There are numerous Buddhist sites in India related to the life of Buddha and his greatest of followers. Every year, millions of pilgrims from all over the world make their way to India to take a tour of these revered sites. Buddhist tourism includes visits to the major destinations that have a rich history and heritage of the faith, like Aurangabad, Bhopal, Bodh Gaya and Patna.
Buddhism was at one point, one of the largest religions of India. There were many emperors and regional kings who followed the faith, the most important of them being King Ashoka the Great. Under their patronage of these rulers, Buddhism spanned throughout the country from 5th century BCE to late 9th century AD, and shifted the paradigm of the socio-cultural scenario in many ways, as well as influenced the art and architecture. Because of changing times and regimes, the number of people practising Buddhism in India is lesser than other religions like Hinduism and Islam. However, the relics and remains of the past still stand strong as a remembrance of the golden days.
Our 14 days Buddhist Heritage Tour Package will take you to the most sacred of Buddhist locations scattered all around the country.
On your first day of the tour, you will be arriving at the financial and economic capital of the country, as well as the most dynamic city. Mumbai, or Bombay as it was called earlier, is the ‘city of dreams’ – the city where big and small dreams come true, but sometimes they drown as well. Mumbai is known for its overflowing wealth, as well as crippling poverty. Dharavi, the biggest slum of Asia, is located in this dramatic city of tears and joy. In the afternoon, you will be taken to the Hanging Gardens, or Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens perched on the top of Malabar Hills and click pictures of the numerous hedges designed in the shape of animals. On the opposite side is Kamala Nehru Park, which offers a stunning panoramic view of the Chowpatty Beach and the famous Marine Drive of Mumbai. Continuing the tour, you will visit Mani Bhawan, Prince of the Wales Museum, Gate of India and Dhobi-Ghat. Witness dhobis lined up one after the other, busy in their day’s work – an iconic location in Mumbai. Drive through Marine Drive, Flora Mountain and Crawford Market while returning to the hotel for overnight stay.
Mumbai to Aurangabad is a long distance by road, so you will be flying this distance from Mumbai airport. Aurangabad is an old city in the same state of Maharashtra, built by Malik Ambar in 1610 AD, but got its current name from its 17th century ruler Aurangzeb. The most famous attraction of this city is BibiKaMaqbara – a tomb built by Aurangzeb’s son Azam Shah for his deceased mother DilrasBanu Begum styled after the Taj Mahal. But Aurangabad has some of the most spectacular Buddhist sites in India as well.
The tour of Ajanta will take you to Buddhist Chaityas and Viharas with beautiful murals, carvings and cave paintings. It is a complex of 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments built during separate occasions from 2nd century BCE to 700 AD, reflecting Buddha’s life and rituals of the Mahayana period in the most decorative and intricate style, as well as his various reincarnations in the Jataka tales. Ajanta Caves are closed on Mondays.
The third day of the tour will be a busy one. In the morning after an early breakfast, you will be driving to Ellora Caves from your hotel. Ellora Cave site is one of the largest rock-cut monastery complexes in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring not only Buddhist, but artwork related to Hinduism and Jainism as well. There are 34 caves with sculpted artwork. Kailasa Temple here, believed to be originally dedicated to Lord Shiva, is the largest monolithic structure in the world.
After your rewarding visit to this site of immense importance, have lunch in the hotel and check-out by noon, and leave for Manmad railway station. From there you will be catching you train to Bhopal.
Your arrival at the capital of Madhya Pradesh will follow with a quick transfer to your designated hotel, and then a trip to the famous Sanchi Stupa – the oldest recorded Buddhist stupa in India. This hallowed monument was commissioned by Lord Ashona, the greatest Buddhist king of India, in the 3rd century BCE. The nucleus of the dome was built on the relics of Buddha, with his life events carved on the outer wall of the stone. Sanchi Stupa is surrounded by more than fifty other smaller stupas and Buddhist temples on the hill slopes of Sanchi. Come back to hotel after visiting as many as you can for overnight stay in Bhopal.
On the fifth day, you will be reaching Agra. Located on the banks of Yamuna River, the former royal capital of Mughal India is home to the great Taj Mahal. It is a major tourist destination and forms the golden triangle circuit of North India tour along with Delhi and Jaipur. Great rulers like Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan ruled over Agra, and visiting the monuments of the city will take you right back to that era of exceptional architectural marvels.
