On first full day in Bodhgaya, I have a strange random thought in the morning: wouldn’t it be funny if I ran into someone I knew while I was here?
And then, very, very strangely, I actually do. I’m walking to meet a friend of Daduji’s for tea when a motorbike with an Indian man and a white guy pulls up to me. My jaw drops. The white guy is an Australian I met in Darjeeling 3 or 4 weeks ago.
We laugh for a few minutes. Allan (the Australian) explains that he and Viki (the Indian) have been chasing after foreigners as potential guests for Viki’s aunt’s guesthouse. I take his cell number and say I’ll meet them for chai around 6.
The next few days are a string of fun adventures, many enabled by the fact that male travelers just have a less complicated time befriending locals. Allan happens to be exceptionally good at this, in part because he is continually playing cricket or football with locals and in part because he is just a friendly guy.
One of his new friends, for example, invites him to a wedding, which Allan then invites me to. We basically just attend the giant feast portion of the celebration, which goes on all night — later we can hear them partying and see fireworks from the rooftop nearby — but it was pretty cool.
His new bff, Viki, helps us arrange several things I didn’t know were possible for foreigners to find: train tickets without commissions (he points out the ticketing office), mahua (a local liquor made from tree flowers), a cell phone without the paperwork (so. so. awesome.), and an adventure in fish.
We go to the fish market on Monday afternoon, a bag of veggies and cilantro and chilis in hand. Viki picks out a couple of fish from a large cooler. The air is thick with flies buzzing around piles of discarded fish and chicken parts from the butcher next door.
The fish monger scrapes the scales off the fish and cleans the insides, then passes them to a cook, who greases a pan and sets the fish sizzling.
While Viki dices up the vegetables, he puts Allan to work grinding the chilis and garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle.
The chef tosses chili powder and turmeric onto the fish, sending up a pungent cloud of spice that sets all of us coughing. He tosses in the vegetables and chili mixture and soon we have two newspaper-lined sacks of spicy fish.
We pour ourselves rum and cokes and dig into the fish. It’s easily some of the best fish I’ve ever had: incredibly spicy and flavorful, and it flakes right off the bone. I am not exaggerating when I comment afterwards that pretty much everything about the day has been ideal.