A visit to Bodh Gaya and serene Bihar through my lenses
What comes to your mind when you think about Bihar? The wanderlust keeda in us always compels us to explore new places we hear or see in other people’s stories/status. But have you ever included Bihar in your travel bucket list?
With no offence, the answer might be “No” for most of us.
This time, I and my partner thought of completing Bodh Gaya which is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites and in our checklist from quite a long time. I was more excited because my partner who belonged from the state had visited other parts of India except for his own.
We were travelling from Delhi and as the ‘Bodh Gaya’ plan was impromptu, we had to drive from Patna instead of Gaya. But nevertheless, the drive of 3.5 hours in the early morning was enjoyable for us with kachori-sabzi & chai combo from a roadside dhaba and bio-break at a petrol pump. Contrary to my belief, everything was far better than I expected and I enjoyed getting the glimpse of Bihar’s countryside.
We reached Bodh Gaya around 9.30 a.m. A welcome board greeted us to Bodh Gaya. As we wanted to book a room till 12 pm the next day, we didn’t have a prior booking from any website as it was asking us to book for ‘2 days & 1 night’ package. So, we thought of opting offline booking by negotiating directly with the hotel. Saving few bucks here & there always give me some sort of joy which cannot be penned down ;).
So, we checked out a few places and finally checked into Oyo Hotel GK Palace. The guy at the reception was kind enough to agree to our demand. I would recommend you to book your stay near the complex only if you truly want to enjoy your visit.
As we had only 1.5 days in our kitty, without wasting any time here and there, we hurried to get freshen up quickly and headed to explore “Mecca/Madina of Buddhists”.
In stark contrast to my imagination, the place is altogether a different world. This surely crushed the stereotype I had of Bihar. The place is bustling with the number of tourists not only from India but all around especially Southeast Asia. With the limited time in our hands, we wanted to cover everything, mainly the major temples and the different monasteries build by other nations like Bhutan, China, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Tibet.
So we started from the place which is the main highlight of Bodh Gaya i.e. Mahabodhi temple where Gautama Buddha attended Nirvana (Enlightenment) under a banyan tree (now known as Bodhi tree).
My partner who is always glued to his phone and laptop was a bit disappointed knowing these are not allowed inside the temple. Then he made himself believed that it’s only a small sacrifice. Only proper cameras and video cameras are allowed inside with ticket cost of 100 Rs and 500 Rs. respectively. Spread over an area of 4.8 acres, this temple is open from morning 5.00 AM to evening 9:00 PM and has many attractions within.
The main temple: Samrat Ashoka is considered as the original founder of this temple. Built in classical Indian style, the temple is 55 meters tall, with several motifs and fine engravings on it. The main hall inside has a gold-plated statue of Lord Buddha seated in Bhumisparsa Mudra aasana (Earth touching pose).
All around the campus, there were prayers/chants going on. Though I could not understand their language, it had miraculous high positive energy and was completely soothing to my ears.
Though I am not a very religious person, I found myself seating quietly near the Bodhi Tree observing the devotees and grasping the positivity from all around the place. The spiritual environment with smells from the burning lamps & incense sticks and the group chants streaming into my ear stole my heart.
I am not a person who can keep quiet for a long time, so meditation is not my thing. But the time I spent there surely gave me peace of mind. The contributing reason was also the distance I had from my mobile (that time in the locker).
However, the next day we went there again but now at a different time. Both mornings and evenings have a different aura, but I particularly liked the morning time more. I would recommend you to visit at both times when you are there so not to miss any experience.
So, now it was our turn to explore the temple complex. Though I am not a book worm, I had very little knowledge about Buddhism or Bodh Gaya. After visiting the main temple, we had to visit the Bodhi Tree which we have already heard before. There we came to know that there are seven sacred spots where Lord Buddha spent 7 days at each meditating after enlightenment.
So my folks, don’t miss to visit these places while you are there.
Bodhi Tree – During the first week, Buddha remained under the Bodhi Tree. Located inside the complex, there are monks/visitors chanting prayers.
Animesh Lochana Stupa – Unlinking shrine where Lord Buddha spent his second week looking at Bodhi tree without blinking an eyelid.
Cankamana (Cloister walk) – Here Lord Buddha spent his third week walking up and down in meditation. At present, this place is like a corridor which indicates the places where the Lord Buddha’s feet rested while walking and the same are now constructed into symbolic stone lotuses.
Ratnaghara Chaitya – In his fourth week, he created a beautiful jewelled chamber and mediated sitting inside it. His mind and soul was so purified that six colored rays came out of his body which is now part of Buddhist flag.
Ajapala Nirogdha tree –Here Lord Buddha spent his fifth week. It is said that three girls named Tanha, Arati and Raga came to disturb Lord Buddha but he continued to meditate and soon they got tired and left him.
Mucalinda lake/Lotus Pond – Located next to the main temple, it is believed that Gautama Buddha was protected from the rainy storm by Snake King Mucalinda. Here he spent his 6th
Rajratna –Lord Buddha spent his seventh week under this tree and believed to gain his first two disciples.
So, now with me, you also know about the seven weeks story of Lord Buddha. While roaming around the campus, we checked out the Meditation Park. Opened from sunrise to sunset, it is a well-manicured park on the left side while facing the main temple is a world in its own. With very nominal entry fee, this place is perfect for those in quest of complete solitude.
Unlike any other temple, instead of burning the butter lamps directly under the Bodhi tree, the lamps are burnt inside Deep Ghar (Butter Lamps house) which is a concrete structure.
Archaeological Museum – With a fine collection of metal and stone images and carvings illustrating the famous Buddhist shrines.
Next was to visit the Great Buddha statue which is 80 feet statue made up of sandstone & granite by Japanese Buddhists.
So, now, it was the time to do International Monasteries hopping. I am sure, no one will like to miss that. Each monastery has different architectural styles inspired by native countries.
Getting around in Bodh Gaya is quite easy. Most of the points are within 3 km from Mahabodhi temple complex. One can also take Toto / auto rickshaws / cycle-rickshaws to roam around. We opted for Toto, so I had to take this mandatory picture as nobody knew me there :D.
Regarding food, a wide range of cuisine is available with the option of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Don’t miss Litti-Chokha in Bihar. If your stomach can tolerate the roadside food, then the make-shift tented restaurants are also among the options saving some bucks in your wallet. While coming back from Bodh Gaya, we tried “Anarsa” and “Tilkut” which is a famous item of Gaya.
The streets, especially towards the Mahabodhi temple, are lined up with souvenir shops selling mainly Buddhist merchandise and like any other tourist places; I had to bargain with the local shopkeepers for the items I wanted.
This trip helped me to repel some of the prejudices I had in my mind about Bihar and my partner was more than happy to know a little more about his own state. Our Bodh Gaya trip has inspired us to include Nalanda and Rajgir on our next visit.
Did you already cover these places or it is yet to be added to your travel bucket list? Drop your comments below; I would love to know more about these places from you guys.