Huddled under the mighty protective mosquito net, I lay reflecting on the intense day that I’ve managed to have.
The swaying train slumber was quite nice and I oddly appreciated the cool AC steadily blowing on me as I was tucked away under a wool blanket.
When the train arrived in Gorakhpur (around 12.15, a few hours later than scheduled), the ever so kind, lower berth neighbor, Mukesh, offered to help point me in the direction of to the bus station.
Stepping off the train, my chilled skin went into direct shock from the brutal heat of the sun. Immediately I knew this was not going to be easy; I was truly in India… Nowhere to be found were the English news papers or the English warning/directional signs found in New Delhi. Everything was in pure Hindi. The memory of Dad insisting that he buy me the Hindi - Rosetta Stone computer program popped into my head.
Humbly, I thanked Mukesh for pointing out where I was to walk to get to the bus station, and parted ways with him as I began marching with my rucksack, down the dusty, noisy, smoggy streets of Gorakhpur.
According to the Lonely Planet all I had to do was hop on a bus to go to Kushinagar. What they didn’t mention was how tough it would be to actually accomplish that. I think I asked about 5 people; each giving me a silent head bobble puzzle piece, pointing in different directions to which I began following, walking away from the bus station, only to realize that this had nothing to do with my original question, ‘bus to Kushinagar?’
I felt small, scared, border line frustrated, and yet with each lead, I followed; I slowly breathed in and smiled continuing the slow patient search… probably because I knew it would eventually bring me to the right place.
My water was low and I hadn’t eaten a proper breakfast, or lunch for that matter… I could feel that the hypoglycemic/low blood sugar shakes, would hit soon.
Again the memory of Dad’s offer to buy me the Rosetta stone arose.
I wasn’t laughing this time.
Finally wandering back to the bus station, I made eye contact with a young guy (late teens, early 20’s the most), asking him if he spoke English. With his preppy white polo short sleeved shirt and matching white pants, he smiled and acknowledged while shaking my hand. He immediately countered my follow up question with, ‘Where is your home?’
‘Oh so far from here… and how I wish I was there, right now...’ I thought to myself.
‘New York City, USA.’
‘You are American? But you do not look like you are from U.S. What is your name?
‘My name is Victor… what is your name?’
‘Why are you here?’
he ignored my question...
‘uh… I would like to go to Kushinagar.’
‘Why do you go to Kushinagar?’
It would seem that I would have to play his game of chess before I would be allowed to ask a question.
‘I would like to see the beautiful town where the Gautama Buddha died.’
Feeling satisfied with my response, he told me that the next bus would depart after 1.00. I thanked him and went to into the sheltered waiting area, stepping out of the sun’s reach.
I dropped my rucksack on the floor and took off my sweaty button up shirt in hopes to cool off, instead I immediately sensed that I was being stared at; I glanced over and saw that I was being circled by a curious bearded old man, he was looking at my tattoos. Since the warm dry air wasn't cooling me off, I decided to cover up as I didn’t wish to draw unnecessary attention towards myself.
I began digging through my rucksack and pulled out the heavy Lonely Planet book, convinced that I would find and read the paragraph that I HAD to have missed that said, ‘GOOD FUCKING LUCK GETTING A BUS TO KUSHINAGAR, SUCKER’, but it wasn’t there.
A cow slowly walked by, pushing into me ever so slightly.
I was approached by the young man, again. It seemed that because I had answered his questions and successfully played his ‘game’, he revealed that he was born in Kushinagar and that he was very proud to have been from there.
He told me to board the bus that was silently parked directly in front of us. I thanked him and realized he never told me his name, so I gave him the name "Mr.White". I got onto the small empty bus and sat down, dropping my 36-pound rucksack onto the seat next to me.
Ten minutes later, the bus was packed and I was forced to slide the bag onto the floor through the tiny crevasse in front of my seat, with my right leg painfully contorted on top of it.
The shaky bus began to roll forward. The shakes of my low blood sugar level hit as I also began to roll forward.
I pulled out an emergency granola bar; peanut butter, prefect for hot days in India when your water level is low. I took a swig of the little water I had left, it was warm.
Amazingly I was brought back to life but wanted to sleep as the dust and dirt began to blown in my face from the open window in front of me. I whipped out my state trooper-like sunglasses.
I was reminded at how intense it is to travel by ground transport through rural India; the honking and the passing around trucks while oncoming traffic plays chicken, barreling towards you…It was just like last time, except I wasn’t with my friends. I still wasn’t 100% sure if I was going to Kushinagar, but my doubts were quickly quieted when my ticket was purchased for 25rupees.
About two hours later, they called Kushinagar, and the crisp white polo shirt drew my attention, Mr.White nodding to me from the front of the bus that this was my stop.
I got up and grabbed my bag, to no avail. My bag was stuck. I was the only one getting off. I was holding up the bus.
What felt like such a jump out of my comfort zone, I was brought back with the sense of accomplishment with the sight of the triple arch gate - the entrance to Kushinagar. I walked down the road and reached the gates of the Buddhist Monastery that I was to be spending the night at.
The head service monk, Giovani, roughly my age, welcomed me and asked how my trip has been thus far. Only two days in, I felt like I could go on and on about what I had been through just getting there, but I just smiled and laughed.
He asked where I was from, knowing I was American. He told me that he was from San Jose, California. I noticed he had tattoos on his arm… He gave me a room for 250rupees. With a deep breath, I had made it…
After settling in, I went out to buy some water and to get some food. I was in Kushinagar for a reason, to see and to pay respects to the where the Buddha breathed his last breath.
It was all so beautiful; walking in the early dusk through the quiet ruins [I approached each archeological historic site with an overwhelming sense of awe, it is very easy to stay in the present moment when you're taking everything in all at once. I walked down the main road and visited each of the stuppas from the various Buddhist Countries,] seeing pilgrims from all over chanting with monks and nuns. I entered the grounds of the Nirvana Temple and walked towards the large shelter erected to protect the large golden statue of the reclining Buddha, which marked the location and position he was lying when he entered into the final stages of Nibbana. Though the room was full of people, there was a stillness in the air, peaceful.
I headed again down the main road to the large clay mound stuppa, the grounds where The Buddha was cremated. I stood there alone as the sun began to set, casting my giant shadow against the ancient earth and bowed three times. For the first time in India, I noticed everything was quiet; my mind empty of the fears and doubts that filled it hours earlier.
I plan to go back to Gorakhpur tomorrow morning, to take a bus to Lumbini, Nepal. The fear of the unknown will be there again, I’m sure, but I know I can get by… I’ve got time.
(Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying - Belle & Sebastian)