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Buddha stands for enlightenment and it is also the name of Gautama Buddha who achieved nirvana after intense meditation and preached a new way of life, that of Buddhism that eschewed established tenets of the then Hindu way of life. There are conflicting versions about where he was born. Some say it is Lumbini, others say it is Kapileswara in Orissa or Piprahwa in Uttar Pradesh. All these places are accordingly considered pilgrimage sites by devout Buddhists. It is said that prince Siddharth was struck by the various conditions under which humans suffered and left Kapilvastu on a quest for enlightenment passing by Rajagaha on the way. Places he visited also became pilgrimage sites and the site Bodh Gaya, where he attained Nirvana, or enlightenment, holds a special significance for Buddhists.
Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree here, about 2500 years ago and, as such, it has special significance for devout Buddhist for whom it is a must-visit place. The site is marked by a Mahabodhi temple and a temple said to be an offshoot of the original tree still stands within the complex.
Gaya is the nearest airport at a distance of 17 km and there are Indian Airlines flights on Fridays whereas Druk Air flies in from Bangkok once a week. Patna is 110 km away from where you can take a train or private cab to Bodh Gaya. There are daily flights to Patna from various cities of India.
By road it takes 3 hours from Patna to Bodh Gaya and you can take a private taxi for the purpose.
Gaya is also the closest railway station, about 16 km from Bodh Gaya, You can take rickshaws or taxis from Gaya. It takes about 2 hours for the train from Patna to reach Body Gaya.
Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation runs a daily bus service to Bodh Gaya from Gaya.
Beware of local people who offer to show you around for a modest remuneration. They can ask more and the scene can become quite ugly if you refuse to meet their demands. It is best not to shop or buy souvenirs or anything since locals fleece tourists.
There are a number of cafes and restaurants in Gaya offering not only Indian cuisine but also Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine for people from these countries. Restaurants may serve lliquor but it is best to ask beforehand.
The Mahabodhi Stupa and the Temple are the chief attractions. You can view the Vajrasana, the stone on which it is said the Buddha sat and obtained enlightenment. You can then go on to the Thai Monastery, admire the 80 foot high Buddha Statue, the Japanese Temple and the Royal Bhutanese Monastery. The Archeological Museum is another attraction where you can view ancient artifacts. The Bodhgaya Multimedia Museum is also interesting since it provides a wealth of information on the Buddha. If you like you can go on to Barabar caves, 24 km north of Gaya, and view Ashokan inscriptions.
Sarnath is about 10 km from Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities. It is said Buddha left for Sarnath from Gaya and preached for the first time at the Deer Park. His teachings influenced Emperor Ashoka who erected a Stupa at this place. Of all the buildings constructed from time to time the Dhameka stupa, said to have been built around 500 AD, is the most impressive. Devout Buddhists circumambulate the Stupa and feel they have fulfilled a religious duty. Sarnath is also famous for the Ashoka Pillar that graces the Indian national flag. Relics of ancient monasteries are other places of interest to Buddhist pilgrims visiting Sarnath.
Sarnath is 24 km from Varanasi airport from where you can catch flights to other cities on a daily basis. You can get taxis, buses and rickshaws from Varanasi airport to Sarnath.
You can take a bus to Varanasi from major cities of India and transfer to another local bus.
You can hire a taxi or rickshaw to take you to Sarnath and for local transportation but be careful of unscrupulous drivers.
Places to visit|
The important landmark is the Dhamekh Stupa constructed by Emperor Ashoka in 249 BC and the Stupa is where it is believed the Buddha taught his disciples.
Another spot, the Chaukhandi Stupa, is where the Buddha met his main five disciples.
Mulagandhakuti Vihara is where the Buddha is believed to have passed time during the rains.
Sarnath Museum is where you will find interesting artifacts from nearby sites.
There are a couple of restaurants that offer local cuisines and national cuisines.
Kushinagar is important for Buddhist Pilgrims in that this is the place where he left for his heavenly abode sometime around 543 BC. There are interesting artifacts on view that reveal just how widespread Buddhism was in these parts in the olden days. The chief attractions are the Nirvana stupa temple, the Mahaparinirvana temple, the Ramabhar Stupa, the Wat Thai temple and a modern Japanese temple.
Kushinagar can be reached from Gorakhpur which is about 53 km away. It takes one and a half hours to traverse the distance by bus. You can reach Gorakhpur by train, bus and flight from major cities of India. You can also fly in to Varanasi which is 263 Km away and Lucknow which is 275 Km and take a train to Gorakhpur or take a bus or private taxi. Deoria is another railway station about 35 km away.
Rajgir in Bihar is another important destination for Buddhist devotees and it is believed the Buddha stayed here for some time. Huen Tsand and Fa Hien also visited Rajgir. You can find many places of interest around Rajgir.
Patna and Gaya are the airports closest to Rajgir. Rajgir is also reached by trains connecting to Delhi, Kolkata and Patna. You can get a taxi from Patna to Rajgir or take the local bus.
Places to see
The places worth a visit are Japanese stupa, the Gridhakuta or vulture’s peak where the Buddha meditated, the Venuvana said to have been gifted by king Bimbisara to Lord Buddha, the Tapodharma monastery, the Saptaparni Caves and Bimbisara’s jail. Tourists enjoy the ropeway and the hot springs here.
