The Tragic Comedy In Bodhgaya, Bihar: Howrah Special

Bodhgaya, also known as Gaya holds at its heart a place of historical as well as religious importance. This small town in the state of Bihar beats with life like any other, but only time has known better of its past.

I got a chance to visit the land where the great Gautam Buddha received enlightenment—the light of wisdom and knowledge. Though I wasn’t expecting anything similar, I had my own share of experiences that enlightened me with wisdom in the most unexpected and ludicrous ways.

I won’t be called a good friend if I refrain from mentioning that I had the opportunity to witness a traditional Bihari wedding—my best friend was getting married after all.

Not only is it a personal anecdote, it is a story of adventure, experiences and a great amount of entertainment. Buckle up your seat belts friends—we are about to take off for this journey, which starts from the southern bustling city of Bangalore on a pleasant breezy day of July.

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We were flying from Bangalore to Kolkata. From Kolkata, we were to board a train to Gaya or Bodhgaya, Bihar.

5th July 2016; 4:10 PM – Bangalore To Kolkata

bangalore to bihar

Loaded with excitement and energy, we boarded our flight. Attending our best friend’s wedding was what we eagerly awaited. As the steel bird raced on the runway, we couldn’t help clutching our armrest and looking at each other—our expressions were somewhere between a full-stretched smile and a teeth-glaring soundless laugh. The excitement only surged with the gain in altitude.

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We jetted over the Bay of Bengal—one downward glance at the water body and thoughts of crashing into the sea initiated a series of events. I was playing my own death in my head.

Remembering what the flight attendant had told about safety instructions, I cheered up thinking if we really did fall in the sea below and survive, at least I would get to slide out from those air-filled slides into the saline waters.

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My mind was blurred by my imagination and so was my outside view by the clouds. We descended quickly and the touchdown felt like a milestone completed.

As we moved out of the airport, a gush of humidity welcomed us—Kolkata felt like that sweaty aunty who wants to hug little kids.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport To Howrah Railway Station

We collected our luggage and went out of the airport. A row of yellow ambassadors stretched along narrow footpaths inside the airport area.

netaji to howrah

In Kolkata, be it at railway station or airport, one needs to book a prepaid taxi, which is mostly a fat yellow Ambassador car. The taxi charges between 100-150 Indian rupees for a 16 kilometers drive.

We didn’t know about it, but on asking few people for help, we were directed to the counter where we booked our taxi.

Warning: In between, we wandered off away from the airport thinking that we will get taxis at cheaper rates. However, roaming around anywhere in the world late in the night is not safe. We were suspicious about a man who seemed to follow us. We called our friends to ensure we were doing right by catching the yellow taxi outside the airport. Instead, we were told to quietly return back and book a taxi from there.

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Kolkata – The First Impression

After getting into the taxi, we eased ourselves and let the slideshow of the city pass before us. We didn’t remember when the wide clean roads of the airport transformed into congested lanes that took us through a number of red lights. 

On either side of two-lane roads, a row of apartments stood shabbily. Clothes hung on the grilled and brightly-painted windows of old buildings, big banners displayed photographs of local artists, a few buses carried people the through traffic. Our pretty yellow ambassador honked through narrow roads, making space for herself amid the hustle bustle.

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Replica of London’s Big Ben originally known as Kolkata Times Zone, Lake Town-VIP Road area. Picture Credit: Shalvi Singh

The archaic structures of the city—towers, buildings, houses, and shops took us back in another era. We were time-traveling, following lane after lane and moving deeper into the city—passing through narrow streets lit by the tall pillars adorned with sodium lamps. 

Few houses had walls with naked bricks peeking from the dull chipping paint, a climber was growing in between the cracks on a building, petite men pulled rickshaws, carrying people with the sole strength of their arms, small shops were cropped up in the tiniest of possible places in the streets. 

Howrah Railway Station

All I can describe after reaching Howrah is a large number of people—being everywhere, going everywhere.

Hand-pulled rickshaws were coming to a halt at the entrance, wiping the trickle of sweat and waiting for the customers to unload. People of all kinds rushed with their luggage towards the main building of the station, dragging their trolley bags through puddles of water. Vendors shouted out to people, selling food items and tit-bits on the footpath. A few beggars waited desperately sitting on the sidewalks, some approaching the striding travelers.

A stench of urine, a stink of drain water and a whiff of fried food had concentrated the humid air—it was difficult distinguishing between the smells.

We entered the platform and saw a train slowing down at the station—the mob that got down the train seemed to put a cluster of ants around a sugar cube to shame. There were so many people around us, moving here and there that we thought we might get drifted away and separated, so we both stayed close.

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Platform No. 9/9 C

The platform number left us perplexed more like Harry Potter in The Sorcerer’s Stone, where the protagonist, Harry was supposed to reach platform number 9.3/4. Ours was platform number 9/9 C. With the visible clarity, I assumed we weren’t supposed to run through any brick wall to reach our express train on the other side. But, we were surely going to a magical place for muggles.

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Picture Credit: Shalvi Singh

We reached our platform and waited for our train to get shunted onto the main line. Trains chugged in and out of the station, carrying people and goods. We sat there halted yet again in time, waiting and looking at the people, arrive and leave.

Bodhgaya was calling and we were only desperate to leave Kolkata.

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