|Sunset over the Sarayu river with the bathing ghats of Ayodhya to the left|
I reached Ayodhya too late to see much of the town. However, the bridge over the Sarayu river at Ayodhya provided a breathtaking sight at sunset, with the river shimmering gold, and an air of calm over the scene. The many policemen on the bridge and the police vans at all the roads into the town struck a discordant note.
I could not but think how deceptive this calm is: this was the site of one of the most violent and defining moments of our country in recent times, perhaps the one place where events began a downward spiral of suspicion, hatred, violence and increasing fanaticism of both major religions.
The town itself is ancient, with some spectacularly beautiful old buildings and temples, the buildings unfortunately neglected and in a poor state of repair. The narrow main street is crowded in on both sides by shops and buildings, with even narrower lanes leading off it, where the townspeople (as opposed to pilgrims) live. Most shops, of course, sell items for worship - coconuts, incense sticks, cubes of camphor, flowers, items for prasad, prayer books. You cannot turn in any direction without sighting a temple. The Hanuman Garhi temple is one of the more famous of these, but I did not have time for a visit.
|A view of some of the temples of Ayodhya from the Sarayu bridge.|
As I stood on the bridge, my thoughts were, funnily enough, about my grandmother - someone I had not thought about for years. A pious and simple woman, she had led a difficult life as a second wife to my grandfather, uncared for by her sons in her old age. She however, never got bitter, but always insisted on seeing the good in everyone, as that is what her faith had taught her. How she would have loved to visit Ayodhya! I have come here for you, ammamma, I told her in my mind. Can you see what I see? - the beautiful river, the people bathing on the ghats, the temples? The temple bells are not ringing at the moment, but they will, soon. You believed in God as a manifestation of all that is good - and you were able to distil all the love and keep out the hatred. Unfortunately, many of us today don't do that - it is easier to hate than to love someone who is not like us.
Driving through the town towards Faizabad, we passed the barricaded Ram Janmabhoomi - strong metal fencing painted in yellow and topped with barbed wire. Policemen outside and inside it. There was thick shrubbery and many trees behind the fence - I am told it takes almost an hour of walking to reach the site of the demolished mosque. Security checks take another hour on the way.