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Thursday 18th November - Sarnath
By Claire
Monday, 22nd November 2004 05:47

The phone woke me up at 8 this morning - the hotel staff wanted to know if we wanted breakfast. I had a shower and then gave up trying to be awake and went back to sleep for a while. We had a very leisurely breakfast in the garden: the service was very, very slow and it took more than an hour and a half to get tea and toast, but it was such a lovely morning that it didn't matter. Before we went out this morning, we asked reception how much it should cost to take us out to Sarnath, and as we left the hotel and we were accosted by an auto tout, I was able to haggle properly. Unfortunately, I didn't imagine that the price I'd agreed to was for only one of us, so the actual price was double what I'd agreed, but still not hugely overpriced.

The drive was a bit scary but we only hit one bike, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. And the driver had two thumbs on his right hand, which you don't see very often. I don't think there was a bone in the top one, though. We stopped for petrol, too and the man put oil in it to make it into two-stroke. Mikey knows a lot of stuff.

There was a lot of traffic, we were totally coated in dust and fumes by the time we arrived, but it was immediately much more peaceful in Sarnath. This is the place where the Buddha held his first sermon after he attained enlightenment, and is considered the birthplace of Buddhism. There is an archaeological site here, where, about two thousand years ago, three hundred temples stood. Now it's a lot of brick ruins, most of them circular, and an impressive stupa, a circular tower 90 feet tall and 60 feet in diameter, standing in pretty parkland. We walked very, very slowly and took a long time to wander round. Indian people posed with us for photos and children all called 'hello' and 'How do you do?' Two young-ish guys followed us for ages before plucking up the courage to ask permission to take photos with us. I bought some tiny bottles of glitter from a boy. I have no idea what to do with them, but one of the bottles was purple and they were all so small, and I couldn't resist.

Then we went to the temple proper and had a little look and paid a boy for not stealing our shoes. There was a bodhi tree here, which was a ficus of some sort, that was grown from a cutting of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Walking back through the town we were offered ice-cream by every single ice-cream vendor, most of whom were selling a brand called Gaylord. Similarly with the freshly-roasted peanut sellers too. There were stalls selling tiny carved stone boxes, something else I can't resist, and I managed to buy a few using my special haggling skills. I agreed on 120 rupees for one and 325 for a couple of others, and the I suggested an overall price of 500, thinking I'd get a bargain. I didn't even notice until Mikey pointed it out, by which time it was too late. My father always said that mental arithmetic would come in useful one day and I didn't believe him. I'll work on it now! Mikey just smiled at me. A lot. I apologised for all the things I'd said about his haggling in the last few days and conceeded that he could take over from now on. He said that was just asking for trouble.

We went into the local museum too, and saw the thousand-year old four-headed lion statue that is now the symbol of India. It was a nice little place. And after that we haggled again with an auto driver and had a very hairy ride home, with swerving and close calls with all sorts of vehicles. On the plus side, the speed meant that we were back very quickly. And the driver had a normal number of thumbs.

We had an early-ish supper in the garden and then Mikey found CSI on the telly. The electricity keeps going off and the water's not working. Nevermind, eh?

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