Day 01: Arrival at Gaya, Drive to Bodhgaya.
Welcome on arrival at Gaya International Airport. Drive to Bodhgaya which is a 12 kms drive. On arrival, check in at the hotel. Bodhgaya is located in the Indian state of Bihar and is the place where Lord Buddha gained Enlightenment. This place is also associated with the Mahaboudha Temple complex which in 2002 became a UNESCO world Heritage Site.
Bodhgaya is situated on the banks of the river Niranjana, the holy river during the times of Lord Buddha. Across the river is a village known as Sujata Kuti, named after the girl Sujata who offered rice pudding to Siddhartha before Enlightenment.
As the story goes, Prince Gautama Siddhartha sat in meditation under a bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa). After three days and three nights of meditation, it is said he gained Enlightenment and insight into the answers he sought. Seven weeks thereafter, he travelled to Sarnath where he began teaching Buddhism. It is believed that 250 years after the Enlightenment, , the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka visited Bodh Gaya. He is considered to be the founder of the original Mahabodhi temple.
The history of Bodh Gaya has been documented by the personal accounts of Chinese pilgrims like Faxian (5th century) and Xuanzang (7th century). The area was the heart of Buddhist civilization for centuries, until it was conquered by Turkic armies in the 13th century.
Bodhgaya houses various Buddhists monasteries which belong to different sects of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.The place is sacred both religions, Buddhism and Jainism and has both places of worship.
There are several otherplace sof interest herer such as the Surya Temple at Deo, the Sun God Temple at Umya, The konchishwar Maha Deva Temple at Konch, Barabar caves, the Buddhist rock cut caves wich date back to the 3rd century.
Day 02: Drive to Bodhgaya – Rajgir – Nalanda – Vaishali – Patna Breakfast at the hotel. Drive to Patna, enroute visit Rajgir, Nalanda and Vaishali
Rajgir (70 kms, 3 hours): Rajgir was the first capital of the Kingdom of Magadha and ruled by Bimbisara, who later became a devotee of Lord Buddha. It was here that Buddha spent several months meditating and giving sermons at Gridhrakuta (Hill of the Vultures).
The remains of Jibaka, the personal physician of Lord Buddha lies here at Rajgir.
After Lord Buddha reached the state of “Parinirvana”, his followers held the first Buddhist Council here at the Saptaparni Cave. The sculpture that signifies “parinirvana” or the “great cessation” of Lord Buddha is another monument of historical and artistic importance. It shows Buddha lying on his right forearm under his head depicting the final salvation or “Mukti”. Today, Rajghir is a picturesque and serene place, visited by pilgrims all over the world.
We continue to Nalanda in the afternoon (17 kms, 30 minutes drive).
Nalanda was an acclaimed centre of Buddhist learning from the 5th century CE to 1197 CE. Though the Buddha visited Nalanda several times during his lifetime, it shot to fame much later, during the 5th-12th centuries.
The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered every field of learning, and it attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey. Hieun Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim, stayed here in the 7th century AD and left a detailed description of the excellence of the education system and purity of monastic life practiced here, giving a vivid account of the ambiance and architecture of this unique university of ancient times. At its hey day, 2,000 teachers and 10,000 monks students from all over the Buddhist world lived and studied here.
In 1193, Nalanda was ransacked and destroyed by Turkic Muslim invaders under Bakhtiyar Khilji. The great library of Nalanda University was so vast that it is reported to have burned for three months after the invaders set fire to it.
In 2006,countires like Singapore, China, India, Japan and others announced a proposed plan to restore and revive the ancient site as Nalanda International University. After visiting Nalanda, we continue our drive to Vaishali. The first republic of the world, Vaishali holds special significance for the Buddhist devotees. The ancient city of Vaishali was the place where Lord Buddha delivered his last sermons. Vai??l? is also renowned as the land of Amrapali, the great Indian courtesan, who appears in many folktales, as well as in Buddhist literature who became a disciple of Buddha.
The place gains significance from the fact that it is here that Lord Buddha announced the imminence of his Mahaparinirvana. He displayed some extraordinary and divine presentations of his spiritual superiority here. This led to mass induction of people into Buddhism. One of the most important events that took place at Vaishali was the induction of females into the Sangha. It is believed that even Mahaprajapati Gautami, the foster mother of Buddha, joined the order here, along with the other Sakya-women.
