My family and I are planning to visit all 4 of the “holy” places towards the latter half of November 2019.
I have been anticipating this trip for quite some time and the opportunity to visit them seems to have suddenly become available to me.
I wish to able to “see each of the 4 places as fully as possible” since I may not likely get a chance to see these places again for quite some time afterwards.
Transportation: We will most likely be hiring a car and driver.
Has anyone already done or researched the Buddhist Pilgrimage?
Which hotels/accommodations would you recommend?
How long will it take to visit all 4 places comfortably without rushing?
Are there any travel routes or places to visit that are particularly recommended?
How did you go about planning the trip?
Any tips, advice, recommendations, or guidance regarding how to make the trip a fulfilling and and happy one, such that afterwards, I do not have any regrets about say, not visiting or doing certain things while I was still there, would be very much appreciated.
Thank you in advance!
[After the trip, I shall try to formulate everything that I learned during the trip - as well as from all the helpful SC forum members - and try to compile it all into one post for anyone interested in undertaking the Buddhist pilgrimage themselves in accordance with Dhamma-Vinaya!]
(On my phone) yes I’ve done that loop, cheaply, safely, without buying into a tour. I can post some links here when I get home in 48 hrs. It was such a rewarding experience. How wonderful to take your parents.
To be honest I was a bit sceptical of the whole ‘dhamma-yatra’ thing until I went to B.gaya last year. But back to your question, if I were you and I wanted to do a ‘dhamma-yatra’ and I was going with my parents who arn’t necessarily fully into Buddhism then i would opt for a more laid back approach. As sometimes with travel in India it can be a bit this hit and miss thing, and if you’re with people who arn’t into contemplating impermanence and unsatisfactoriness then I would go with their ideas of comfort and speedy travelling and go back on a later occasion where you can do more ‘paṭipaṭṭi’ rather than ‘āmisa pūja’ type things. So with that in mind if you’re in B.gaya or any of the other places they have monasteries which depending on the time of year also allow lay guest’s to stay, and depending non the place your stay may incur a cost or maybe be donation based. So I would visit temple’s and ask to pay respects to the monastic community/abbot/abbess and inquire as to whether they have lay accomodation so the future you have an idea of where you could stay, in which case you may have some contacts to come back to instead of just… hotel’s that is. Another thing that might help, don’t worry too much about planning every last detail with the idea you have to try and get the most out of your visit, especially when you are with others as differences in preference can cause conflict, just recollect you are in the place where the Blessed One lived and taught, ironically try to let go of the externals rather than get lost in then. I could go on and on but to make a long answer short, the best way to do the Yatra is do 'carika-‘tudong- Pāḷi/Thai for wandering.’
If it’s not too personal, could you give us more information on why your parents are interested in this at all? Honestly, if someone isn’t really keen to see these places out of religious devotion, I don’t know if this is the trip I would recommend. Does your family live in India? Are there non-Buddhist things that your parents are really interested in? For example, if they are really interested in nature/wildlife, the main site in Lumbini is located inside a huge nature reserve. So that would be a place to consider spending extra time.
If they really like museums, I’ve heard that the national museum in Patna is really excellent and could be on the way depending on your route (it’s north of Bodhgaya).
If they like shopping and cultural experiences then Varanasi is probably a place to spend extra time. I think that’s also a common starting point/point of departure because of the large airport.
It would also be good if you could flesh out what you mean by “fully.” It sounds like you want “fully” and your parents do not. For example, In Bodh Gaya, the Mahabodhi temple and Bodhi Tree are the main attraction. On the grounds of the temple there are many smaller attractions that would mostly have meaning to Buddhists. It’s a really lovely place so your parents could sit somewhere and people watch while you went around to those places. The temple grounds in the winter season will always be packed with people. Away from the temple grounds there are lots of “modern” monasteries from all of the Buddhist countries from around the world. I spent about a month in Bodh Gaya and never saw any of these, but they may be interesting to see all the different cultural expressions of Buddhism. Then there are some other ancient attractions, like the place where it is said that Sujata gave the milk rice, the place where the Buddha sat under a banyan tree for a week, the mountain where he did the ascetic practices, etc. Personally I think those would be the least interesting to your parents and missing them would not subtract from a Bodhgaya experience.
