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When I arrived here from Kolkata, this was a sleepy rural village at the
edge of a bone-dry river.  Oxen, goats and mangy dogs scrounged the
dusty streets.  Tonga wallahs (men driving tiny pony carts) vied with
bicycle rickshaws for the best bits of pavement, veering far to the
chicken-pecked edges when infrequent but maniacal tractors plowed past. 

Alongside the mud-brick houses sprung seemlessly from the earth, women
in bright saris crouched low mixing dung with clay into round cakes for
fuel, drying by the hundreds in neat rows on the sides of every vertical
surface.  In the market, men with enormous baskets of vegetables perched
towering atop their heads threaded through the stalls of gleaming
produce, steaming away in the arid sun.

People going about their normal business, which is simply, here, life.  

My first day here, Courtney and I got lost looking for the Japanese
temple.  Not such an easy feat in a town with only 1 main street (with a
loopy sidestreet at the end of it, which in any case connects back in a
couple of places and goes nowhere else), yet we managed it.  How
wonderful!  One moment we are dodging the sweet vendors and women
running errands at market, and the next we are on a wide and empty dirt
road in the countryside.  Deep breath, aaah, now THIS is India.  A few
people gave us friendly smiles and namaste.  Most were indifferent. 
Children darted out of hidden places in the fields to wave grinning, or
stare shocked.  Despite a small profusion of other foreigners in town,
these were the gazes of people very unaccustomed to seeing white skin in
their midst.

Without knowing it, we wandered smack into the middle of a school.  Easy
to miss, since it had no walls (doors, roof etc.).  Though all the kids
should have been a giveaway!  The 4 teachers there, employed by a relief
group from France to provide free classes to the lowest caste children
in the area, were more than happy to pass a while talking with us,
telling us about life here, what they teach, introducing the very
excited children.  Children with up-tilted almond-shaped eyes, some
brown, some pale, transluscent green, fringed with unbelievable lengths
of curly lashes.  Dark skin.  Random blondish highlights and curls (both
natural) mixed in with the silky straight, raven-haired majority.  So,
so beautiful and eager to greet us, touch us, smile.  So full of
curiosity and joy.

A bit further up, after leaving the school with cross-country directions
to the temple of our choice, 2 beautiful young girls stopped us to ask
with motions for us to take their pictures.  Though appearing less than
15 years old each, their heads were brightly marked with the red powder
line that indicates marriage.  Them and nearly all the women we saw. 
When we finished, they led us silently smiling into the heart of their
village - a short-cut to the glinting peaks of the temple in the

The village was built on a plain, low to the earth.  Rectangular clay
walls topped with thick thatching, all the same amber tone as the hard
ground, forming a tight labyrinth.  In every doorway, people sat
watching us.  Our respectful greetings (palms together, elbows bent,
fingers pointing chinwards) were gleefully returned in kind by young and
old.  Donkeys, goats, chickens, cows, buffalo wandered in and out at
will, changing our direction haphazardly and ensuring that we saw nearly
every part of the tiny settlement.  Where we passed away the afternoon,
simply being beside the inhabitants.

Over the next several days, first with the group I had arrived with and
later with a newly acquainted group of friends (who, thanks either to
their nature or the nature of life on the road, all feel as if I have
known forever), I got to be beside a myriad of people.  In and out of
town.  Day by day, more people arrived.  Bodhgaya being a pilgrimmage
sight, it is prone to sudden influxes from a variety of places, which
transform it from the sleepy rural outpost in which I'd arrived to a
teeming mass of humanity - most of which, it seemed, was voluminously
robed in the maroon of a Tibetan monk.  By the time I left, the whole
place was jam-packed sardine style, and replete with incense bearers,
vendors of all kinds, esoteric saddhu's and other practitioners (by no
means the main stream of worshippers), food carts, wailers, beggars and
thieves - not to mention the whole gamut of devotees and (like myself)
curious onlookers.  An old-time county fair, people multiplied by a
thousand, squashed into a park the size of the pie and preserves judging
tent (perhaps with the ferris wheel queue tagged on for good measure). 
What fun!!!

And now my here has changed - no longer the here of Bodhagya above, but
rather the here of Delhi and all its own brands of chaos.  Having
splurged on a special express train (complete with bed sheet and
blanket!!) overnight, I arrived in the capital only a few hours ago,
blinking at the sunshine and vibrantly coloured surroundings (a shock
after Boghgaya's nearly monochromatic sea of monks and sand).  I am
looking forward to exploring, and making this city (or at least this
little part of it) my own.

I hope this message finds you all well, happy, enjoying the new year -
much love!  Roberta