Varanasi-Sarnath – Bodhgaya
Varanasi—the very name has an ancient aura about it. Located on the banks of the sacred Ganga (Ganges), teeming with Hindu shrines and temples, and sanctified by the countless daily rituals performed on the ghats, stone platforms where the city meets Ganga’s waters, Varanasi is a manifestation of belief in city form. But less than ten kilometers from this timeless city is Sarnath, the place where the Buddha delivered his first sermon. The only thing it has in common with Varanasi is its sanctity. There is none of the kerfuffle and fervor of the ghats, no houses, no daily rituals. The place has the stillness of a monastic community, where silence is the best offering as well as reward.
Bodhgaya, the site of arguably the most famous transformation in history, is where every Buddhist pilgrim hopes to go at least once. As far as standing on hallowed ground goes, it doesn’t get better than standing near the bodhi tree, which is believed to be the offspring of original tree under which the Buddha meditated and attained enlightenment. Modern day pilgrims and visitors can experience moments of bliss, if not enlightenment, in the many meditation centers.
Assistance at the airport upon arrival and transfer to hotel. Visit to ghats (platforms) beside Ganga (Ganges River) in the evening to witness the famous aarti ceremony.
The ghats of Varanasi are the venue of all the various spectacles associated with Hinduism. At any time, it is peopled with astrologers, mantra-chanting priests and their clients, barbers shaving heads, people stripping down for a dip in the holy waters of the Ganges and, if you’re near the cremation ghats, funeral pyres devouring the deceased. But as darkness falls on the ghats, people take their seats beside the dais where priests perform the ancient Hindu ritual of aarti. To the accompaniment of bhajans (devotional songs) and the rhythmic clapping of the devotees, the priests perform elaborate movements with large lamp holders in which burn several oil lamps. Senses often fall captive to the sinuous movements of the lamps and their glow on the surface of the Ganges.Overnight at hotel
Breakfast at hotel. Early morning boat rides on the Ganges to view sunrise and morning rituals on the ghats. Drive to Sarnath. Guided tour of the main attractions at Sarnath.
To start a day in Varanasi beside the Ganges is to follow the routine people of Varanasi have observed for time immemorial. The common sight of the rising sun bathing the waters in gold and red here becomes special because of the river’s status in the Hindu world. A boat ride on the Ganges is a great way to get a feel of the river Hindus call Ganga Ma, “Mother Ganga.”
Sarnath, located only 10 kilometers from the throbbing Varanasi, seems ever ready to host another great philosopher’s speech. Its large gardens filled with bird and scurrying squirrel press upon the visitors the gift of tranquility. Here, silence needs no prompting. The historical and spiritual significance of the fact that the Buddha delivered his first sermon somewhere in this expanse of gardens makes you more attentive to the surroundings. The senses are equally engaged by the hulking remain of the 34-meter-high Dhamekh Stupa. Although the present edifice dates back to 500 AD, excavations of the site have yielded bricks dating back to 200 BC. The ruins of a large monastery and the partial Ashokan pillar all hark back to the heyday of Buddhism in the area.Overnight at hotel
Breakfast at hotel. Early morning drive to Bodhgaya. At Bodhgaya, visit the major sites associated with Buddha’s life.
Bodhgaya: where a young man who had renounced life as a prince undertook severe austerities, meditated for weeks, attained enlightenment and became the Buddha. Whether one thinks of the Buddha as a philosopher or as a god, Bodhgaya marks the site of a most wonderful transformation. Surviving as an indirect link to this event in the Buddha’s life is the bo tree growing in the premises of the Mahabodhi Temple. The tree is believed to have come from the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. The spread of the Buddha’s teachings around the world is reflected in the Tibetan, Burmese, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Bhutanese and Nepali monasteries standing nearby.Overnight at hotel
Breakfast at hotel. Early morning drive to Varanasi. At Varanasi, transfer to airport for departure.