A journey beyond a destination

A senior Indian Revenue Service officer, Deepankar Aron was posted to Hong Kong as consul in 2012. It was by chance that he noticed a 35-meter tall Tian Tan Buddha statue right next to the Hong Kong airport that put it”In the Footsteps of Buddha: A Journey to the East”.

Aron writes of two Japanese pilgrims in their eighties who had stood with folded hands before an ancient, dilapidated structure that looked like a temple’s sanctum sanctorum. “It was somewhat surprising that they had traveled thousands of miles as pilgrims to an indescribable corner of China called Karakhoja. Even more surprising was the fact that one was a Buddhist priest and the other a worshiper of Lord Krishna – the Hindu Lord whose sacred message forms the essence of the Bhagavad Gita,” he adds.

“It is the story of these two unlikely Japanese pilgrims that sums up the theme of this book – to explore the richness, depth and breadth of the spiritual, philosophical and cultural ties that bind India to the civilizations of East Asia. ‘Eastern China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia.’” writes Aron.

The book traverses various regions of East Asia, from Kashgar in Xinjiang in the West to Koyasan in Japan in the East; from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia to the north and from Kaohsiung in Taiwan to the south. It is as much about discovering a tremendous unity in diversity as it is about jumping between different time zones separated by 2000 years of history.

In the footsteps of Buddha is divided into six chapters for easy navigation. The first covers the ancient cities along China’s Silk Road which were largely responsible for the spread of Buddhism from India, not only to China but also to much of East Asia. The second covers the North-South trade axis linking China to Mongolia. The third moves from Sichuan in southwest China to primordial Kailash Parvat or Kang Rinpoche and the lake, Mansarovar or Mapham Yumtso in Tibet. The fourth moves to the southeast coast of China and Taiwan from Hong Kong to Shanghai, touching Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing. It then moves from Taipei to Kaohsiung via the city of Tainan, dotted with temples.

It is perhaps one of the most prosperous regions in China with many modern cities. It is therefore not surprising that most of the grandest and tallest Buddha statues have appeared there in the recent past. The fifth chapter winds through quiet Korea, and last but not least, comes the Land of the Rising Sun.

A place where history, tradition, religion and culture are best preserved. The author also highlights five to 10 representative cities in each of these regions.

Writing a book of such magnitude was no easy task. Aron faced many challenges such as language, distances, permissions, lack of time and resources of course, but luckily all of them were resolved.

Interestingly, these journeys were undertaken in all modes of transport – animal and mechanized – by camel, mule and horseback; walking and trekking, especially in Tibet. The most exciting mode of travel for Deepankar was high-speed trains in Japan, China and Taiwan.

In the footsteps of Buddha: A Journey to the East takes the reader on a slow train rather than a high-speed train. The author chronicled the spread of Buddhism, as it is preserved in the traditions of these countries, linking them to India. Although a bit smaller than the standard coffee table book, In the footsteps of Buddha with its 308 pages illustrated with numerous photographs revealing Deepankar’s expertise with the camera and printed on art paper offers easy reading.

Title: In the Footsteps of BUDDHA: A Journey to the East
Author: Deepankar Aron
Pages: 308
Cover price: Rs. 1995
Raj Kanwar is a 92-year-old veteran journalist and author based in Dehradun.

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