|Buddha on his deathbed|
We are basically following the Buddhist trail right now. Once we left Bodh Gaya, we went to the town of Kushinagar, the sight where Buddha died and was cremated. We started off in the fog again, getting terribly lost in the city of Gaya on the way. Our GPS maps of India are grossly inadequate in some places, and this city is one of them. Colin finally found our way out to the main road after about a half hour of winding through alleys. The road was a nice one- well paved but only about a lane and a half wide. We enjoyed it while it lasted though. Some amount of time into the ride, the GPS got lost and we spent about a half hour backtracking until we found the right road. The trip remained uneventful until we came to a line of traffic stopped at a small village. Assuming it was yet another truck collision or tip over, we rode up to the head of the line and saw a large group of people standing in the middle of the road. We slowly rode around them to the open road on the other side. When we looked back, we saw a tiny body covered in a dirty piece of cloth, with an arm and leg sticking out. Some child had apparently run out into the road and was hit by yet another truck going too fast for road conditions judging by the scene and the angle of one of the trucks. I couldn't even cry (you probably think I'm cold and heartless). All I could think was that this was probably one of a hundred and fifty similar incidents in this stupid country today alone.
I know that no road is “safe.” Accidents happen all the time, everywhere. But when you see countless, mangled, overturned trucks, cars with windshields that were obviously shattered by two distinct heads, delivery vehicles crunched to half-size with blood puddles on the ground in front, and then someone's dead child lying in the middle of the road, it's difficult not to get angry. Especially when you have just ridden close to 4,000 miles and not only witnessed countless close calls but been involved in several with completely careless drivers. We have both complained about the road conditions in India since we got here, but the greatest problem is really the drivers. They simply do not care, as far as I can tell, and I don't know what anyone can do to fix that.
Anyway, with that sobering sight, we plodded on to Kushinagar. We arrived after dark again, found the government-run tourist hotel and checked into a damp, musty, but relatively clean room and got some dinner at the attached restaurant. We both felt cold and shivery, so we locked the bikes and went in to take a hot shower before climbing under the covers to sleep.
When we woke up the next morning, I had a sore throat accompanied by a dry cough. My general level of aches was normal, and the shivers were gone after a night under heavy wool blankets, so we headed out to grab a quick breakfast and see the sights. After a disappointing breakfast of eggs and not toasty toast, we stopped at a chai stand for some of the good stuff before going to the Mahaparinirvana Temple. At this site sometime in the early 20th century, they uncovered a large Buddha statue in a reclining pose that dates to the 5th century AD. A new temple was built over it some years later. The guidebook says it's one of the most moving images of Buddha in the world, and honestly, it is. You climb the steps to the doorway and the statue takes up the entire room. He is lying down, on his deathbed, on his right side, with his head on a pillow, looking very much at peace. There were several foreign pilgrims there when we were, praying and rubbing small squares of gold leaf on the exposed feet in quiet offering.
From there, we next walked to the Mathakuar Temple, the site where Buddha gave his last sermon, to see a Buddha statue carved from a local blue stone that dates from the 6th century AD. It unfortunately was in a locked and very dark shrine, so it was difficult to see. You could pay one of the guards some “bakshish” for him to call somebody to open it, but we declined. We then continued to the Ramabahr Stupa, which marks the spot where Buddha's body was cremated. There wasn't much to see but another large mound of bricks, but it was still moving to see a single monk meditating at the base of the stupa. I need to learn more about Buddhism, because somehow, whenever I am at a Buddhist site, I feel calmer than I was before. We are considering the idea of stopping to take a course in meditation sometime. Neither of us feels particularly settled in ourselves, nor do we know what to do with our lives. Maybe learning how to meditate and spend time focusing on what exactly is important would help.
We left Kushinagar at around noon for Gorakpur to hopefully do a little research before heading to Nepal. It was a very short ride, only about 35 miles on good road. We found the railway station and the hotels that inevitably go with it. I checked out several rooms at one facility and reported back to Colin that we had a room and to start unloading the bikes while I registered. While I was filling out the paperwork (they use so much carbon paper here! And so many forms! Just to stay in a hotel!) I started to feel lightheaded and vaguely nauseated, so when Colin came into the lobby, I asked him to finish the paperwork because I needed to sit. We got to the room and I had to lie down. I was freezing, shivering in my clothes under a heavy blanket, my body ached, my skin hurt to the touch, my throat really hurt, and my cough was dry and uncontrollable. I just wanted to sleep for a while. Colin went out to find cough syrup, analgesics, and something to eat. He returned after walking all the way up and down the street and through the train station looking for a pharmacy (there was a chemist counter in the station!) with everything on his list along with some cold tablets. I took some of the syrup, a cold tab, ate a veg puff, and went back to sleep. I got up long enough to call for dinner (the hotel has cheap room service) and eat, wash out some of our nasty clothes, and then I got back into bed.
I spent the next day mostly under the covers, seized by coughing fits (at least they were more productive- in the yellow spectrum), but at least my fever subsided sometime in the previous night. Man, I felt like crap. I felt better mid-day, so we walked down the street to look for some lunch. We stopped and ordered thalis, but I couldn't taste anything, and all I could feel was the heat from the chili peppers in my mouth. All of a sudden, I didn't feel so hot, so we paid and left (this is the first time in a very long time that my meal went uneaten). We got back to the hotel after stopping to buy some oranges and more cough drops, and I went back to sleep. Neither of us was hungry last night, so we ate oranges for dinner and went to bed. This morning, I felt better. I still have a cough, the underside of my nose looks like that of a five-year old with snot encrusted nostrils and a rivulet of glossy yellow slime on my upper lip (I am certainly living up to my nickname), and I feel run down. Colin on the other hand, slept all day. He was up long enough to eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast and then climbed back under the covers. He had a cough, a fever, aches all over, and as icing on the cake, diarrhea. We are quite the pair! So we stayed in Gorakpur, in a “holding pattern” for Nepal until we felt well enough to move on.