The Buddha preached a number of times in this small town and the place also became a venue for the second Buddhist Council. Gautama Buddha delivered his last sermon at Vaisali and announced his Parinirvana there. A kilometre away is Abhishek Pushkarini, the coronation tank. The sacred waters of the tank anointed the elected representatives of VAisali. Next to it stands the Japanese temple and the Vishwa Shanti Stupa (World Peace Pagoda) built by the Nipponzan Myohoji sect of Japan.
Other sites of historical importance at Vaishali include Chaumukhi Mahadeva: a lingam carved with four faces of Lord Shiva, Bhawan Pakhar Temple: a large number of Hindu deities are enshrined at one place and worshipped together., Buddha’s Stupas I and II which date back to the 4th century BCE, built of bricks with a casket containing part of the ashes of Lord Buddha.
Vaishali is also a sacred place for the Jains as well since Lord Mahavira was born in Vaishali.
After a long full day tour, we head towards Patna for an overnight haul.
Patna which is located on the banks of the Ganges, is one of the most important cities in Bihar. Patna has witnessed several dynasties that have made a great contribution towards its rich architecture and culture, the golden period was during the reign of the Mauryan and Gupta dynasties. Buddhism started flourishing in Patna during the Magadha dynasty and it happens to be the gateway to numerous stupas and monasteries built during the time of Lord Buddha. Ajatshatru, the Magadha king, first built a small fort in Pataligram on the bank of the Ganga. , Since then, the place recorded continuous history. The city was also visited by the Buddha who knew it as Patiligama. Later, Ashoka, who had a great contribution in spreading Buddhism, made Patna the venue for the third Buddhist Council. The place finds mention in the travelogues of Megasthenes and Fa- Hein who have spoken highly about the architecture and grandeur here.
Day 03: Patna – Sarnath – Varanasi After breakfast, journey towards Varanasi via Sarnath (280 kms, 8 hours)
Sarnath is located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, India.
After attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, the Buddha went to Sarnath and it was here that he preached his first discourse in the deer park. Lord Buddha encountered the five men who had been his companions of earlier austerities and taught them what he had learned. This event is referred to as “the turning of the wheel of the Dharma” (Maha-Dharmachakra Pravartan). and also marks the founding of the Sangha, or the community of monks.
The Buddha’s central teaching after his enlightenment centered around the Four Noble Truths (concerning the meaning of life) and the Noble Eightfold Path (concerning the right way to live).
Within the deer park complex is the large Dhamekha Stupa, constructed by the Emperor Ashoka in 249 BCE, and several other Buddhist structures that were added between the 3rd century BCE and the 11th century CE. The wheel symbolises samsara (world), the eternal wheel of existence which goes on and on, life after life because of ceaseless cravings and desire.
The current name Sarnath, from Saranganath, means “Lord of the Deer” and relates to another old Buddhist story in which the Bodhisattva is a deer and offers his life to a king instead of the doe he is planning to kill. The king is so moved that he creates the park as a sanctuary for deer.
At the end of the 12th century, Sarnath was ransacked by Turkish Muslims. The site was subsequently plundered for building materials and remained in ruins until until 1836, when the British began excavations and restoration.
Buddhism flourished in Sarnath because of the support of kings and wealthy merchants based in nearby Varanasi. By the 3rd century, Sarnath had become an important center for the arts, which reached its zenith during the Gupta period (4th-6th century AD). When Hsuan Tsang visited from China in the 7th century, he found 30 monasteries and 3000 monks living at Sarnath.
After Sarnath, proceed to Varanasi. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river’s religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre for several thousand years. People often refer to Varanasi as “the city of temples”, “the holy city of India”, “the religious capital of India”, “the city of lights”, and “the city of learning.”
The highlights of Varanasi are the Vishwanath temple (dedicated to Lord Shiva, the main deity is known by the name Vishwanatha meaning the Ruler of the universe), Benaras Hindu University (spread over 1350 acres (5.5 km²), it was built on land donated by Kashi Naresh, the hereditary ruler of Banaras and is the largest residential university in Asia, with over 24,000 students) and Dasomedha ghat.
Day 04: Varanasi – Bodhgaya
Few places in India are as colorful or spiritual as the bathing ghats lining the Ganges in Varanasi where Hindu pilgrims come to wash away a lifetime of sins in the Ganges or to cremate their loved ones. The river Ganga is considered a river of salvation, an everlasting symbol of hope to past, present and future generations. The accessibility to the practices of an ancient but still living religious tradition is what captivates many visitors, and a walk along the ghats or a boat ride on the river is an unforgettable experience.
