Mosquito mystery & massacre in Buddhist Bodhgaya

theo looks horrified by the mosquito massacre in a bodhgaya hotel room

It was like a scene from a horror movie.

An attack of vicious insects.

A middle-of-the-night battle that left us stunned — and suffering.

A few weeks later, I still can’t understand how it could happen.

It was the first night of our week-long stay in Bodhgaya, Bihar, India. A place sacred to all Buddhists — said to be where Buddha attained enlightenment some 2,500 years ago.

left, mahabodhi temple entrance in bodhgaya; right, a distant shot of the guest house

As Earth Vagabonds, we are always open to places that inform and expand our spiritual consciousness. In addition, our Indian travel route put us nearby, we had an unplanned week, and my mom – another serious spiritual scholar – was with us, wrapping up her three-month winter visit/vacation. Bodhgaya seemed a perfect place.

And it was. Except for that first harrowing night.

Before the mosquito mystery, nothing amiss

With mom, we had checked into a guest house – and taken two separate rooms. I’m not naming the place because what occurred wasn’t their fault. And the place is part of a charitable organization that does fabulous work. In fact, we chose this Airbnb stay to help their mission. We certainly don’t wish to harm their reputation. Plus, the next day, they were extremely apologetic and made the rest of our stay completely pleasant. 

That first evening, after enjoying a home-cooked meal prepared just for us, we took a short stroll around the neighborhood, then retired to our rooms. The accommodations were basic, but clean and comfortable — a great deal for just $10.

Comfy double bed, fresh linens, spotless tiled bathroom, clothes shelves, a work desk, two arm chairs, strong AC unit, fast WiFi, a screened window (closed tight). All in all, more like a hotel room than our usual apartment rentals. But to help the charity, we’d make due for the week.

Ellen and I relaxed for a few hours, the AC a big relief from the scorching heat outside. As usual, we used our electronic devices for internet surfing, news, and communication. At about 11 p.m. we shut down and went to bed.

Middle-of-the-night mosquito massacre

dead, blood-filled mosquitoes and blood-stained bed sheets

At 2:09 a.m. I was startled awake by Ellen’s shrieks. Swatting into the darkness, she said mosquitoes were biting her. She leaped up and flicked on the lights. Although bleary-eyed, I could see blood on her forehead and several spots on the bed sheets. She had obviously smacked a bloodsucker or two.

‘Oh my God’ she exclaimed, while waving wildly at the air as I cleared my head. Suddenly I realized mosquitoes were on me, and around me, and visible EVERYWHERE! Dozens and dozens of the infernal pests were buzzing around inside our room.

I leapt up and began swatting. Within seconds, I had crushed 15 or 20, and missed many more. Soon my hands were smeared with blood and bug remains. Obviously, they had been feasting on us. We kept swatting.

Unbelievably, over the next two-and-a-half hours, we killed more than 190 individual mosquitoes! Yes! 190! Their carcasses littered the floor. I swept them into several piles and counted them. You see most of them in the photos here.

mosquito mystery: carcasses are numbered
mosquito mystery: carcasses are numbered

Thirty seven in the small hotel bathroom, 112 along the window wall, 40 in another corner of the room. And there were more – uncountable – squished against the walls, our luggage, the bed, against our skin.

At 4:54 a.m., in a shocked stupor, we washed up and went back to bed. It was a nightmare — but it was over. We left the body piles to prove to ourselves (and the guest house staff) that it had happened. When we awoke again, there they all were. It had not been a dream.

Mosquito mystery

To this very moment, I cannot explain how such a thing could happen. The windows were closed. We never opened the door. We saw ZERO mosquitoes in the hours we sat in the small room before we slept. If 200 mosquitoes had been in that space – we’d have seen SOMETHING!


Of course, by 8 a.m. we had reported what happened to both my mom and the property managers. As you’d expect, they were skeptical — until they saw the dead bugs pictured here. Ellen counted 26 individual bites on her body. I only had a few – but my palms were bruised and sore for days due to the hundreds of ‘claps’ I made during the surreal overnight bug hunt.

Thankfully, mom had no mosquito issues. None. Nor any other guests. Everyone was as surprised and stymied as we were. It remains one of the most bizarre incidents of our travel lives — our whole lives!

left - theo's hands with mosquito carcasses; right - a closeup shot of a mosquito
The mosquitoes appeared to be what’s called the ‘malaria mosquitoes’ – Anopheles – because some species transmit malaria, as well as up to 51 different viruses in the Chikungunya family. There are more than 400 species.

As I stated earlier, the dumbfounded guest house staff was very apologetic. We initially said we felt we had to notify Airbnb and move to different accommodations. They understood, but offered us an immediate move to another room. Still wanting to support their charity work, we agreed to stay – but stressed; if we saw a single mosquito we were out.

We ended up staying six more comfortable nights as planned. Most the mosquitoes we encountered were outside, in the neighborhood, around the town – where they are supposed to be. Days later, we did swat a few in the hallway, around our door, and in our room — but nothing like the swarm that attacked us. The mystery remains.

Over the next few days, we did discuss possible explanations: a nest, the bathroom drains, under the door? One staff member said he noted a tiny crack in the window frame that mosquitoes could squeeze through. But hundreds? At the same time? An army?

In the end, all we can do is shake our heads — and laugh. Eventually, the staff suggested maybe the Taliban found out Americans were staying there and had sent these ‘mosquito drones’. Sounds as plausible as any other explanation.

Climate Crisis

Chillingly, whatever was the cause of this freak event, we’d guess it had something to do with the changing climate and increasing stresses on nature that we all see more often in the news – and first hand. Heck, it was 109 degrees fahrenheit on one of our days in Bodhgaya – and 112 the day we left in mid-April! That’s nearly 10 degrees above normal for that time of year.

We’ve recently read The Climate Book – a best selling collection of facts, statistics, and science put together by activist and author Greta Thunberg. I believe every person on the planet should read it! Without action to address the litany of earth’s ills caused by mankind, hundreds of mosquitos in a hotel room will be the least of the problems we all will soon face.

As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails & more beer.

Life is NOW!

Ellen’s note: Since attending a vipassana retreat in southern India in January 2023, I had not killed any being – including mosquitoes. However, I killed 12 of the bloodsuckers during this mosquito massacre, most of which had landed on my legs or face.

Thanks for reading, “Mosquito mystery & massacre in Buddhist Bodhgaya.”

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