Reflecting on my trip to Bodhgaya

As I think back to my trip to Bodhgaya, of the most vivid things I remember about pilgrimage season, is all of the commerce going on.

For most of the year, Bodhgaya is nearly abandoned due to either stifling heat or pouring monsoon, which creates either an extreme dust bowl or a large mud puddle. Beginning approximately in November and lasting till late March, travelers from all over the world descend to the place of Buddha’s enlightenment to practice, leave offerings, and pray. At the same time, people from all over the state of Bihar (one of the poorest states in India) come to Bodhgaya specifically to cater to the tourists to come.

Tibetan goods that are rarefied and expensive here in New York are practically spilling out on the streets: every type of bead, shawl, hand carved statue, and ritual implement are available here in abundance, for a cheap price which can almost always be bargained down further. People also sell flowers, incense, and butter lamps to offer to the various shrines and temples scattered throughout Bodhgaya and the surrounding area. It’s not unusual to be approached by several people at once trying to sell you a freshly picked yet droopy lotus flower to lay at the Buddha’s feel.


Market in Bodhgaya

Another seasonal service available in abundance in Bodhgaya are guides: usually young men who live in the surrounding villages who offer to take you around the different sights . They refuse to discuss any form of payment until after you’ve gone on a tour, of coarse. I made a few friends this way, as these guys usually speak pretty reasonable English, and while they might be trying to make a buck, most of them are very honest and friendly. A few times, I explained to them what I did in the states, and we laughed when we realized we basically have the same job (although luckily I don’t need to solicit tips!)

Walking down the streets, one is immediately impacted by the large amount of beggars. It would be easy to assume that Bodhgaya itself is very impoverished, until one hears that many of these beggars come from all over the region to camp out in Bodhgaya just for pilgrimage season. Some of them might even have jobs at other times of the year. I even heard rumours of an entire village where every member’s profession is to beg!

Street performers are also a common sight: blind men who sing and play drums, child contortionists, singers, dancers. I even saw a snake charmer (for real… he had three cobras at his beck and call)

Some people become overwhelmed with all of the commerce going on, and some relish all the bargaining. For me, it was definitely stressful being constantly approached, but eventually, I learned to have a sense of humor about it, know when to give, when to say no, and when to ignore.


Bargaining in Bodhgaya

One thing I know for sure is since I’ve been there, whenever I see “Asian-y goods” for sale, I always thing, “yeah right,  I could get that for much cheaper in Bodhgaya.”

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