After morning tour, depart for Bodhgaya (243 kms, 6-7 hours drive).
Day 05: Transfer to airport for departure. Breakfast at hotel. After breakfast, transfer to Gaya International Airport for departure.
Day 06: Varanasi – Kathmandu flight. Visit Swayambunath and Boudhnath Those who have time and are interested in visiting Lumbini, can take the Varanasi – Kathmandu flight.
Arrival at Kathmandu, transfer to hotel. After refreshments, visit Swoyambunath.
The Swayambunath Stupa is the most ancient and enigmatic of all the holy shrines in Kathmandu Valley. Historical records found on a stone inscription give evidence that the stupa was already an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination by the 5th century A.D. i.e. before the coming of Buddhism in the valley.
Among other legends, the 15th century Swayambhu Purana, tells of a miraculous lotus, planted by a past Buddha, which blossomed from the lake that once covered Kathmandu valley. The lotus mysteriously radiated a brilliant light and was named Swayambhu, meaning ‘Self-Created or Self-Existent’. Saints, sages and divinities traveled to the lake to venerate this miraculous light for its power in granting enlightenment. During this time, the Bodhisatva Manjushri was meditating at the sacred mountain of Wu Tai Shan and had a vision of the dazzling Swayambhu light. Manjushri flew across the mountains of China and Tibet upon his blue lion to worship the lotus. Deeply impressed by the power of the radiant light, Manjushri felt that if the water were drained out of the lake, Swayambhu would become more easily accessible to human pilgrims. With a great sword Manjushri cut a gorge in the mountains surrounding the lake. The water, draining away, left the valley of present day Kathmandu.
The area surrounding the stupa is filled with chaityas, temples, painted images of deities and numerous other religious objects. The presence of the Hindu Harati Devi temple signifies the intermingling of the pantheons of Hinduism and Buddhism in the development of the religious trends of Nepal.. Swayambhunath stupa is also called the `Monkey Temple’ because of the hundreds of monkeys who scamper about the temple.
After Swayambunath, visit Boudhanath Stupa which is the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. The stupa is located in the town of Boudha, on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu.
In 1979, Boudha became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is believed that this stupa contains the relics of Buddha Kashyapa. Amost 176 miniature stupas and paintings of Tibetan Buddhist pantheons cover the walls that surround the Stupa. It is an important pilgrimage site for Tibetans and is mentioned in the Tibetan Classical texts, Biography of Yeshe Tshogyal (A.D. 8 – 9) and Padma Ka’thang (A.D. 14). The Tibetan government had jurisdiction over the Stupa from the 17th – 19th century. The whole area is rich in Tibetan culture and displays some of the finest forms of Tibetan art that can be seen in the Kathmandu Valley. Colorful thangkas, Tibetan jewelry, hand-woven carpets, masks, and khukuri knives are sold in stalls.
Day 07: Fly Kathmandu – Lumbini. After breakfast
Fly Kathmandu – Lumbini. After breakfast, transfer to domestic airport for flight to Bhairahawa (30 minutes) and then continue to Lumbini. Check in at the hotel. Full day sightseeing tour of Lumbini. Lumbini is one of four Buddhist pilgrimage sites based on major events in the life of Gautama Buddha. Lumbini is the birthplace of Lord Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. The sacred place, marked by a stone pillar erected by Emperor Ashoka of India in 249 BC, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The site was rediscovered in 1895, when a German archaeologist came upon Ashoka’s Pillar, identified by its inscription. Recent excavations have turned up a stone bearing a “foot imprint”, indicating the exact place of Lord buddha’s birth. This is where the Maya Devi Temple stands today. The Puskarni pond, where Queen Mayadevi, the Buddha’s mother, had taken a bath before giving birth to him lies to the south of the Ashoka pillar.
Chinese pilgrims, Tsen Tsai (4th century A.D.), Fa-Hein ( 5th century A. D.) and Hieun-Tsang (7th century A.D.) accounted their travel to Lumbini, having seen the Holy Tree, the pond, stupas and shrines.
Today the holy site is being developed with international support as the ultimate Buddhist pilgrimage and a symbol of world peace.
Overnight stay at the Hotel. Day 06: Fly Bhairahawa – Kathmandu. Fly Kathmandu – Varanasi. Drive Varanasi – Bodhgaya.
After breakfast, transfer to airport for flight to Kathmandu. Met on arrival, transfer to International Airport for flight to Varanasi. Drive to Bodhgaya (243 kms, 6-7 hours drive) from the airport.