Bihar is sacred for the Buddha who walked the earth here and received enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. Here sprang up the ancient worlds most prominent universities and the first republic.
Bihar is not only known as the cradle of Buddhism but also of Jainism. Also, the Guru Gobind Singh birthplace was in Patna so its an essential location for Sikhs globally. Bihar is also home to the world’s first university at Nalanda. If all this was not enough, it was the worlds earliest republic in the sacred town of Vaishali where Mahatma Gandhi first launched his Satyagraha movement against British rule.
Patna one of the worlds oldest capitals thrives upon the legacy of its unbroken history of many centuries as an imperial metropolis. It was Gautam Buddha himself who predicted that a great city would emerge near the confluence of the Ganga and its from this great city then called Patlipura that Emperor Ashoka, a grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, started his ambitious journey to make it the power centre of ancient India under his avatar as ‘Chand Ashok’ before he became the greatest proponent of the peaceable ways of Buddhism. Today Patna is one of the major gateways to the Buddhist and Jain pilgrim centres of Vaishali, Rajgir, Nalanda, Bodhgaya and Pawapuri.
Buddhist and tourists from around the world flock to Bihar’s iconic Buddhist sites. After 49 days of deep meditation under a peepal tree, the former Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment or nirvana and was transformed into the ‘Buddha.’
In his last days on earth, the Buddha speaking to his favourite disciple, Ananda urged him to prevail upon his devotees to visit the four places, that were cornerstones of his hardship filled journey to nirvana – Lumbini (Nepal) where he was born, Bodhgaya where he attained enlightenment, Sarnath near Varanasi where he preached his first sermon and Kushinagar where he spent his last days.
Festivals and Melas
Kalachakra – The celebration for World Peace, which I feel we need more of in the current world. Spread over 10 days the festival held in Bodhgaya in January is headed by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. This festival brings together Buddhist devotees from around the world to create inner peace.
Sonepur Mela – Bihar’s annual Sonepur Cattle Fair. If have heard about the UK charity called Elephant Family which was once headed by Mark Shand the British travel writer and conservationist, and the brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, do read his book ‘Travels on my Elephant’ which tells the story of one man’s adventures with an elephant. There is no better way to see India than on the back of an elephant, which is exactly what Mark Shand discovered as he set out on a 1000 kilometre journey on Tara, a 30-year old female elephant. Their destination was the Sonepur Mela, the world’s oldest elephant market. Did you know you can visit Tara who is now living at Kipling Camp in Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh.
Buddha Purnima – Prayers and chanting at Bodhgayas Bodhi Temple to celebrate the birth of Lord Buddha on a full moon day. (Apr-May)
Bodh Mahotsav – An annual festival in early October to celebrate Budh has enlightenment.
Culinary delights of Bihar
Bihari food is basically home cooking. One that I remember is drink made from the multi-purpose mineral and fibre rich sattu (black gram) mustard and Chura (flattened rice) and rice flour. Served as a cooling drink garnished with onions, lemon juice a dash of salt and cumin powder. Sattu is also used as a stuffing for the iconic litti or roasted wheat-dough balls. Served with chokha, which is a dish made from roasted eggplants which are mashed to a pulp and then mixed with tomatoes, potatoes, coriander, cumin powder, turmeric and chilli powder and pure ghee or mustard oil.
Our special tour – In Buddha’s Footsteps, features the following locations
VARANASI: Varanasi, formerly known as Benaras, is considered to be one of the most sacred cities in India, for it is revered among the Hindus, Buddhists as well as the Jains. Located on the banks of the Ganges, this incredible journey brings you closer to an entirely unique side of India’s culture, a spiritual journey towards ash-covered sadhus, yogis, temples, and devotees. Many come to this ancient city to wash away sins of a lifetime; some come here for a dip in the holy river, and yet others visit the place for its fantastic food and unique culture. It’s mysterious, magical and chaotic, probably all at once. It is one of the oldest continually inhabited destinations on the planet and a historical centre of silk weaving. The markets here tend to be chaotic, yet; you’re sure to find hidden souvenirs that are so unique to this place. This is surely a journey unlike any other.
