At the ruins of Nalanda University, 12 km away from breakfast, we engage the services of Mr. Anil Kumar, who is name-tagged and licensed by the Department of Archaeological Survey of India. It turns out to be an entertaining and educational hour. Mr. Kumar has a well rehearsed script with each paragraph prefixed by an address to me. “Sister, this was built in the 5th century. It was excavated in 1915. Sister, look here the start of the stairs for the 9 storey building.” I take it to mean that I am responsible for ensuring he gets a good fee. “The government rate is 100 rupees, sister, but this rate is since 1995. So if happy you pay as you like, sister.” He was a studious looking fellow, a bit rumpled. He used ‘sister’ effectively when he thought my attention was wandering. “Sister, there are 108 monasteries buried by the earthquake and here 11 identical monasteries are excavated, main entrance not yet discovered. Now excavation at a complete standstill by the department. Because sister, over there villages are.”
In truth, Nalanda is pretty awesome. Some of the engineering are quite clever. The drains, for example become progressively deeper, from 6 inches to about 3 feet. “Here the monks bathe, sister. Toilet, outside.” So they were mooners back then too. The monastery was built and used between the 5th and 12th centuries. It was then sacked by the Afghans and subsequently buried in an earthquake, thus Nalanda faded into obscurity. In 1861 an English archaeologist discovered evidence of it in the diary of 7th century Chinese monk, Xuan Zhang. It was not until early 20th century that Nalanda was finally excavated. This is the possibly the world’s largest excavated university. It was also established 700 years before Paris, Cambridge and Oxford. The grounds are well planted and very pleasant.
As we leave, a bevy of old ladies and one young girl pursue us to the jeep. Ashok irritably snapped at them and they coolly ignored him. The young girl kept up a pitiful wail while her eyes darted around watchfully, presumably for a more receptive audience.