On the next morning, you will be touring the best attractions there are to see in Agra. Taj Mahal is obviously the crown jewel of Agra city tour. This strikingly beautiful monument made of white marbles was built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and considered to be a symbol of eternal love and romance. Next, you will be stopping at Agra Fort, which is the famous royal Mughal residence, but even more famous as the place where Shah Jahan spent his final days as a prisoner to his son Aurangzeb, looking out of his prison window at the Taj Mahal of his beloved. Visit the several exquisite palaces of the fort like Khas Mahal and Jahangir Palace, and the quintessential Diwan-e-Aam and Diwan-e-Khas. Take your time to appreciate the intricate work of metal and wood, and inlaid marble in typical Mughal style.
Later in the evening you will be transferred to the rail station for the overnight train to Varanasi.
Next day, you will be arriving at Varanasi. The holiest city for Hindu pilgrimage is one of the most ancient cities in the world, dating back to 5000 years or more from now. Located on the banks of the holy River Ganges, Varanasi is believed to be the crematorium of all Hindu beings and the gateway towards salvation. However, it is not only the spiritual or centre of the Hindus, but a sacred destination for Buddhists and Jains as well. In the evening, you will be taking a tour of Sarnath – the deer park where Buddha imparted his first teaching after attaining enlightenment, known as Dharmachakrapravartana Sutra. The Buddhist Sangha later came into existence here through the enlightenment of Kondanna, a follower of Buddha and the first to become an arhat. No need to say why this is one of the four major pilgrimage sites that every devout Buddhist should visit. Take a tour of the stupa, the temple and the museum on any day other than Fridays, when they are closed. While you are here, visit Singhpur, the birthplace of the eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism, Shreyansanath.
Next day, you will be driving to the second destination among the four main pilgrimages, the other two being Lumbini – Buddha’s birthplace and Kushi nagar, which you will visit later. But before that, a lovely boat ride awaits you, which will take you by the two most revered ghats – Mani karnika and Harish chandra, other than Dash ashwamedh Ghat known for the grand Ganga Aarti every evening. It is believed that Hindus who are cremated in these two ghats achieve salvation, thereby releasing them from the bondage of reincarnation. While on the ride, you might witness numerous funeral pyres along these ghats.
In the evening, you will be taking a long 6 hours drive to Bodh Gaya and rest for the night.
Bodh Gaya is where Lord Gautama Buddha attained his enlightenment under the famous Bodhi Tree, where now stands the Mahabodhi Temple. This is the most sacred site for every Buddhist devoted towards their faith. This place has been known by different names over the years, like Uruvela, Sambodhi, Vajrasana and Mahabodhi. The original temple here was built by Emperor Ashoka when he visited the site 250 years after the enlightenment. The immense significance of the place will hit you once you experience it for yourself. Offer your prayers here before heading back to your hotel.
Patna is yet another city of great importance for Buddhism. During the old days of the Mauryan Empire, when Buddhism spread the most, it was known as Pataliputra and was the centre of prosperity in North India. On your way to Patna, you will visit the ancient Buddhist study centre Nalanda University. It was the world’s first residential educational institution welcoming over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. Hieun Tsang, the famous Chinese traveller who visited India during the rule of Harshavardhana, spoke highly of Nalanda. It thrived from 5th to 12th century AD before being desecrated by the antics of Bakhtiyar Khilji during the Islamic rule. Soak in the importance of the Nalanda University and what it meant during the old ages in your visit to the ruins.
A little far away, Rajgir, or Raj Grih was the House of the King for the Magadha Empire. This is sacred to the Buddhists as well as Jains, because this is where Lord Buddha held his ‘Atanatiya’ conference at the Gridhrakuta and Lord Mahaveer had spent fourteen long years at Nalanda. Visit the special attractions here like Bimbisar’s Jail, Ajatshatru’s Fort, Jarasandh’sAkhara and the Rajgir Heritage Museum before leaving for Patna.