So for Bodhgaya, I would say that if someone could spend a day or two just hanging out in the Mahabodhi temple compound that would give a full experience and be very low stress because it’s all right there. You would be able to get a hotel close by so your parents could easily come and go if they wanted. There’s always things happening.
Perhaps if you could give some examples of trips your parents have taken that they enjoyed we could suggest ways to kind of recreate that integrated with the main pilgrimage sites.
What was your planned mode of transportation? Were you thinking to hire a driver and car? If you are doing the trip by road, there are going to be very long periods of driving. Like, some 12 hour days of just driving. If it were my parents I would load them up with audio books. Maybe books set in India.
If it were my parents I would try to find as many documentaries on the holy sites and encourage them to watch. That way what they see and experience will be more meaningful and familiar.
There are two places for the hometown (Kapilavastu or Kapilavatthu in Pali) of the Buddha, one in Nepal, another in India. These two sites are close to Lumbini, and also the main claimants for the site of ancient Kapilavastu in today for Nepalese and Indian tourism. Good to visit the two places if possible.
I was also skeptical of pilgrimages until I came across it in Digha Nikaya 16!
I’m not very interested in Buddhist culture per se, so things like visiting caves or Buddhist cultural heritage sites is not as important to me as visiting the 4 places mentioned in the early sources.
I think I have a sense for what you mean, but can you explain further?
Another good idea!
Good point. Will try to remain on guard and careful about this!
This is something that I was wondering about actually!
The Digha Nikaya 16 didn’t seem to mentioned much aside from visiting and recollection in terms of “how to undertake the pilgrimage.”
Is this all the Buddha instructed regarding how to undertake the Pilgrimage?
As I mentioned before, I’m not very interested in Buddhist culture per se.
I just wish to undertake the Pilgrimage in accordance with the instructions regarding it provided in the Dhamma.
So basically, visit each place with a suitably faithful/trusting mind, recollect the significance while visiting, and…just wandering around and explore each place?
(This sounds good, I am just concerned about the time constraint - and if each of the 4 places are very big, whether I would have time to wander and explore it all without prior planning.)
Your post and advice was very helpful. Thank you for your guidance regarding how to undertake the pilgrimage, Bhante!
My parents are born Indian Hindus who immigrated from India, but we live in the US. They are moderates, so they are open-minded and appreciative of the Buddha (as many moderate Hindus are). I have expressed my interest in this trip to them before. Since they visit India quite frequently (at least once a year), it just so happened that this trip allowed for us to visit all 4 places due to a wedding they have to attend in Lucknow anyway (which is not very far from the loop apparently).
Great idea! I would appreciate this a lot actually.
Since we seem to have only a limited time to visit the 4 places, I would like the focus of the trip to be primarily on the “main Buddhist sites” in each place.
As long as we could do this bare minimum, I would be happy accommodating them otherwise as I am not very picky.
They recently visited me in Sri Lanka where I am studying. We did 5 day trip and visited 5 place in 5 nights: Anuradhapura, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya/Ella, Galle, and Colombo. (In retrospect, this trip was slightly too rushed, so maybe 4 instead of 5 places in 5 days would have been a happier pace.)
Anuradhapura: none of us like this place because they charged extremely high rates to foreigners and didn’t have any signs written in English (presumably to charge you even more to higher a tour guide) - we went around basically looking a vague Buddhist ruins as such. We do not like expensive tourist attractions - after this experience, apparently even ‘culturally Buddhist’ ones too.
