Buddhist Pilgrimage Tour
The Full Buddhist Circuit:
Lumbini, Sravasti, Kushinagar, Keshariya, Vaishali, Patna, Nalanda, Rajgir, Boudh Gaya, Sarnath, Varanasi- Kathmandu
Itinerary Day Wise and HighlightsDay 01: Kathmandu (Arrive Kathmandu, transfer to Hotel. Visit Patan)
Patan City or Lalitpur, which literally means a city of artisans, is a treat for the eyes. It is an enchanting m�lange of palaces, spacious courtyards and beautiful monuments. The remarkable 16th century temple dedicated to the Hindu God Lord Krishna built entirely of stone and adorned with intricate carvings is an architectural wonder. The Tibetan Refugee Camp, just a stone's throw from the main thoroughfare of the district, is famous for its Tibetan rugs and handicrafts. The famous Kwa Baha known as the Golden Temple located in the periphery of the main palace square is an absorbing experience. Other places of interest are the Mahabouddha Temple also known as Mahabodhi Mandap Vihara.
Day 02: Sightseeing and afternoon fly to Bhairawa / Lumbini.
Morning visit to Swayambhunath and Boudhanath
Swayambhunath with its all seeing eyes of the Buddha perched on a hillock is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for both Nepalese and Tibetans. It is one of the most ancient chaityas in Asia and a major symbol of Nepal's Buddhist heritage. Swoyambhu represents the Primordial Buddha or Adi-Buddha and is enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several interesting sites like the Vijeshwori shrine and Bilas Vihara around its vicinity make a visit to this ancient heritage site worthwhile. Monks spinning prayer wheels and believers walking around the huge structure make this one of the highlights of the tour.
Bouddhanath is one of the most important and oldest Buddhist pilgrimage and heritage sites in Nepal. It is said that this stupa contains the relics of Buddha Kashyapa. Almost 176 miniature stupas and paintings of Tibetan Buddhist pantheon cover the walls that surround the stupa at Bouddhanath. Newari style chaityas adorn the four gates of the stupa. The Bouddhanath Stupa is believed to be the embodiment of Dharmakaya (Buddha mind) and hence an object of devotion for all Buddhists. The stupa built in traditional Nepalese architectural style consists of a raised plinth, a spherical dome, a cubical steeple and a spire of 13 discs. The plinth that consists of three terraces is believed to represent thirty-seven factors of enlightenment. The dome represents Tathagatagarbha (the Buddha nature) from which virtuous special qualities develop. Bouddhanath Stupa is an important pilgrimage site for Tibetans. The stupa is mentioned in the Tibetan classical texts such as Biography of Yeshe Tshogyal (A.D. 8-9) and Padma Ka'thang (A.D.14). The Tibetan government had jurisdiction over the stupa from seventeenth century to the nineteenth century. Bouddhanath has numerous Tibetan monasteries. The area around Bouddhanath is even called the Vatican of Tibetans by some.
After lunch you will board on a flight to Bhairahawa and to continue on to Lumbini. Upon arrival you will be taken directly to visit the sights of the historical town.
The birthplace of Lord Buddha, Lumbini, situated in western Tarai of Nepal holds a special place in the Buddhist world. It is also mentioned in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta that the Buddha advised his followers to visit Lumbini. Emperor Ashoka of erstwhile Magadha Kingdom of India made a pilgrimage here in the 3rd century BC and erected a world famous pillar with inscription stating- "Here the Buddha was born". Several sites of religious significance like the holy tree and the pond related to the Buddha's life, and the stupas and shrines that dot the area make it an interesting place to immerse yourself into Buddha's life. The temple of Maya Devi, Lord Buddha's mother, has been recently renovated under the vigilance of UNESCO. Several foreign monasteries and stupas have been constructed in Lumbini.
Day 03: Lumbini - Sravasti (approx. 255 km)
Approximately about four hours drive (depending on the road condition/ traffic/ weather) from Lumbini, Saravasti, is the most commonly visited places related to the Buddha. It is here that the Buddha is said to have performed great miracles. One story tells of how on throwing down the seed of a mango, a great mango tree instantly arose. Another story tells of how the Buddha stood in the air; the lower part of his body engulfed in flames, with five hundred jet of water streaming from the top of his body.
Saravasti was a garden of Prince Jeta who was brought up by Sunanda popularly known as Anathapindika. He built a beautiful 9 storey monastery for Lord Buddha which is known as Gandha Kuti. Today we can see the remains of Gandha Kuti, Rahul Monastery, Ananda Monastery and another archeological site known as Mahid.
