A senior officer in the Indian Revenue Service, Deepankar Aron was posted in Hong Kong as a Consul way back in 2012. It was just a happenstance that he noticed a 35-meter high Tian Tan Buddha statue standing right next to the Hong Kong Airport that put him "On the Trail of Buddha: A Journey to the East". However, his initial inspiration had come three years before when he was on a Kailash Mansarovar Yatra in Tibet in 2009.
Deepankar writes about two octogenarian Japanese pilgrims who had stood with folded hands before an old and dilapidated structure that seemed to be 'sanctum sanctorum of a temple'. It was somewhat surprising that they should have travelled thousands of miles as pilgrims to a non-descript corner of China called Karakhoja. Even more surprising was the fact that one was a Buddhist priest and the other a worshipper of Lord Krishna - the Hindu Lord whose sacred message forms the essence of Bhagavad Gita.
"It is the story of these two unlikely Japanese pilgrims that epitomizes the theme of this Book - exploring the richness, depth and breadth of the spiritual, philosophical and cultural linkages that bind India to the East Asian civilizations of China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia," writes Deepankar.
The Book straddles between the various regions of East Asia, from Kashgar in Xinjiang in the West to Koyasan in Japan in the East; from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia in the North and to Kaohsiung in Taiwan in the South. It is as much about the discovery of a tremendous unity in diversity, as it is about hopping between different time zones separated by 2000 years of history.
Six chapters in the Book
THE BOOK is divided into six chapters for ease of navigation, The first covers the ancient cities along the Silk Road in China that were significantly responsible for the spread of Buddhism from India not only into China but also in much of the East Asia. The second covers the North-South trade axis that connects China with Mongolia. The third one moves from Sichuan in South-Western China to the primordial Kailash Parvat or Kang Rinpoche and the lake, Mansarovar or Mapham Yumtso in Tibet. The fourth moves to the South-Eastern coastal China and Taiwan from Hong Kong to Shanghai touching Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing. It then moves from Taipei to Kaohsiung passing through the city of Tainan, dotted with temples. It is possibly one of the most prosperous regions of China with many modern cities. It is thus not a surprise that most of the grandest and tallest statues of Buddha have come up there in the recent past. The fifth one meanders inside the calmness of Korea, and last but not the least comes the land of the Rising Sun - a place where history, tradition, religion and culture are seen most beautifully preserved. The author also highlights five to 10 representative cities in each of these regions.
Writing a book of such magnitude was not an easy task. Initially the author did not undertake all those journeys with the object of writing a book. However, "a propitious chain of circumstances, made the way from one place to another starting with the longest pilgrimage in the world - KAILASH." He faced numerous challenges such as language, distances, permissions, paucity of time, and resources of course, but luckily all those were sorted out. Interestingly, these journeys were undertaken in all modes of transportation - both animal and mechanized - riding camels, mules and horses; walking and trekking, especially in Tibet. The most exciting of the travelling modes for Deepankar was the high speed trains in Japan, China and Taiwan.
Journey on slow moving train rather a Bullet train
EMINENT Indian Vedic scholar Prof. Lokesh Chandra is all ecstatic about Deepankar Aron's book "On the Trail of BUDDHA: A Journey to the East". "The Book is fascinating in its flowing diction and minimum of technical details. It celebrates the last two millennia when the Asian Nations together made the journey of the Mind, serene depths of thought, art, piety confluence in the rapture of the roots," Chandra writes in his Foreword. "The living monasteries in East Asia and the desolation of the ruins in Central Asia due to theistic violence become the fascination of eyes in the evocative narrative of Deepankar. He opens up the immensity of our lost heritage, like the grandeur of Colossi in the Yun-Kang caves that are visive symbols of the majesty of the Avatamsaka tradition, reminiscent of the Bamiyan Buddhas," Prof. Chandra adds.
On the Trail of BUDDHA: A Journey to the East takes the reader on a slow-moving train journey rather a Bullet train. The author has chronicled the spread of Buddhism, as preserved in the traditions of these countries, binding them with India. Though somewhat smaller in size than the standard Coffee Table Book, On the Trail of BUDDHA with its 308 pages illustrated with bountiful photographs indicative of Deepankar's expertise with camera and printed on art paper provides an easy read.
The reviewer is the Commissioner, Goods & Services Tax in Uttarakhand. He is an intrepid traveller, ace photographer and a prolific writer. He has also received the Presidential Award for his distinguished contributions as an Indian Revenue Service officer.