The long and potholed road
Two days of driving/bus riding through rural Bihar villages (Vaishali, Lalganj, Chakiya, Deoria, Keshariya and lots of nameless ones) was alternately enthralling in its simplicity, and scary.
The villages themselves are quiet, clean, and immaculate with their neatly swept mud houses. No horns, no traffic (at least no cars - only bicycles, pedestrians and ox carts), no pollution, no sewer smells, and if you are looking for the one place in India not yet invaded by Coke and Pepsi - this is it! No corporate logo signboards for hours at a time, nor any bottled water for 12 hours! I ate lots of oranges and drank lots of tea instead.
But, every couple hours, a gang of youths at a crossroads would blockade the car (cars are a definite occasion in those parts - a real novelty), even forcing it to stop with a bamboo pole and loudly, forcefully demanding god knows what from the terrified driver (who spoke not a work of English, and my Hindi is restricted to about 3 dozen words). Maybe they just wanted a lift, maybe baksheesh, but I really did not want to find out.
We managed to push through gangs like this three times - and that's just daytime travel. Shiva knows what night travel would be in rural Bihar!
The good news is that there are Buddhist ruins and sites still being excavated - significant ones. In 5-10 years Vaishali and Keshariya will be crowded with pilgrims.
Keshariya in particular is home to what appears to be the world's 2nd tallest, or possibly even tallest, stupa - originally 10 storeys high in mandala shape! At one time this was a truly awesome work, like a pyramid. It was originally built by Emperor Ashoka about 2000 years ago to commemorate the spot where the dying Buddha. surrounded by weeping disciples, gave away his only possession - his begging bowl.
It was a very loooooooonngggg drive there on potholed roads. Excavation appears to be moving at the proverbial snail's pace. The day I was there, not one archaeologist or worker was in evidence. Only1/3 of the structure has been revealed - the rest is still covered in about 2000 years of dust, mud and fully grown trees, which gives it a sort of romantic Jungle Book-Lost City appeal (while the tree roots are probably destroying it).
Photos to come, but Tawanda (my beloved Compaq Presario) is not recharging. Let's hope and pray that it's just a battery problem. I guess that means Delhi is the next stop, to get Tawanda revved up again.
State of the state
Bihar state is synonymous with kidnappings, banditry, poverty and corruption. Every week, the paper has an account of a prominent person's child, or even just successful middle-class person's, kidnapped and held for ransom. The headlines of the "Bihar Digest" section sometimes defy belief ("Child's fingers chopped off for stealing spinach"; "Son hacks mother to death").
The local government seems too busy with esoterica to do much about such things. When the most recent Chief Minister left office, he conducted a puja to exorcise spirits, and nailed all his ghosts to a tree in the front yard of the official residence. (This is not an allegation - these are his own words.) Last week the paper carried allegations, made by a rival, that a local politician was performing black magic ceremonies at the town's most prominent Hindu temple.
You can't make this stuff up. But it's after 9pm, which is late here. Maybe before I leave town, I can go peek at the Ghost Tree (in the yard of #1, Anne Marg).
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