Day 04: Sravasti - Kushinagar (approx. 300 km)
Today we drive to Kushinagar following the town Basti and Gorakhpur.
Upon arrival in Kushinagar you will be taken on a sightseeing tour to visit the Mahaparinirvana Stupa and Ramabhare Stupa. Kushinagar is an important site in this circuit as this is the place where Lord Buddha preached his last sermon and passed away. He is said to have said, "All Things must pass. Decay is inherent in all things'". Kushinagar was an important center under the Mauryan King Ashoka, a great Buddhist follower. Ramabhare Stupa is the most important landmark of Kushinagar. It is said to have been built on the same spot where Lord Buddha was cremated in 543 BC. Mahaparinirvana Temple with a huge statue of Buddha in reclining position is another attraction in Kushinagar.
Day 05: Kushinagar - Keshariya - Vaishali - Patna
Our first stop today is Keshariya, where recently a stupa believed to be the tallest in the world was excavated by archeologists. Standing at 104 ft it is supposedly taller than the Indonesian stupa which until recently held the honor of being the tallest in the world. We take some time to discover the recently uncovered wonder and then we travel to Vaishali and onwards to Patna.
Vaishali holds special significance for Buddhist devotees. Vaishali was the center of the IInd Buddhist Council congregation, held after 100 years of Buddha's perinirvana. Vaishali is famous for Amrapali, the beautiful dancer and courtesan, who offered Buddha a mango orchard and impressed by his teachings became a nun in turn. The excavations carried out in Vaishali have brought to light Buddha Stupa I (4th Century BC) and II, built in brick with a casket containing part of the ashes of Buddha. Other sites of historical importance in Vaishali include Chaumukhi Mahadeva, a lingam carved with four faces of Lord Shiva; the Bhawan Pakhar Temple, where a large number of Hindu deities are enshrined at one place and are worshipped together; Coronation Tank where the Lichhavi Kings were anointed before being crowned and; the Vaishali Museum which has a small collection of regional handicrafts. Also worth a visit is Kunupur, 4kms from here, which is the birthplace of Lord Mahavira (6th Century BC) who spent 22 years of his initial years here. These were some of the important places connected directly to the life of the Buddha. As the years went by important centers of Buddhist learning kept coming up to spread his message all over India. Vaishali the capital of ancient Lichhavis is supposed to be the first republic of the world, having an elected body of representatives and an efficient administration as early as 6th century BC. Vaishali is also the birthplace of Lord Mahavira and is sacred to the Jains.
Day 06: Patna - Nalanda -Rajgir- Bodh Gaya
Our first stopover after proceeding from Patna is Nalanda. It is situated at a distance of 90 km. south east of Patna by road. It falls on way to Rajgir. Hieun Tsang, the renowned Chinese traveller of the seventh century, says that according to tradition the place owed its name to a Naga of the same name, which resided in a local tank. But he thinks it more probable that Lord Buddha, in one of his previous births as Bodhisatwa, became a king with his capital at this place and that his liberality won for him and his capital the name Nalanda or "Charity without intermission". The third theory about the name of the place is that it derived from Nalam plus da. Nalam means lotus, which is a symbol for knowledge and Da means given the place had many lotuses. The University of Nalanda was founded in the 5th century by the Gupta emperors. It was a center for Buddhist learning during the 5th to 11th centuries. Buddha passed many times through Nalanda on the way to Vaishali to Bodhgaya. Nalanda University had 22 thousand students and 17 hundred professors. Both Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira visited this place. The university received royal patronage of the great emperor Harshavardhana of Kannauj and also Pala kings. It was a great centre of learning and students from foreign countries were also attracted to this university. Hieun Tsang who studied six years in this university received the Indian name Mokshdeva. Nalanda acquired a celebrity spread all over the east as a centre of Buiddhist theology and educational activities. The great stupa flanked by flights of steps and terraces, votive stupas and beautiful sculpture give the present day tourists a glimpse of the past glory that once was Nalanda.