It made me realize how little I like “Buddhist cultural sites.” I am looking forward to this trip almost exclusively because the 4 places were mentioned very directly in Digha Nikaya 16.
Kandy: Where I am studying. Stayed at an expensive hotel which we did barely more than sleep in since we had to rush out the next morning anyway - a regret.
-As long as the places and area where we stay are safe, I think recommendations of cheap/inexpensive places are very welcome. My parents were looking into a Korean monastery to stay in Lumbini.
-Went to Temple of Tooth, a Buddhist temple that claims to have the tooth of the Buddha (seems like a false claim to me) - I don’t think we liked it very much because it reminds us of crowded Hindu temples that we are already used to and they also charge money…to visit a temple. We don’t really like commercial religious places either apparently.
Nuwara Eliya and Ella: Nuwara was extremely beautiful, lush green natural surrounding. My mom and I liked it a lot, my dad seemed ok with it but got bored after a while lol - he likes more historical and intellectual things - he is an academic, so go figure.
Ella was like an American/European/Australian tiny town tucked away in the hills/mountains. Exorbitantly expensive. I don’t think we liked this place because we live in the US, and it was just like just another lively crowded town in the US.
Galle: I think we meant to go to Bentota, but mis-planned and ended up in Galle instead. Portuguese port-city influence. It was a nice place overall, but I think it was okay at best. Not Buddhist at all, more touristy. I think we definitely liked this more than Anuradhapura though lol.
Colombo: stayed a nice hotel before their flight back out. No regrets, but we definitely do not want to spend this much on hotels on our loop!
The trip was a bit of whirlwind. Exciting, but not really peaceful. I am hoping the visit to the 4 places is more peaceful and relaxing - we do very few, but important things, and take a more laid back pace (as Bhante mentioned above).
If the DN 16 advised simply to visit and recollect while at the 4 places, to be honest, I am fully content with just doing that!
I still want to learn from those who have done the tour already to be prepared and make sure it’s a happy trip overall for all involved.
Oh, the main Buddhist site is located in a natural reserve? That sounds wonderful!
Is this a Buddhist museum?
They don’t seem too into shopping, especially not in India.
We were originally going to begin here too. But we found out that the location of the wedding was not far from the loop - so it wouldn’t make sense to go back to Delhi and fly back to Varnasi.
Since my parents are Hindu, they will definitely be wanting to spend some time in Varnasi/Benares. I don’t mind at all as long as the bare minimum above is met.
Good question! Thank you for asking.
Basically, as I mentioned to a Bhante above, when I say “fully,” I actually just mean:
I just wish to undertake the pilgrimage in accordance with the instructions regarding it provided in the Dhamma (i.e. DN 16).
“full experience and be very low stress because it’s all right there.” This sounds spot-on!
Maybe a trip where we could do something like this^ with all four places.
What kind of audiobooks? Do you have any recommendations?
Also sounds like a great idea too! Do you have any recommendations regarding documentaries?
How many days would you recommend we spend to complete the entire loop without feeling rushed?
Thank you very much for taking the time to post. It was also incredibly insightful and helpful - especially in providing some possible solutions regarding how to balance my own interest in Buddhism with their interests as well.
Sorry about the delay, I’ve been away from a proper keyboard. I went there in 2007.
As to our general strategy. We were three friends, in our early 60s, who don’t enjoy organised tours, even tho it’s easy to search for pilgrimage tours online. As we worked in three different countries we first assembled in Bangkok, then took a direct flight to Gaya. Buddham samaranam gachāmi was piped into the airport terminal I recall (quite magical). We could have chosen to arrive at a larger international airport and then take an internal flight or train to Gaya. We had previously booked a nondescript hotel in Gaya city online and purchased pdfs of the relevant chapter from the Lonely Planet Guide to India. We also took a copy of the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta. That was the extent of our forward planning.
