The car came pelting down the road in the scorching heat of the summer. The sun was turning out to be unbearable. But still we managed to sit inside the suffocating car with our mouths shut. The AC was turned on but the seats were hot as if boiling above some invisible gas stove. I rolled down the window to allow some air to pass in.
“What are you doing?!” the driver asked.
“What?” I managed to speak.
“The AC is on! Why do you have to open the window now?” he was irritated.
“But it’s suffocating in here. I want some fresh air” I replied.
“Fresh air?” he mouthed the words as if I had gone mad. Well, I couldn’t blame him anyway. There was no such thing as fresh air. Fresh heat was the right word.
We were in Sarnath, approximately 13 kms away from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The place is rich in history and literature of Gautama Buddha. He is said to have lived here for some period of time forming the sangha- a group of five disciples that were Buddhist monks. He gave his first sermon here. As the car entered in the main area, I could see tourists and Indian travelers in abundance on the streets. There were shops lined up on both sides of the road. Food and drinks vendors were surrounded by thirsty crowd. The driver parked the car on one side in an empty space. There were no special parking places nearby. I stepped out of the car and directly in front of me was a vendor selling water-melon juice. The sight was very tempting. But I resisted. Temple first, I told myself and walked ahead.
My first view of the main temple was most appealing to the eyes. The construction looked tall and solid. It had rising pillars towards the sky. On both side of it was a vast land of greenery. It was highly maintained and cleaned. The air itself was refreshing so much that I forgot everything about the heat. There was a shoe stand where a man stood on his guard. I passed him my sandals which he kept neatly on the shelf. Camera was allowed inside. Thank goodness for that! Tourists were clicking away pictures. A group of travelers from Maharashtra asked me to click a picture of theirs.
On entering inside the temple, I was surprised to see the largeness of the place. It did not look so big from outside. In front of me stood a magnificent idol of Gautama Buddha. Both sides of the place had drawings and beautiful paintings. In one of the corners was an inscription which described the history of the sacred relics of Sakyamuni Buddha. At the left of the main entrance, there was a book section. The collection of the books was based on the history of the place. Some of them had teachings of the Buddha. I was immersed in the rich literature for a long period of time.
It was sunset when I tore myself away from the book section. Venturing out in the garden, I walked in the lawn and came across many other statues of Buddha. The place had become more crowded than ever. But there was peace in the minds of all. Perhaps, it was the enchanting air filled with the sermons of the Buddhist monks. Or the presence of the Enlightened One.