Nagarjunakonda should be on a Buddhist pilgrim’s map because, though it is not quite as famous as Sanchi or Bodh Gaya, is one of the outstanding sites. Though submerged by the Nagarjunasagar Dam, the island site is what remains today of a once rich Buddhist place. It is named after Nagarjuna who lived here in the 2nd Century AD. Nagarjunakonda was home to monasteries and was a learning center to which people traveled from Sri Lanka, China and Bengal in search of enlightenment.
Hyderabad is the nearest airport, about 150 Km away, from where one can take a train to Guntur or to Macherla Mandal, about 24 KM away and from there, travel by private taxi or bus to the museum that houses the dug up relics retrieved from the ancient site. Tourists take a boat at Vijayapuri jetty at the southerly end of the dam.
Nagarjunakonda was home to Dhanyakataka said to be the capital of the Satavahanas. Sriparvata Vijayapuri was also in the vicinity. Buddhism flourished here in the 3rd and 4th century BC. All the relics unearthed during the excavation works were transferred to the Museum on an island in the middle of the Lake. The museum is a rich repository of artifacts. Worthy of note are the various stupas depicting the life of Buddha and chapters from the Jataka tales. One can also view carvings of pillars and Hindu sculptures along with simple household ceramic pottery.
Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Ajanta and Ellora are two separate sites. Ajanta is located close to Jalgaon and Aurangabad in Maharashtra. Ajanta is UNESCO site comprising of 30 caves built sometime around the 2nd century. The Ajanta caves are famed for the giant wall murals depicting virtually all aspects of the life of Buddha and his disciples as well as scenes from the Jataka tales. The paintings are unique in that they utilize the tempera technique of using mud plaster instead of actual paint.
Ellora is about 29 Km to the Northwest of Aurangabad and exhibits a mix of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu religions in the rock cut architecture exhibited in 34 caves carved out of the Charanandri Hills. It is said work on the caves went on for centuries with Hindu Kings, Buddhists and Jain merchants financing the ongoing work, which accounts for the mix of various religious to be found in this stupendous site. Of interest to Buddhist are the 12 Buddhist caves. A few caves were built during the 5th to 7th century whereas the Vishwakarma Gufa dates back to 500 AD and is the most awe-inspiring cave with a giant 15 foot statue of Buddha with a Bodhi tree in the background and magnificently carved walls, pillars and ceiling.
Aurangabad is the nearest airport from where one can take a bus or taxi to Ajanta Caves, 105 km away. One can also take a train to Aurangabad or Jalgaon from where it is about 59 km and travel the rest of the distance by bus or taxi. There are direct buses from Mumbai, Pune and other cities in Maharashtra. Ellora is only 29 Km from Aurangabad, accessible by road.
It will take more than a day to explore the caves in detail.
Ratnagiri and Udayagiri in Orissa
For Buddhist pilgrim, Ratnagari and Udayagiri in Odissa or Orissa are two destinations worth a visit. Ratnagiri, now in Jaipur district, was home to a magnificent Buddhist monastery and the Pushpagiri University. Udayagiri is the site of ancient monasteries and stupas. It is believed Ratnagar was a flourishing city under Narasimha Baladitya during the 6th century and remained so till the 12th century, being one of the most important centres of Buddhist tantra, known as Kalachakratantra. Excavations have yielded magnificent monasteries, carvings and stupas and work still continues, showing that these two sites were home to a flourishing Buddhist culture from the 5th to 13th Century with the peak being reached around the 10th century. Lalitagiri also forms part of the complex. Tourists must know that most of the artifacts are housed in the museum where entry fees are charged and visiting hours are from 10 AM to 5 PM.
Ratnagiri and Udayagiri are about 65 km from Cuttack and from Bhubhaneshwar the distance is 85 km. One can travel to Cuttack or Bhubhaneshwar by air from any city of India. From here it is a simple matter of taking a bus or taxi to the excavation sites. Bhubhaneshwar and Cuttack are also on the rail map. It is best to have a conveyance at your disposal to move around the three sites.
Amravathi and Thotlakonda in Andhra Pradesh
Amravathi or Amravati (not to be confused with Amravati in Maharashtra) is located on the banks of the Krishna River near Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. It was the capital of the Satavahana dynasty and later on the Ikshvakus and thereafter the Hindu Pallava Kings followed by the Cholas and the Chalukyas. However, from a Buddhist perspective, the city was a flourishing centre during the 2nd century and houses a large Stupa which bears teachings of the Vajrayana sect of Buddhist Kalachakra Tantra. So important it is for Buddhist that his Holiness, the Dalai Lama of Tibet performed a ceremony here in 2006. Here you can admire a large, 38 metres high stupa with carvings depicting the life of Buddha. Amravati was a pilgrimage centre and is still an important place for Buddhists from all over the world.
Thotlakonda is not far away, located 16 km from Bheemli near Vizag on the Eastern Coast in Andhra Pradesh. This region flourished between 200 BC and 300 AD and one can see how prosperous it was from the relics at the site showing stone wells, monasteries, stupas and Chaityas. The site is atop a hill and even today, one can meditate in peace as Buddhist monks used to do centuries ago.
Fly in to Hyderabad and take a train or bus to Visakhapatnam or Guntur from where you can travel to Amravati and Thotlakonda. From Guntur it is a distance of 35 km and from Vijayawada it is about 60 kms. You can also take a train to Guntur, Vijayawada or Visakhapatnam and cover the rest of the distance by private taxi or bus. It is best to have a car at your disposal since this allows you to visit the other Buddhist centres in Anupa, Bavikonda, Battiprolu and Chandavaram, all located close to each other in the same region.
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