Darkness. Pain. The only thing I see. The only thing I feel in my legs.
My phone is dead. It’s pitch black. I’m in the belly of the beast, the dark forest of the East Indian countryside.
I’m 14 miles away from my hotel. No taxi’s to get home, no one to call.
Bodh Gaya. The home turf of the Buddha, Gotama Siddhartha, 2600 years ago, where he sat under the Bodhi Tree and became enlightened.
14 miles away from that tree is a cave where Buddha lived for seven years, meditated and fasted. I thought it be a cool idea to run there. It’s 3pm now. I could get there before dark, I’ve run 13 miles in under two hours before (albeit over 3 years ago), but I can do it! (Says my ambitious physical fitness self).
The first seven miles fly by with joy. It’s a magical day in Bodh Gaya. Clear, sun shining, no haze which is typical in the India sky. I’m enjoying the visual sensations of an unknown land. Small farms and villages. Kids playing cricket. Men playing soccer, crowds of people watching with delight.
I’m running along the Phalgu River. A family of wild pigs soak in the last few hours of sun. Cows stroll the side of the road. Workers tend the fields. Children run with me for 100 meters, then wave good bye. People on bicycles ride along side of me and start conversations.
Mile 8. Mile 9. My knees get sore. Mile 10. Mile 11. My knees are throbbing and pace drops to slow and painful trot.
I’m getting slower with each passing minute. It’s getting darker and I’m running further away from civilization and access to taxi’s.
But I’m all in. I’m going to Buddha’s cave.
Mile 13. I can’t run anymore. Black outside. I gingerly walk up the road, not knowing where to go. There is a small home in the distance. I see a fire going. I walk to them and ask them where the Buddha cave is. They point to the woods. So I walk, seeing only a faint street light in the distance.
There is an opening in the trees and I see a long driveway up a steep hill and a very small monastery at the top.
I start walking up the hill. Then someone from the side of the road surprises me. “Hello man.”
Shocked, I take a step back and see an India guy in his late twenties. He has a motorbike with him. He offers to drive me up and down the Hill for 100 rupees. I agree.
We get to the top. The monastery and cave is closed. A monk comes to the door and says he cannot let me in.
A moment of disappointment, but it vanishes immediately. I don’t care. I’m happy I made it. I completed the journey and feeling fortunate I stubbled on this random guy and his motorbike. Maybe I can negotiate a ride back to Bodh Gaya.
I meditate for five minutes outside the entrance of the cave. I close my eyes and feel my breath. I open my eyes and observe the night sky, the stars and the soreness in my body.
When we get back down I ask him for a ride back to Bodh Gaya.
“I only have 300.”
I think to myself I’ll have to walk back at least six miles to get to the nearest main road.
Then, another guy comes out of the forest. Young, must be in his early twenties. He is friends with the first guy. The two of them start talking in Hindi about the situation.
The younger one says this is his motorbike and he offers to take me back for free.
Surprised and grateful, I thank him and all three of us jump on the motorbike and ride to Bodh Gaya.
We take dirt roads and small paths, twisting our way through villages and farmland. No electricity, just fires roasting along side the houses. I’m in unknown lands, but it feels like I’m in an unknown time too, a time long ago.
We reach my hotel in Bodh Gaya. I offer both guys to join me for dinner. My treat.
We share two pizzas (by the way the pizza in India is surprisingly good).
Biggest lesson. Yes, I could have been smarter. The run was far. It was going to get dark and my phone would die.
But I also had a deep faith and gut feeling that I would be okay. I knew I would find a ride back home. Worst case scenario I could walk a few extra miles in pain until I found a taxi.
When you set your heart to something and move forward, one step at a time, the Universe will provide. On that day, the Universe and Mother India, did provide.
P.S. My friend and I got to go inside the cave the next morning to complete the mission.