Our first day on the new tyres became a bit of a marathon. We had heard that the extremely poor state of Bihar would be considerably different to any other state we had been through. Some even considered it lawless, but in reality the roads were pretty good and the people were friendly, or at least very interested. We had hoped to travel a couple of hundred kilometres at a reasonable pace to get used to the different handling of the bike. We wanted to stop near the Ganges then carry on to some religious landmarks the following day.
Every time we stopped, a huge crowd gathered around us. We even sought out a shady tree on an empty stretch of road to take a break and stretch our legs. I didn’t get to count to 60 seconds before passers-by screeched to a halt and demanded answers to their questions. And then there were the selfies that everyone wanted with these lesser-spotted warblers on their Harley Davidson. We had no luck finding our night stop so pushed on, over the massive, muddy Ganges and through out-of-control orange crowds. Eventually, our tyres worn in by a couple of emergency braking manouevres, we arrived at Rajgir. This was our longest distance ever in a day at 449km. Was a beer waiting for us in Rajgir, the town famous for one of Buddha’s many caves? No. Because some twat had recently outlawed alcohol in the whole state (a decision that other states were considering but rejecting because, guess what, it affected tourism negatively and drove alcohol underground)!
The town had swelled with a month-long Hindu festival, completing the triumvirate with the Jainists. The vegetarian Jains are a Buddhist variant who wander naked with cloths over their mouths, so they don’t ingest any insects. We visited some museums, temples and got to travel on a rickety chair lift. When we thought we were sight-seeing, in fact we were the attraction. We had to keep moving and avoid the selfies as much as possible. Otherwise we didn’t get to see or do anything.
Some mud-hut rural villages led us next to the town of Bodhgaya. This is an island of Buddhist temples surrounded by poverty. The temples are built and kept running by many foreign nations’ Buddhist societies. The most famous temple is the Mahabodhi site, where Buddha sat under a fig tree and attained enlightenment. Policed by armed soldiers and metal detectors, what remains of this famous tree is almost impossible to see behind three fences and bomb-barriers. I guess Buddhism has many enemies too.
The highlight of this town wasn’t the Mahabodhi temple, it was food poisoning. Nickiy and I spent 5 days barely able to leave our room, living on samosas and Hydralite. How different things could have been if we’d just been able to drink pasteurised beer instead of hand-made lime water…