This modern adventure report retraces the barefoot lifetime steps of an Indian prince born at Lumbini, now in Nepal, who became a wandering monk and moral philosopher. On his death, in one of great ironies of history, he was adopted as the founder of the religion of some 350 million Asians.
The author of a dozen travel books takes us on a guided tour of a well-worn path, fully illustrated by original color photographs and maps. The book can be read three ways: as travel guide, interesting stories of fellow travelers, or a listing of memorable sites.
Travelers in their seventies seeking the same route need an adventurous spirit. Indian trains can be as long as twenty coaches and cover immense distances. A 50-mile bus trip can take three hours because of multiple stops. Other needed transportation included jeeps, pedicabs, motorized pedicabs, and even chair lifts. Hotel accommodations are primitive.
He traveled alone, although some guides help him evade potential disasters. Many pilgrims had strange stories. A Buddhist nun when queried "How is it you wear a cross, which is the symbol of the Christians, on your chest?" replied "People say that Jesus was a Bodhisattva." One Mid-Westerner confessed to killing his wife in Hong Kong after she was found with a lover-he parked their car at the edge of a steep hill and when she was seated he released the brake and jumped clear. A repentant major in the Gurkha Rifles plotted to firebomb his unfaithful wife but out of last minute compassion for their barking pet dog threw the bomb away.
The shrines (called stupas), monasteries and statues are found in places with unusual Indian names, such as Lumbini, Kapilavastu, Bodh-Gaya, and Kushinagara, ranging over 300 miles. Recent excavations by Indian and Japanese archeologists in the last 30 years have unearthed memorable sites.
A great Buddhist university was built a thousand years ago at Nalanda, some 30 miles northeast of the famous banyan tree (ficus religiosa). The Moslem invasion at the end of the twelfth century destroyed Nalanda, as monks were slaughtered, and monasteries and the great collection of books burned. So the vast literature of Buddhism had to be painstakingly recovered from Shri Lanka, Burma, Tibet and China and in some cases translated back into its original Sanskrit. Yet, he writes, we know more about the founder of Buddhism, whose ministry lasted 45 years, than about the founder of Christianity.
The writer gives no explanation of Buddhist doctrine, although he has been a lifetime student since his young days as an officer of the Gurhka soldiers in the British army. Yet he has erudite explanations-as befits a fellow of Trinity college, London-of the historical significance of sites from the birthplace to the site of Buddha's death (he survived two assassination attempts but was felled at about age 80 by poisonous mushrooms).
At the banyan thee there is a huge 64-foot statue. As the writer sat under the banyan tree on his head some purple berries fell, saved in an empty film canister. His book ends: "I planted some of the berries from the Bo-tree at Bodh-Gaya in my home in Hampshire [England]. Tended indoors with the greatest care, the best of them is now a sapling several feet high."