Although a day is long and many things may happen on the road, there are some days when things seem to happen just the way you want them. Itkhori is not a large town and I did not expect easy connections to get there. The truth is, I get a direct vehicle to Itkhori. Moreover, the jeep is already full so that when I board it we immediately depart for our destination.
The ride is uncomfortable. Five sacks of coal are on the floor of the jeep. I am forced to pull up my knees until they touch my chin. My backpack is balanced on my knees that are joined together like a relief on a tribal totem pole. The cushioning on the seat is almost existent; so is the fat on my buttocks. I have lost some weight on the road. My buttocks are sore once more in continuation of yesterday’s adventures.
Halfway across the countryside I am surrounded by seven women. Eight of us are seated at the back. From this group of village women two stand out to my attention. Their eyes are light brown and lotus shaped. They have small sharp noses. Smiles on their unadorned lips bring radiance to their faces. Their hair is smooth black and neatly tied into buns. With occasional furtive glances they look at me without much interest. If there is curiosity in their minds about me, they do not show it. I maybe an outsider but they do not stare in an unfriendly manner. With no makeup, with very little gaudy jewellery and their unassuming simplicity, they are among the most beautiful women. Part of this beauty is the coarseness of their dark skins and callous palms. They are used to hard work early on in life.
I realize at that moment that all my journeys are really in search of beauty. If these women can make my day simply by their smiles and glances, it is because I have been fortunate to be aware of such beauty and take notice. As I continue my journeys I need to look for beauty in temple sculptures, rural landscapes, local cultures, ruined forts, grand mausoleums and so much more that India has in offer.
The women discuss village politics on the journey to Itkhori. Almost all of them are uneducated. One of them, an experienced community leader, offers them guidance. Many feel they are not treated well by the men folk.
‘Bakhri ki tharah rakte hai,’ one complains.
In this mood I arrive at Itkhori. From where I alight it is about 2 kms of walk to the temples and monuments. There are two things here that are worth mentioning:
- The Shiva Linga – this is probably 4.5 feet high and its surface is packed with miniatures of 1008 lingas arranged on 17 levels. The linga stands on a 4 inch square pedestal. It is enshrined in a new building. A priest is reading aloud from some sacred text. Devotees sit around him listening to the sound of the slokas, not that any of them understood them.
- The Buddhist votive stupa – this is about 5.5 feet and like the linga it is packed with reliefs. The reliefs are miniatures Buddhas in various mudras. At the top of this stupa is a carved stone that covers a bowl shaped depression in the stupa. The resident priest will lift the capping stone, dip in his fingers into water and anoint pilgrims. It is said that no one pours water into this bowl. It is always present and no one knows its source.
Itkhori is also a place of Jainism. I enquire at the office about a Jain sculpture in relief of two footsteps. I am told that it is now in a museum. The town is surrounded by small hills. I walk for a while on some hillocks. I pass a river bed, the river being only a small channel at this time of the year. I see trucks lifting sand from the the banks.
‘Are they stealing sand?’ I wonder.
I head back to town to catch a jeep to Chauparan. The day started off well but retribution comes now. I have to wait for 45 minutes for the jeep to fill up – 20 passengers in the jeep and 15 on the roof sharing the space with loads of luggage. When we finally depart, myself seated on a spare tire on the roof, the driver stops at a kiosk to fill up. They are out of diesel. The conductor borrows a cycle and pedals back to town. He comes back 30 minutes later with a can of diesel. Meanwhile we have been waiting under a hot sun.
At Chauparan, I wait along the highway. This they say is the GT Road, Grand Trunk Road, that goes all the way to Delhi. I take my seat in a private bus. It is not long before I am on way to my dream destination – Bodh Gaya.