SARNATH: Located at a distance of just 10 kms from Varanasi, Sarnath is one of the top four destinations in the Buddhist circuit and it attracts followers from all over the planet. Emperor Ashoka was responsible for many of the structures you see in Sarnath. His glistening lion pillar, now the National Emblem of India, is located here. Sarnath also found a place in Buddha’s journeys as he came to town to deliver his first truly famous sermon after achieving enlightenment. Other key attractions include the iconic Dhamkesh Stupa, the Chaukhandi Stupa and a Bodhi tree that was grown from cuttings of the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya. The best time to visit Sarnath is the months of April or May, on Buddha’s birthday, when the entire town celebrates stores and re-enacts tales from his life, enlightenment and death.
BODHGAYA: Bodhgaya is a place of immense beauty, both natural and spiritual. It witnessed an ordinary prince transform into a Buddhist god 2600 years ago, and still managed to maintain its chic small-town atmosphere and tranquil ambience for centuries. Think of this city as the Mecca of Buddhists. The most revered spot in town is the UNESCO listed Bodhi Tree, the very spot where Buddha meditated for weeks and gained enlightenment. Just being around this tree makes you feel peace and serenity like you’ve never felt before. The temple in which this tree is located is equally impressive, known for its stunning architecture, ancient railings and carvings dating back to the first century BC. The countless monasteries that dot the city also deserve exploration.
VAISHALI: A very special place to Buddhists as The Lord delivered his last sermon & announced his impending “Nirvana”. Here see the majesty of Ashoka’s Pillar, Lotus Tank and Chaumukhi.
KUSHINAGAR: 50 km east of Gorakhpur, is celebrated as the place where the Buddha died and was cremated. Originally called Kushinara, it is one of the four major Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Buddhist monasteries flourished here till the 13th century. Sights include the Rambahar stupa built to house Buddha’s relics after the cremation, the Mahaparinirvana temple with its reclining Buddha figure, the modern Indo-Japan Sri Lanka Buddhist centre and numerous monasteries
SRAVASTI: A city of ancient India and one of the six largest cities in India during Gautama Buddha’s lifetime. Located near the West Rapti River and is closely associated with the life of Gautama Buddha, who is believed to have spent 24 Chaturmases here. Age-old stupas, majestic viharas, and several temples near the village of “Sahet-Mahet” establish Buddha’s association with Shravasti. It is said that the Vedic period king, Shravasta, founded this town.
LUMBINI: the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam. The Shakya prince and the ultimate Buddha, the Enlightened One, is the pilgrimage destination of the world’s millions of people faithful to all schools of Buddhism. UNESCO lists this nativity site, identified by Indian Emperor Ashoka’s commemorative pillar as a World Heritage Site. The main attraction of Lumbini remains the Sacred Garden which spread over 8sq km, possessing all the treasures of the historic area. The Mayadevi temple is the main attraction for pilgrims and archaeologists alike. Here we find a bas relief of Mayadevi, Lord Buddha’s mother giving birth to him.
KATHMANDU: The capital of the ancient mountain kingdom of Nepal, Kathmandu has the air of a medieval city including a labyrinth of narrow streets, wooden temples and beautifully decorated palaces. In the background, there is often a gentle sound of cymbals and the markets are a rich blend of colours and aromas. Only in the 1950s was Nepal opened up to visitors and today there is a thorough mixture of modern technology and traditional lifestyles making the city a fascinating place to visit. Nepal needs tourist numbers to increase to levels before the fatal earthquake, so support Nepal, contact us to advise a bespoke tour for you.
Contact me, Sharon Evans, to discuss this tour or I can design a bespoke tour just for you. Mb: 07823 777 948 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org