Bodh Gaya is found in the state of Bhir, India which is around 385km from the border of Nepal. The city is a famous Buddhist religious site which is well know for the Bodhi Tree where Buddha found enlightenment. I hired a taxi in Varanasi and it took me about 6 hours to arrive at Bodh Gaya.
As I got closer the area completely changed to rural landscapes with a long stretches of farms and dirt roads. Buddhism had been part of my life for almost 10 years already and I knew I was about to embark on a very special journey.
A place of solitude
Before visiting Budh Gaya you need to know that it’s a very sacred place. Majority of people don’t speak English, there are no nightclubs and no meat or alcohol is served. This is a place of solitude where you can come to reconnect with your true self.
If you want to escape to a faraway land where modern technology is replaced with meditation and shopping malls are replaced with temples then this is where you want to be.
Buddha found enlightenment
Bodh Gaya is where Gautama Buddha attained supreme Enlightenment and has since become part of a great pilgrimage. I visited the Maha Bodhi Temple which is home to the famous Bodhi tree. The present tree is considered only as the descendant of the original but it was under this tree where Gautama sat and attained enlightenment.
Where time stands still
I visited the city early January and it was freezing. During the cooler months visitors mostly pilgrim’s flock to Bodh Gaya for Pooja. (A give thanks ceremony) People from all over the world that speak a multitude of languages fill the area for prayer. My guest house was down a very quiet and dusty road, the taxi even had to dodge a few roaming goats to park on the pavement.
When I stopped and looked around, it was as if time had stood still here. Water is pumped out the ground by hand and the buildings were old, neglected and broken. You wouldn’t come here for luxury but instead something better.
My room was on the third floor, I remember requesting a room with a balcony and I was so grateful I did. As soon as I opened the balcony doors the sound of the Tibetan horns from a nearby Monastery filled the room, that moment I realized just how far away from home I really was.
Transport in Bodh Gaya
The town was walking distance from my guesthouse, the two main types of transport around town is horse and cart or a cart driven by a bicycle. I caught a cart and bicycle through town, needless to say it was quite an experience compared to other forms of motorised transport back home. I did see the occasional tuk tuk and taxi but you won’t need until you leave Bodh Gaya.
Temples and Shrines
The Bodhi temples architecture was mesmerising with a square base with four towers on each side and a long extended steeple. A sea of maroon filled the streets as monks gathered, wrapped in their maroon robes, meditating in a space opposite the Bohdi tree. Part of the temple is decorated with Strings of marigolds bringing the old stone back to life and in between there are thousands of Buddha statues.
Inside the temple is a huge image of Buddha in the “touching the ground pose” this image is said to be 1700 years old and is facing east exactly at the place where Buddha in meditation with his back to the Bodhi tree was enlightened. Out of respect no photos were allowed.
This Chaitya shrine is one of the spots where Buddha spent seven days looking at the Bodhi tree.
Chinese Buddhist monks built this beautiful shrine with the temple exteriors reflecting Chinese architecture. The marvellous Buddha statue was brought all the way from China and is at least 200-year-old.
Shopping and eating in Bodh Gaya
There are not many shops in Bodh Gaya not compared to the rest of India. We found a very interesting market near the Bhodi Temple complex known as the Tibetan refugee market that offered some unique treasures. Most things were handmade, some jewellery and clothing are made from Yak wool and leather being so close to the Tibetan border.
I found a stall full of second hand trinkets and bought one of my most treasured possessions – a old string of prayer beads which is said to have belonged to a very wise Tibetan monk. The market also sells traditional food but most people don’t speak English and most of street food is not recognizable. There are a few small sit down cafes available that sells vegetarian pizzas or momo’s (dumplings)
Day trips outside Bodh Gaya
Our guest house suggested a day trip to Rajgir which is another traditional Buddhist pilgrimage. Located in a green valley surrounded by rocky hills, it took a few hours to get there by taxi. We went through small towns which were heavily congested and the communities were visibly poor. We eventually arrived at the foot of Vultures Peak, it is said that Buddha taught many important teachings here. You could either walk or take a cable car up but I decided to take the cable car.
It was quite scary at first as it was really cloudy and I couldn’t see the top of the peak. When I reached the top of the Ratnagiri Hills, hundreds of prayer flats zig zagged the sky. I came to a big white stoopa called The Peace Pogoda which was built by Japanese Buddhists.
I could clearly see Vultures Peak was a very respected and spiritual place. I watched monks and other people wonder between the flags, halls and monuments.
Spiritual journey through Bodh Gaya
There is a sense of peace here in this untouched, unspoiled part of the world and to know you are literally standing on a site where Buddha once taught, is pretty unbelievable. This was once in a lifetime opportunity! If your journey through India is a spiritual one I definitely recommend making Bodh Gaya and Vultures Peak one of your stops.
Have you visited a spiritual place like Bodh Gaya? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
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