Travel Letters: Bankapur (1883)

DEAR LIZZIE, — Since I wrote you, we have come over from Benares, and today have been making a delightful excursion to Buddh – gaya, where, as Sir Edwin Arnold tells us so prettily, Gautama sat six years under a bo-tree, and thought and thought, until at last the Dukha-Satya was opened to him, and Buddhism began. In these days, when a large part of Boston prefers to consider itself Buddhist rather than Christian, I consider this pilgrimage to be the duty of a minister who preaches to Bostonians, and so this morning before sunrise we started for Gaya and the red Barabar Hills.

We had slept in the railway station, which is not an uncommon proceeding in the out of the way parts of India, where there is no pretense of a hotel, and where you do not know anybody to whose bungalow you can drive up, as you can to that of almost any man to whom you ever bowed in the street. They are a most hospitable folk, only when you go to stay with them you are expected to bring your own bedding and your own servant, which saves them lots of trouble. Think of my appearing at your door some afternoon with a mattress and Katie. We had to drive ten miles in a rattling gharry, and as we went the sun rose just as it did on Buddha, in the same landscape in the fifth book of the ” Light of Asia,” which (as you see) I have been reading with the greatest interest. We had to walk the last two miles, because the ponies, who must have been Mohammedans, would not go any farther. It was a glorious morning, and by and by we suddenly turned into an indescribable ravine. One tumbled mass of shrines and monuments, hundreds on hundreds of them, set up for the last two thousand years by pilgrims. In the midst, two hundred feet high, a queer fantastic temple (which has been rebuilt again and again) which has in it the original Buddha figure of Asoka’s time ; a superb great altar statue, calm as eternity, and on the outside covered with gold-leaf, the seat on which the Master sat those six long years. The bo-tree has de-parted long ago, and the temples were not there when he was squatting and meditating, but the landscape was the same, and though this is one of the places where thousands of pilgrims come from both the Buddhist and the Brahmin worlds, the monuments which they set up are not as interesting as the red hills on one side, and the open plain on the other, which Sakya must have seen when he forgot for a moment to gaze at the soles of his own feet and looked upon the outer world.

It is a delightful country, this India, and now the climate is delightful. The Indian winter is like the best of our Indian summer, and such mornings and midnights you never saw. We had two weeks in Delhi, because my companion, Evert Wendell, must needs pick up the small-pox. It is rather good to know one town of a great country so well as I know that, and it is on the whole, I suppose, the most interesting town in India. I think I know every one of its superb old tombs by heart. Wendell could not have chosen a better place, if he was bound to do such a ridiculous thing at all.

I wished you a happy New Year when the old year left us in the midst of a night drive among the hills. I hope you felt my wish around the globe, or through it, which ever way wishes go. May everything go beautifully with you. May you get all you want and nothing which you do not want. It will be bad for you, but it will be pleasant. May the new church be better even than you expect. May you get any number of dry concerts and delightful books. May I come and see you flourishing gloriously through it all next September. I am not sure just what you want, but, whatever it is, may you get it abundantly. Give my best love to Arthur, and write me all about what you are doing. Affectionately, P.