Rajgir is 10km south of Nalanda and sacred to the memory of the founder of both Buddhism and Jainism. Lord Buddha spent many months of retreat during the rainy season here, and used to meditate and preach on Griddhkuta, the 'Hill of the Vultures'. There are also many sites of historical and archeological importance here. The Gridhakuta Hill, in Rajgir, was the seat from where Buddha delivered many of his sermons. It was on this hill that the teachings of Buddha were recorded in writing for the first time and also where the Mauryan King Bimbisara, one of his greatest devotees, converted to Buddhism. Rajgir also served as the ancient capital of Magadha ruled by Bhimbisara. One can see the remains of Jibaka, the personal physician of the Lord Buddha in Rajgir. The remains of Gridhakuta (the vultures' beak) and King Bhimbisara's jail are the important archaeological and historical monuments at the site. After the Buddha reached 'parinirvana', his followers held the first Buddhist council here at the Saptaparni cave. The sculpture, which depicts the 'Parinirvana' or the 'great cessation' of Buddha, is another monument of artistic and historical importance. It shows the Buddha lying on his right forearm resting under his head to commemorate the final salvation or 'Mukti'. Today, Rajgir is a picturesque and serene place, visited by pilgrims from all over the globe.
We now travel to Bodh Gaya for our night stop, which is 70km away from Rajgir.
Day 07: Extra day to visit the sights and sounds of Bodhgaya
Bodhgaya-the highlight of the tour, the place where Siddhartha reached the state of Enlightenment commonly referred to as Buddhahood. Bodhgaya, situated on the bank of the river Niranjana, is the spiritual home of Buddhists from the world over and attracts tens of thousands of believers. Siddhartha attained enlightenment meditating under the Bodhi Tree, which still stands today in its original place. It was here that Buddha spent 7 weeks meditating in and around seven different spiritual spots. Bodhgaya houses different Buddhists monasteries erected by people belonging to different sects of Buddhism such as the Therabada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. The magnificent Maha Bodhi temple in Bodhgaya is an architectural amalgamation of many cultures. Carvings of Buddha in different postures and scenes adorn the walls, and a colossal Buddha are seen touching the ground in the sanctum sanctorum, which have mythological significance in the Buddhist lore. Inscriptions of pilgrims from Sri Lanka, China and Myanmar in the 7th and 10th Centuries AD including Hieun Tsang, the famed 7th century Chinese scholar, can be seen in the temple. A visit to Bodhgaya Archaeological Museum takes you back to history. With sculptures dating back to as early as the 1st century AD, it provides a religious art lover a glimpse into the art forms prevalent during those times.
There are several other places of tourist interest 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 of 3rd Century.
Day 08: Bodhgaya - Sarnath - Varanasi (approx. 280 kms) 6-7 hours
Sarnath hold a high significance, as this is where the Buddha turned the Wheel of Law. Sarnath holds an important place in Buddhism as it was here that Buddha delivered his first sermon, after attaining Nirvana termed as Dharmachakra Parivartan. This set in motion the great Buddhist tradition of the Sangha, for popularising the teachings of the great ascetic, worldwide. Gautam Buddha with his five disciples formed the first Sangha. Some of the remains here date back to the Mauryan period. The Lion Capital, the national emblem of India, and the Dharmarajika Stupa built by Ashoka are very important historical sites. The Dhamekh stupa is a cylindrical tower, which dates back to the Gupta period. The Chinese traveller Hsuen Tsang who visited India in the 7th century speaks of the glory of Sarnath and of the structures that existed then. A modern temple dedicated to Buddha has been built here that houses several of the Buddhist relics excavated here. On Buddha Purnima, the birthday of Buddha, relics of the Buddha are taken out in procession. The beginning of the celebrated Mantra, 'Buddham Saranam Gachhami', owes its origin to Sarnath. The three Jewels - "I go for refuge to the Buddha, I go for refuge to the Wheel of Law, I go for refuge to the Sangha" - first laid here, have remained unchanged ever since. Hence rightly, every Buddhist pilgrim endeavors to be blessed with a visit to Sarnath in his lifetime.
Proceed to Varanasi for overnight stay. Varanasi is one of India's oldest and holiest cities, where age-old temples overlook the broad waters of the Ganges, and where multitudes of devout Hindus come each year to wash away their sins in the sacred waters. Highlights of Vanarasi are Vishwanath temple, Banaras Hindu University, Dasomedha Ghat.
Day 09: Fly Varanasi - Kathmandu.
Those interested can take early morning boat ride in the Ganges River for sunrise and to watch other religious activities performed by Holy Pundits along the river bank before they depart for Bodhgaya.
Transfer to airport for flight to Kathmandu. Arrive Kathmandu & transfer to hotel. After lunch, have afternoon free for last minute souvenir shopping and meeting friends.
Day 10: Depart Kathmandu for onward journey
You have completed best journey of a lifetime , indeed a spiritual one and enlightening .