08 N / 09 D
Bodh Gaya - Dungeshwari Caves - Kesariya - Vaishali - Rajgir - Nalanda - Kushinagar - Sarnath - Varanasi
Arrive in Gaya. Drive to Bodh Gaya 13 km and check into hotel. Take a sightseeing tour of this holy seat of the Buddhist religion. Here is where Gautam Buddha achieved enlightenment while meditating under a bodhi tree. There is a serene temple here, as well as the offshoot of the tree that offered shade to Buddha. The original tree was destroyed by Emperor Ashoka's queen, but a sapling of it was saved in time and planted in Sri Lanka by his daughter. A sapling of that tree was brought back to Bodh Gaya, which still stands to tell this tale.
A number of Buddhist nations like Thailand, Japan and Burma have set up monasteries and meditation centres in Bodh Gaya. Some of these include: the Indosan Nipponji temple, the Thai monastery, the Tibetan Karma Temple and Namgyal Monastery, and others by the Chinese, Burmese, Bhutanese, Vietnamese, Tamang, Daijokyo and Nepali Buddhist communities. During October and March, monks from Dharamsala descend to Bodh Gaya. The Dalai Lama pays a visit here too during December and January. The Mahabodhi temple is a World Heritage site, built adjacent to the site of enlightenment in the 6th century AD. The temple was attacked and plundered by Muslim invaders in the 11th century and re-built several times. Return to hotel for overnight stay.
After breakfast, proceed to Dungeshwari cave temples, 13 km. Here Buddha spent years of penance before attaining 'nirvana' or enlightenment. After lunch, return to Gaya to visit the Brahmajuni Hill, believed to be the site of Buddha's fire sermon. There is a cave and a temple on the hill top. Return to hotel for night stay.
After breakfast, depart for Rajgir, 70 km, 2 hrs by road. Arrive in Rajgir and check into hotel. Rajgir was the capital of the Magadha kingdom and is a pilgrimage for Jains and Hindus as well. The Japanese Buddhists have built the massive Vishwashanti Stupa on the Ratnagiri Hill which can be accessed by a chairlift. The stupa has statues of Buddha at the four stages of his life - birth, enlightenment, teaching and death. From the hill top, the Jain shrines can also be viewed, scattered across 26 distant hills. Griddhakuta, located on Ratnagiri Hill is another site where Budhha stopped by to preach. Return to hotel for night stay.
After breakfast, proceed to Nalanda, 12 km. Spread over 14 hectares, the Nalanda University Ruins Archaeological Complex is set amidst expansive lawns which offset the spectacular layout and carvings of this ancient university. The monasteries and the viharas are separated by a central valley. Interesting structures to look out for include: steps leading up to perhaps a dais for professors and stupas with images of the Buddha carved in. According to the Chinese traveler Xuan Zang who also taught at the university during 685 and 762 AD, 10,000 monks and professors resided here at the time. After the walk around the ruins, visit the Xuan Zang Memorial Hall, a Chinese pagoda built by Chinese Buddhists. Return to Rajgir hotel for night stay.
After breakfast, proceed to Patna by road, 80 km. Arrive in Patna and check into hotel. Patna is Bihar's capital city and can be used as a base to visit the Buddhist sites of Vaishali and Kesariya. It also rests on its ancient past as Pataliputra, the capital of the various dynasties that ruled over the region. After lunch, take a local sightseeing tour of Patna. This would include: Golghar (built as a granary), Gandhi Museum, Patna Museum, Har Mandir Takht, Qila House or Jalan Museum with some really rare relics like Napolean's bed and Marie Antoinette's porcelain; and the ruins of Pataliputra. Return to hotel for night stay.
After an early breakfast, depart for Vaishali, 44 km. This is where Buddha preached his last sermon. The ruins of the Kolhua complex enclose the 2300 year old Ashoka pillar. A Japanese Peace Pagoda has also been built here. After lunch, proceed to Kesariya, 70 km. Kesariya marks the site where Buddha gave away his begging bowl before his death. A massive Buddhist stupa built during the rule of the Pala kings is being excavated here. Return to Patna for overnight stay.
After breakfast, depart for Kushinagar, 220 km by road. Or else, you can take the train to Gorakhpur and drive 55 km from there to this historic town. Arrive in Gorakhpur and check into hotel. Buddha breathed his last here, leaving a message for all mankind to find their salvation. Several monuments built by devotees from across the world have built monuments on this holy site along the Buddha Marg. These include: Vietnam's Linh Son Buddhists temple, meditation centre and gardens, the Burmese Mahasukhamdadacham Thargyi Pagoda, the Mahaparinirvan Temple with a tranquil and reclining Buddha and the Matahkuar temple, the Japanese - Sri Lanka temple and the Wat Thai temple. The Ramabhar Stupa, or the Mukutbandhan Stupa is the site of the cremation of Buddha. Return to Gorakhpur for overnight stay.
Depart in time for train to Varanasi which is 5 ½ hrs from Gorakhpur. Arrive in Varanasi and check into hotel. Take a short break before heading to Sarnath, 10 km. At Sarnath, Buddha gave his first sermon to a small band of followers after attaining nirvana. Emperor Ashoka had monastaries and stupas built here which were destroyed by Muslim invaders in later years. Some remains were discovered by British archaeologists in 1835. Sarnath is one of the four main sites of the Budddhist religion, the others being Bodhgaya, Kushinagar and Lumbini in Nepal. Return to Varanasi for night stay.
After breakfast, take a tour of this holiest of cities for the Hindus. The River Ganga is the lifeline of the city, and all spiritual and religious activities are performed along its banks. Take a cruise along the river between the Dasaswamedh Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat and visit the temples. Participate in or observe the "Ganga aarti" in the evening, a spiritually uplifting experience in which the holy river is paid homage. Take the evening flight out to Delhi or your preferred destination.