When we’d slept off our flights we used the Guide to get us to Bodh Gaya (20km by bus or taxi) and to find accomodation there that we deemed suitable. It was a room in a family house in a village a short walk from town. It was winter, there was no glass in the windows and it was COLD. There’s a lot see and enjoy and it was quite overwhelming to visit the main temple, see all the pilgrims from different countries, and to sit under the Bodhi Tree.
We selected a travel company with the help of the LP Guide and by strolling along the street where most of them had their offices. They arranged a driver in a suitable SUV for us, and tailored the trip to our preference and time allowance. They suggested all the major pilgrimage sites, plus Varanasi (for the burning ghats). The only stop we rejected was the Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini. This was because two of us had already been there and the third friend was worried that they’d have visa issues entering Nepal and returning to India.
The driver knew the sensible sequence to follow but how much time we spent in each place was our choice when we planned the itinerary in the office. We wanted to stay in very simple accommodation (temples when possible) but we could have chosen comfortable hotels, or changed our ideas as we went along. As I recall we paid for the transport and the driver up front in the office but paid the hotels directly.
At each place we visited we found a relevant sutta passage about what the Buddha did and said when he was there and one of read it aloud to the others. It would have been good, I think, if we’d carried a book with a little more information about the Buddha’s life and the places he spent it in. I’m sure there must be many such available for pilgrims.
I have done the pilgrimage in full 3 times, partially once (only Saranath and Sravasthi) and to Bodh Gaya 9 times and to Saranath 5 times. The first time was in September 1991 when I took my mother and parents-in-law and our family on pilgrimage. The next full pilgrimage was in February 2010 and the third in February 2017.
As to planning the pilgrimage, I suggest you contact the Inbound Tour Operator Body of India, IATO and email address, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. their website address is www.iato.in. Since I lived and worked in India for 3 years, initially 1991/92 and then in 2000 as the Country Manager and Regional Manager of the Sri Lanka airline Sri Lankan Airlines, I can give you two agency names, but it is up to you to decide. You can contact Roshan from Sidhartha Travels, email roshan.siddhartha email@example.com, or Saleem of ITPL Saleem firstname.lastname@example.org
Visiting each of these places, you need to spend some time, at least a day in each place. But at Bodh Gaya you need to spend at least two days because you have to sit and talk of the importance of the 7 weeks after enlightenment which can take even 3 to 4 hours provided you have delved into it. Most travel operators only will show you the places of 7 weeks after enlightenment but not fully aware of details. Then you have to go to Durgeshwari where ascetic Sidhartha spect 6 years and to Sujatha palace plus also spend some time in meditation mindfulness and vipassana. Also it was in Bodh Gaya that ascetic Sidhartha attained sopadisesha parinirvana and with that Buddha was born and Enlightened. That is why all three things of birth of Buddha, enlightenment and parinirvana happened in one and same moment and at Bodh Gaya and not in three different times at three different places. Having attained parinirvana, Buddha then expounded Dhamma for others to attain parinirvana.
Saranth is where Buddha expounded the first discourse. He chose the two ends and the middle path, which in my understanding is because the 5 ascetics were in one end of giving suffering to the body.
At Kushinagar it was where Anupadisesha parinirvana took place. Here Buddha gave up the somatic body.
At Lumbini it was a prince who was born. Why did he walk on 7 lotus flowers and the utter the peon of joy? The lotus is a flower that initially is under muddy waters, then comes up and then the stem goes above the water level and the flower blooms. So is a Buddha, born among humans, he will then go above them and become Buddha. The 7 lotus flowers mean, 6 are for the 6 touch-agencies or Salayathana, and the 7th is away from all the 6, enlightenment also know as Rajayathana.
I have written to an international Buddhist Magazine on 7 weeks and if you also want to know more can email me email@example.com
So, I think we need to point out that this is not an EBT. I’m guessing it’s a Tibetian/Mahayana thing. Any way, please start a different thread to discuss this if you need to. It’s not relevant to this thread.