“Just before the full moon day of the month of Vesakha in about the year 528 BCE, a young ascetic of noble birth, worn out by years of self denial, arrived on the outskirts of the small village of Uruvela nestled on the banks of the sandy Neranjara River. Many years later he described the scene that unfolded before him. “There I saw a beautiful stretch of countryside, a beautiful grove, a clear flowing river, a lovely ford and a village nearby for support. And I thought to myself; ‘Indeed, this is a good place for a young man set on striving’ “. He settled himself under the spreading branches of the a nearby tree and prepared to begin his meditation. Just then a young woman named Sujata happened to be passing and noticing how thin he was, ran quickly home and brought him a bowel of milk rice and sweet honey. Strengthened by this nutritious meal the ascetic began his meditation. All night he sat there as the leaves of the tree quivered in the gentle breeze and the moon shone bright in the velvety black sky. Eventually the clouds of ignorance dissolved and he saw the Truth in all its glory and splendour. He was no longer Prince Siddhartha or the ascetic Gotama. He had become the Awakened One, the Compassionate One, the Light of the World, the Buddha Supreme.” (Source)
Time went by and Uruvela grew to became the present day Gaya. The place where Gautama attained Bodhisatava is one of the most revered spots of Buddhism known as Bodh Gaya. Today, Bodh Gaya stands as one of the most popular places to visit in Bihar where Buddhists from all around the world come to pay their respects to The Great Buddha.
Bodh Gaya is also one of the most common picnic spots for the schools in Bihar. Doesn’t matter if the school is in Patna or in Darbhanga or in Bhagalpur, they always prefer Bodh Gaya when it comes to an outstation trip. The reason is simple, the amenities and facilities available in Bodh Gaya are better than most of the places of tourist interest in Bihar. Speaking of school trips, this was the reason why I was introduced to this place in the first place. In 2012, I worked at a school in Patna as a part time teacher who would fill in for any teacher who was absent. Their first school trip happened in Bodh Gaya and I was sent with the bunch of noisy kids. Thankfully, then there was no such thing as smartphones in the hands of children. Now when I look at the kids with smartphones clicking selfies, the kids of Bodh Gaya seem like angels.
Bodh Gaya felt like a place that was out of the world. A multi-cultural destination, where you’ll find visitors from every country in the world, especially those who follow Buddhism, that you only seen at places like Manali, Hampi or Goa. Bodh Gaya is a small world of its own.
My next solo Bodh Gaya trip happened in 2016, when I was doing a small monsoon trail of Bihar and I couldn’t find a place better than Gaya to make a stop. I took the early morning Jan Shatabdi Express form Patna and reached Gaya Junction at 8:30 AM. From Gaya Junction, I took a shared autorikshaw which dropped me outside Bodh Gaya. From here, I took a battery operated rikshaw finally reached the temple area.
As a well developed tourist spot, the number of places to stay in Bodh Gaya is not limited. You can find a room as per your budget and preferences. I checked into Hotel Sakura House which was right next to the beautiful Myanmar Monastery and its rooftop presented a lovely view of the whole area. The ascending cloud made the view even more gorgeous.
In the evening, I walked from my hotel and went to Mahabodhi Temple Complex. Mahabodhi Temple is the area where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The space consists of all the seven spaces where Siddhartha Gautam meditated for one day each. This includes the evergreen and holy Mahabodhi Tree under which you’ll find many Buddhist Monks meditating.
Among the other important places to visit in Bodh Gaya, the giant Buddha Statue presents an encompassing view from the distance. I took a walk, clicked a few pictures, observed the crowd and then moved to another location. One of my favourite spots in Bodh Gaya has been recently constructed. The White Buddha statue is constructed in the style of Thailand’s White Temple. The place is simply beautiful. Its location is a little far from rest of the Bodh Gaya Monasteries so you’ll find less tourists here.
I had my dinner at Fujia Green, one of the best restaurants in Bodh Gaya. The chicken fried rice was too huge in quantity and I had to pack the rest of it.
Next morning I woke up and visited the many monasteries of Bodh Gaya. The Chinese Temple, The Japanese Pagoda, The Burmese Temple, The Bhutan Monastery are some of the most beautifully constructed monasteries in this Buddhist town. Each monastery has its own style of construction and represents that country’s signature architecture.
The Japanese Pagoda in Bodh Gaya or Indosan Nippon Japanese Temple was built in the year 1972. Here you’ll find the preaching of Lord Buddha etched on the wall. A huge Japanese style bell gong is kept outside. The Royal Bhutan Monastery in Bodh Gaya is another beautiful place to visit. This temple has 7 feet high statue of Lord Buddha with many clay carvings. The Thai Monastery of Bodh Gaya dates back to the year 1956. Sloping and curved roof of the edifice is covered with golden tiles is an insignia of Thai architecture. Here, a 25 metre high statue of Lord Buddha stands above all.
After two days of my Bodh Gaya solo trip, I moved to explore Rajgir and Nalanda. I returned to Bodh Gaya in Jan 2018 to celebrate Losar but I’ll leave that for another blog post.
How to reach Bodh Gaya – Bodh Gaya is easily accessible from Delhi, Mumbai and other cities of India. Trains for Gaya ply regularly on this route and will drop you at the junction from where you can catch a shared auto-rikshaw for Bodh Gaya.
You can also mix Bodh Gaya trip with Varanasi. Trains from Banaras go directly to Gaya and they take 3 hours to reach. You can spend a day or try to return the same day.
Bodh Gaya is mysterious, intriguing, enthralling because Bodh Gaya is nothing like whatever you have heard about Bihar. And this place is an apt introduction to start your journey because Bihar is nothing like what you have heard about Bihar.