A Trek in Rajgir

Years ago, reading a literary anthology compiled and edited by an English professor from Gaya College, I had an urge to meet him. Since I did not have his address or phone number, I could not make an appointment. So I decided to first visit Rajgir, a pilgrimage center near Gaya, keeping in mind poet Eunice De Souza’s line, “The hills heal as no hand does’, and then attempt to interview the professor.

I boarded Danapur Express from Howrah and after an overnight journey, got down at Bakhtiarpur. A couple of hours in a taxi took me to the heart of Rajgir, where I put up at a Standard Chartered Bank holiday home, its caretaker being a young Bihari priest. The priest and I got on very well mainly because he could recite from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata at will, which was quite amazing.

Early next morning we were out for a trek. A little distance from Brahmakund, the hub of hot springs, he took a route off the beaten track snaking up Vaibhar Hill, atop which, he said, “are tucked away inside mysterious caves some miniature shrines”. We started ascending the rock-hewn steps, with the resonant sound of a distant gong from Shanti-Stupa keeping us company. When we got to the mouth of a huge cave after a 90-minute continuous climb, I was literally gasping for breath.

The first thing I did was to lie flat on the thick, somewhat uneven, parapet wall on the outermost edge of the ridge, where the sunlight had not reached. The cool, refreshing mountain breeze revived me in no time. Growing on the hillside was a sacred datura flower. He plucked it and went inside to a tiny stone structure with a Shiva Lingam within and performed puja while chanting sacred mantras.

I then strayed away to the far corner of the cave in a bid to find out what lay behind it. As I looked out over the parapet wall, I saw a chain of rolling low-lying hills, range upon range, a transparent cloak of bluish mist enveloping it all. It was so calm, dignified and picture-perfect that to this day I recall the scene vividly.

When we came back, it was time for the tourists to bathe in the hot springs. I felt my knees going a bit stiff, and experienced cramps in my stomach. When I told the priest, he took me to the Brahmakund and asked me to keep my legs, knees pointed down, in the natural hot water for a while and then gulp down some of it. When I did what he had said, there was not a trace of ache anywhere in my body.

Later I learnt that people both elderly and young come here from far-flung areas specifically for the hot springs whose source is somewhere deep within the mountains. It’s an unfailing cure, the priest told me, for gout, indigestion and common skin disorders. In the water are curative elements not to be found in any drugstore anywhere.

The following day I did meet the professor at his college and then at his residence, and a week later, the interview appeared in a Dehradun-based daily.

First published in The Statesman

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.