Bodh Gaya in modern day Bihar is where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment in 530 BC. You can actually visit an offshoot of the original sacred Fig tree under which Buddha attained Nirvana. The Mahabodhi Temple built originally by Ashoka the Maurya Emperor, is a key attraction. The most impressive structure here is the 80 feet tall statue of Lord Buddha, serenely meditating on a Lotus. A trip to Bodh Gaya is highly recommended for every Thirsty Traveler.
Gaya has an International Airport which is serviced by Indian Airlines as well as International Airlines like Srilankan Airlines, Druk Air and Thai Airways. 110 KMs away is the Patna Airport which is better connected to other Airports. You can hire a taxi from Patna.
Bodhgaya is well connected by road to Gaya (17 km), Nalanda (101 km), Rajgir (78 km), Patna (135 km), Varanasi (252 km), Calcutta (495 km).Regular direct bus services are available from Gaya, Patna, Nalanda, Rajgir and Varanasi. State government Buses ply Patna- Bodhgaya twice a day.
The Mahaparinirvan Express is a special tourist train that takes passengers on a spiritual tour through Buddhist India. The Train starts from Delhi and covers Lumbini (where the Buddha was born), Bodhgaya (where he became enlightened), Varanasi (where he first preached), and Kusinagar (where he passed away and achieved nirvana). It is a fully guided tour. You are also given a Buddhist guidebook as a welcome gift! The full journey lasts 8 days and includes visits to the Taj and Fatehpur Sikri in Agra as well. Visit IRCTC.com for booking.
Siddhartha Vihar, Buddha Vihar and Sujata Vihar are 3 Hotels run by the Bihar State Government in its Tourist Complex. Contact no is 0631-2200445. Two other options are Hotel Sujata, on Buddha Marg (0631- 2200481) and Welcome Guest House near the Mahabodhi Tempe (0631-2200377).
The best time to visit is between November and February. March- May is peak summer and it gets very hot. June to September is avoidable due to the heavy Rains. However if you want to be part of Buddha Jayanti celebrations, then you can make a visit in May.
Sri Maha Bodhi is the scared Fig tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. It is said that after Enlightenment, Lord Buddha stood in front of the tree for 7 days as a measure of gratitude. Asoka, the great Mauryan Emperor and devotee of Lord Buddha in fact held a festival every year to honor the Bodhi Tree. Legend has it that Tissarakkhā, his Wife was actually jealous of the attention Asoka gave to the Tree and tried to kill it!
The Bodhi Tree today is there in Hawaii as well. In 1913, Anagarika Dharmapala, a reformer and revivalist of Sri Lankan Buddhism had gifted a sapling from the Mahabodhi Tree to Mary Foster, a patron of Buddhist Activities in Honolulu. After her death, it has been made into a Botanical Garden open to Public.
The original Mahabodhi Temple was built by Emperor Asoka in 250 BC. He also built a diamond Throne on the exact spot where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The present structure was built in the 5th century and restored by British Engineer JD Beglar in 1881. A central tower rises to 180 feet and is surrounded by 4 smaller ones. The entire structure is built by Bricks. The sculpted stone balustrades are an outstanding example of sculptural reliefs in stone.
Two meter high stone railing surround the Mahabodhi temple. The railings depict various scenes from Mythology like Goddess Lakshmi being bathed by elephants, God Surya riding a chariot pulled by 4 horses, Garuda the Eagle god and Lotus flowers. Inside the temple there is a large image of the Buddha in sitting posture touching the earth by his right hand.
The courtyard of the temple is full of Stupas.
The Mahabodhi Temple is open from 5 am to 9pm. It is a good idea to visit the Temple during the chanting which happens from 5-6am and 8-9pm.
Around The Mahabodhi Temple there are several Buddhist temples built by the people of Bhutan, China, Japan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sikkim, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tibet and Vietnam. Each monument reflects the architectural style prevalent in their country. The Thai temple for example has a typical sloping and curved roof covered with golden tiles. A massive bronze statue of Buddha is inside the Temple.
The 80 Feet Buddha Statue was built by Daijokyo and consecrated by The Dalai Lama in 1989. As many as 120000 workers were used over 7 years to build the Buddha Statue using mix of sandstone blocks and red granite. Lord Buddha is seen meditating while he is seated on a giant lotus in open air.The Timings for visit are 7:00 hrs. to 12:00, 14:00 to 18:00 (to 17:30 in winter)
The Multi Media Museum is located next to the Mahabodhi Temple. It provides the historical and Geographical context for the life of Buddha through a set of Multimedia films and 3D Animation movie. The Museum is open all 7 days of the week.
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has on display a small , 12th Century AD sculpted model of the Mahabodhi Temple. It was a sacred souvenir carried home by ancient pilgrims who visited the site of the Buddha's enlightenment from far way places like Tibet.
The Barabar Caves are the oldest surviving rock-cut caves in India, dating from the Mauryan period (322-185BC). Located 41kms from Bodh Gaya, there are 4 caves by names of Karan Chaupar, Lomas Rishi, Sudama and Visva Zopri. The caves consisted of two chambers. The first chamber was meant for worshipers to congregate in a large rectangular hall while the second was a small, circular domed chamber for worship. The caves were used for meditation by both Buddhist and Jain monks. The Buddha had meditated here and concluded that the ultimate knowledge cannot be attained through mortification of the flesh.
E.M. Forster's famous book A Passage to India starts in a setting at the Barabar Caves, although he calls them Marabar Caves!
After your Spiritual Thirst is quenched, you can titillate your taste buds with some local specialties of Sweets. Gaya is famous for Sweets not only across Bihar and Jharkhad, but all over India. Some specialties are Tilkut made of sesame seeds & jaggery and Anarsa made of jaggery, rice, poppy seeds and ghee. Kesaria Peda is another sweet prepared from solid milk cream and saffron.
For a travelogue on the Golden Temple and other Buddhist monasteries of Bylekuppe in Southern State of Karnataka, visit Tibetan Experience near Bangalore.