / YarSaGyo / Rajgriha; Son Bhandar caves_Jain caves, supposed to contain Buddha relics; Maniyar Math, king AhZarRaThat’s Buddha’s relic storage site
WayTharLi / Vesali (Patna / ParTaLi.Pote): Buddha’s relic stupa of the Arnandar; the well where AmPaParLi met the prince Bimbisara / BeinMaTharRa who fathered her son who later became an Arahant; remains of Kolhus of Vaishali, where the monkey chief offered Buddha a bowl of honey and the lion top Asoka pillar.
KuThi.NarYone / Kushinagar: the Reclining Buddha depicting Buddha leaving for Nirvana; the nearby stupa where Buddha left life on earth; the Ramabhar stupa where Buddha’s body was cremated; the KaKuDa river where Buddha washed for the last time; Matha-Kuar shrine, the place where Buddha drank for the last time.
Lumbini / LoneMaNi: Kapilavastu / KaPiLaWut palace remains, the Mahabhinishkramana Dwara / Eastern gate through which prince TheikDatHta left the palace; Sanctum, the sacred site where prince TheikDatHta was born; Marker stone, with the sacred infant footprint image which marks the exact birth place of Buddha; Mayadevi temple which encloses the Sanctum; the Nativity / Birth sculpture; the stupas denoting the first steps of the Prince TheikDatHta; Puakarni_the sacred pool where queen Mayadevi took a holy bath before the birth / the pond where prince TheikDatHta was bathed for the first time; Kudan the Nigrodharama / Banyan grove / Ni.GyawDarYone Vihar / kyaung / monastery remains;
Sravasti / TharWutHti: ZayTaWun Vihar / monastery / kyaung; Arnandar Nyaung / Bo / Banyan tree, planted by Buddha’s instruction as object of worship for Buddha during His absence; place where Buddha showed supernatural powers, the palace remains of the king KawThaLa and the queen Malikar; places where DayWaDat and ZeinZaMarNa were entrapped into the earth
Sankassa / ThinKatTha NaGo: the hill where Buddha descended on earth on the full moon day of Thadinkyut from the TarWaTeinThar Nat Pyay after preaching the whole War / lent; the Asoka pillar with elephant head; the Buddha image depicting descent from TarWaTeinThar
Agra: Taj Mahal; Red fort (Shah Jahan’s palace and where he was imprisoned during his last days by his son and successor)
Dehli (New Dehli): Indira Ghandi last house and place where she was assassinated, Mahatama Ghandi’s last house and place where he was assassinated, India gate
Varanasi / Banares / BarYarNaThi _ Saranath (contraction of Saranganath_lord of deers) / Rishipatana / Issipatana / Mrigadava / Mrigadaya / MiGaDarWun: the Chaukhandi stupa where the 5 Weggi welcomed Buddha; the Dharmarajika / DhammaRarZiKa stupa where the first sermon, the Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana / DhammaSetkyar Tayarr to the 5 Weggi / 5 earstwhile companions was preached (Myanmar version); the Dhamekh / DhammaKhay stupa remains where the AnnataLetKhana sermon was preached; the Asoka pillar; the monastery / vihar / kyaung donated by the NanDiYa rich man; mediaval shrine with covered passage / the underground path taken by BeikKhuNis to the place of bath; the Ipsipatana deer park; Mulagandha Kuty Vihara at the site where Sakyamuni Buddha preached the first sermon (India version)
The return on 25-Dec was uneventful, but a sad occasion. Everything ends sooner or later. Nothing, including life, is permanent.