Silk Road – The China Story
18 Days Spectacle to reconstruct the past and experience the present of what’s left of the worlds oldest trade route.
Shambunath Misra, a tall, lanky, fit 75 year old gentleman was a guide in the ruins of Nalanda, a 4th century University for higher learning in Buddhist studies. Born and raised in this obscure village, Shambunath did not go to school even if he could afford it, there were no schools in his impoverished village. Archaeologists and Buddhist monks were his only source of knowledge. He made a merger living by sharing his passion and knowledge with the occasional tourist who visited Nalanda.
Sometime in Feb 2007 he was guiding my 18th visit to this ancient site. Seeing an assemblage of Chinese monks he said, “ Sir, this is Mecca for all the Cheena monks, because Huan Tsang learnt here Dhamma; and then teach in Cheena”. He continued “ Huan Tsang born in Tang Dynasty Sir; same time Gupta Dynasty in India, 600 AD Sir! Golden Age of China, Tang Period; Golden Age of India, Gupta Period. Same time Sir !”. “ Huan Tsang very much want to learn Dhamma Sir”… “that time no proper Dhamma in Cheena”…. Huan Tsang have many many questions Sir”.. “ So he came walking from Cheena Sir!”.. “3,000 miles” .. “on silk road Sir!”.. “To learn Mahayana in Na-lan-dha.”… “ After learning Dhamma he roaming 3000 miles in India Sir! ”.. and he go back Cheena with many many sutra.. he again walk 3000 miles in desert Sir”.. “ silk road walking, very very difficult ! Hot ! No Water Sir ! No Billage like Rajasthan Sir!”.. “ very much danger ! ” As we were exiting the ruins he said “ Sir, his memorial is finished, beautiful place Sir, please see it this time”. My apathy for Chinese history forced me to avoid visiting the memorial.
This ordeal of Shambunath persuading me to visit the memorial and I brushing him off continued until 2009. During these later visits, I noticed dramatic increase in Shambunaths knowledge of China, he began arousing my interest on China by adding fascinating anecdotes to his guiding that he learnt from Chinese monks who visited the memorial. He would drift off with passion, as though he had witnessed Chinese civilizations unfold for 5000 years with his own eyes..
“When Bharata ruled from our mother Ganga, Hung-gadi ruled from their mother, they say Yellow River Sir.” “When our King Bimbisara built the cyclopean walls in Rajgira, their King Jow declared Mandate of Heaven Sir,”.. “ when God take back mandate of heaven, the King go and new King come”… “ Our gurus write Vedha here, their gurus write I – Ching”.. “Same time Sir”… “Buddha Give Dhamma here, LoJi give
Dhao there.. 550 BC, Sir”. They also have Dhamma sir, they say “Dhao” – The way; very great people Sir!”.. “Big Big war they fight with horse people and fedup Sir”… “So the build great Wall; very long wall Sir” “Now middle Kingdom inside and horsemen outside..”
“The horseman also fedup and go to Gandahar Sir..” “They only Kushan Sir!” “Our own Kushan Sir, Kaniska Maharaja !”.. “But how will Cheena take silk to India and Roma Sir?” “ So King Wu built silk road in the desert Sir.. he put many warriors, fire tower and give full bandobust for merchants Sir..” “from Cheena to Kaashgar Sir, many many miles Sir” “ Wu become friend with Kanishka Maharaja Sir, because Kaniska make third Buddhist council in Casmeer and invite Wu Sir.” “Now given full Bandobust by Cheena till Kashgar,” “after that Kushan Army till Parsi Seth Land,” “after that Roman army Bandobust Sir”. “Baniya from Persiland, Roma, Jew, Arabia, Dakshina.. all over the world came to Cheena in many many camels, horses, buffalo, donkeys. Many monks from Cashmere and Gandahar also join Sir.” “The China kings also make many caves in the desert Sir, for people take rest, drink water, eat, meditate..” “and just like Ajanta they paint inside cave Sir.. “ Indian monks paint Buddha Jataka, Parsis monk paint Parsi jataka, Cheena monk paint Cheena Jataka”.. “beautiful paintings Sir..”.. “ then islam come to Silk Road Sir”.. “break all Budha statue Sir.. Same time Muhamed Bakthiar break Nalanda Sir” no more Parsi, no more Jew, no more Buddhist in Silk road sir. Only Muslim sir”.
Intrigued by Shambunath’s narratives China and Silk Road became my obsession. Between 2009 and 2012 I read Chinese history and culture whenever time permitted. I supplemented my reading with visits to the MET, The British Museum, Louvre and the India Museum, because they house many precious Silk Road art and artifacts having Indian influence. In April 2013 I visited Nalanda and called Shambunath to share my findings and also to let him know about my visit to China. His son answered the phone; and conveyed to me about the sad demise of Shambunath few days ago. In Sep 2013 I visited China once again and travelled extensively in the Silk Road. Shambunath’s narratives reverberated as I was exploring Luoyang, Anyang, Xian, Dunhuang, Urumqi, Turpan, Kuqa and Kashgar – an experience of a life time.
I began sharing my Silk Road experience with Kiki and this trip was born.