Take a quick tour of Patna before leaving for Kushinagar, the third major pilgrimage for Buddhism. In Patna, visit the birthplace of the tenth Guru of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh, which is known as Takht Sri Patna Sahib. There are five more renowned Gurdwaras in the city – Gurdwara Pahila Bara, Gurdwara Gobind Ghat, Gurdwara Guru KaBagh, Gurdwara Bal Leela and Gurdwara Handi Sahib. Also visit the sites of Ashokan Pataliputra – Kumhrar and AgamKuam, the Mauryan Art of Didarganj Yakshi and drive through some famous British architecture like Padriki Haveli, High Court, Golghar and Secretariat.
Vaishali is where Lord Buddha preached his last sermon before his death in 483 BC. This is also where Lord Mahavir was born in 599 BC. Vaishali gets its name from the city’s greatest ruler, the Licchavi king Vishal. While visiting Vaishali, do visit the Ashokan Pillar which is the best preserved in all of India, topped by a solo Asiatic Lion head. This is also the place where Lord Buddha had organized his first Bhikshu Sangha and included his maternal aunt and his guardian, Maha Prajapati Gautami into the order. You will be staying the night at Kushinagar.
Kushinagar is where Lord Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana after falling ill from eating mushrooms in a meal. There are numerous viharas, temples and stupas here which date back to 3rd century BCE to 5th century CE. Emperor Ashoka, like every other Buddhist site, had contributed enormously to the constructions in Kushinagar. Visit the remains of Parinirvanastupa and temple, which were rediscovered from under mounds of bricks and covered in thorny forests.
Leave for Lumbini after this – the place where Lord Buddha was born – and thus the most sacred site to Buddhists. The eastern part of Lumbini is dedicated to Theravadin monasteries, and the western zone is for Mahayana and Vajrayana School of Belief. There are numerous ruins here – one of a monastery, a sacred Bodhi Tree, an Ashokan Pillar, an old bathing pond and the Mayadevi Temple where Buddha is said to have been born. Since Hindus believe Buddha to be a reincarnation of Vishnu and worship Maya Devi as Goddess Rupa, it is a holy site for them as well.
Drive to Balrampur for overnight stay in the hotel.
It is almost the end of your tour, and you will be driving to Lucknow for your flight back home. But before that, there is one more Buddhist heritage site to visit – Sravasti. You will find the mention of this city in many Buddhist texts and literature. Located on the bank of Rapti River, Sravasti is the place where Buddha spent 25 rainy seasons of his life, 19 of them in Jetavana Monastery and 6 in Pubbarama. The legend behind the moniker Sravasti has several stories. Some say it is named after King Sravasta, while some others say it is after Sage Savatta. Nevertheless, there are remains of some ancient stupas here like Angulimala, Anathapindika and the Gandhakuti hut in Jetavana Monastery which deserve a visit.
After this, you will be dropped at Lucknow airport from where a connecting flight will take you to Delhi for the night’s stay. Our representatives will meet you at the airport and help you get transferred to your hotel. Delhi has been the capital of India since the days of Mahabharata, and almost all major regimes after that. The great city has seen the rise and fall of a great many empires, but the Mughals have left the biggest mark on the city’s landscape, architecture, cuisine and culture. At present, New Delhi is the political seat of power and the administrative capital of India, but Old Delhi is a fascinating maze of old lanes and small shops which will remind you of the ancient times.
Before you catch your flight back home, you will be touring Delhi for the day. Start with Old Delhi, built by Shah Jahan in 1639 AD. The first stop is Raj Ghat where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated and a museum remembering the Father of the Nation. Drive past the iconic Red Fort and then Chandni Chowk, a very popular and always crowded market place in Old Delhi. Stop at Jama Masjid just beside Red Fort – the most historic and one of the oldest mosques of India. If you want to do some shopping, take a rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk and stop at places which you find interesting. Chandni Chowk is a shopper’s dreamland, with stores after stores full of clothes, jewelleries, household goods, home decors and small cubicle shops for mouth-watering Delhi snacks.
Checkout from Hotel at 12 noon, but since you will have time till your flight, spend the afternoon taking a tour of Qutub Minar – the tallest minaret of India and a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by Sultan Qutub-ud-din Aibak in 1192. Next see the Humayun’s Tomb and the India Gate, dedicated in memory of the Unknown Soldier of the Indian Army. Drive past the Indian Parliament, President’s House and the Supreme Court, and some other elite secretarial buildings as well. Your final destination before airport will be Lakshminarayan Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his consort Goddess Lakshmi.
Have a safe flight home from Indira Gandhi International Airport of Delhi.