I was an avid quizzer during my school days and every year during our annual school general knowledge quiz exam I used to always come within the top three. Once during such exam, I missed out on one question which made me lose my top position and that question was “who is knows as the Light of Asia”. For some strange reason, I had completely forgotten the answer which obviously was “Buddha”.
I have been visiting quite a few Buddhist trails in the last two years and after last year’s Diamond Triangle tour of Odisha, I was somewhat determined to visit Bodhgaya since it is considered as somewhat epicenter for Buddha since he got enlightened out here under the famous Bodhi Tree.
My Bodhgaya trip was not planned as I had some work out there and I made it a point that I would wrap up my work with a day and spend the next one and half days exploring the town. Due to work pressure, I just could not do much of homework and the trip was more like discovery on the go.
How to Reach Bodhgaya
First and foremost don’t mix up between Gaya and Bodhgaya as these are two separate towns located next to each other at a distance of around 15 Kilometres. There are numerous autos outside the train station which you can travel on a share basis or book the whole auto. These are not the typical small three-seater autos but a giant cousin of it’s and can accommodate 8 to 10 people. However, in reality, these are packed up with up to 15 people thus can be very crowded and with luggage, it can be a nightmare thus would always recommend booking the whole auto.
All autos or taxis will drop you to a spot near to the Mahabodhi temple; you need to walk the rest 500 meters to reach the temple site, as there are restrictions on commercial vehicles around the temple complex.
Bodhgaya is also connected by air as it has its International airport connecting to several countries as well as many airports within India.
The temple becomes very crowded during religious festivals like Buddha Jayanti etc. so make sure to search online for these dates in advance.
Where to Stay at Bodhgaya
The option ranges from Rs. 400 per night rooms to Rs. 14,000 per night rooms as this place is an international pilgrimage hub thus all ranges of hotel rooms are available. Book rooms easily online before coming or you can take chances to arrive at Bodhgaya and then book your room. There are several hotels with three hundred meters from the main gate but mostly these are low or mid-range hotels. Most of the resorts are located on the outskirts due to space restrictions.
Shopping at Bodhgaya
Shopping is a part of most travel be it memorabilia or something more exorbitant you get everything out here. There are several markets around the temple that you can explore. Alternately, there are many vendors settled around the temple outer perimeter. A bargain is a key thing thus would always recommend that you enquire with multiple shops before settling in. This way you will get an average price point indication and it will be easy for you to negotiate.
Eating out at Bodhgaya
My philosophy is very simple that is to eat light when I am traveling so I have no issues but if you are choosy about what you want to eat then you need not worry since Bodhgaya is an international destination thus you get various types of food. Several restaurants cater to South-East Asian cuisine considering the high influx of tourists from that location. Bodhgaya comes under Bihar state thus no Alcohol can be purchased officially. Try the various vegetarian cuisine since that is very popular in this part of the country. A few Tibetan restaurants are serving their regional dishes which I did try and found them to be good enough.
Local Transport around Bodhgaya
Since this is an international destination thus most of the autos, e-rickshaws and taxis speak somewhat broken English. Don’t be surprised to find some of them even speaking Thai, Chinese or other international languages.
E-Rickshaws are the most common mode of transport around Bodhgaya. Honestly, you can actually walk around the entire town as all the monasteries are located around Mahabodhi temple but it all depends on the season as a winter walk can be pleasant but not so good during summer.
For sightseeing that is on the outskirts like Barabar Caves and Dungeshwari Cave, you would have to either take an auto or take a taxi. A trip to Barabar Caves from Bodhgaya would cost you around Rs. 600 to Rs. 700 in an auto and it would like a little more than a half-day trip. A trip to Dungeshwari Cave would be around Rs. 300 and would take around 2 to 3 hours in an auto for the round trip.
This is the prime attraction of the entire town and I will not go into the historical facts since this has already been well documented and I honestly won’t be able to add anything new. So instead, I will go into the different attractions within the temple complex.
No electronic gadgets and luggage are allowed inside the temple complex so you would need to avail the free locker facility located at the main gate. This is a free service but you do need to pay for Photography and Videography.
Once you have gone past the security check you would enter the main temple complex. You only need to remove your shoes for entering the main shrine else, you can wear your footwear and freely roam around.
The main temple has been rebuilt which you can see from the gaps between the stone blocks, this was however done to protect the monument from imminent collapse. Some of the remaining stone gates have also been removed and now can be seen at the Indian Museum in Kolkata along with other artifacts, which were discovered around this area.
The main temple has an overall height of 55 meters and is a brick style temple with a design that is not easily associated with a Buddhist site but more that of a Hindu temple.
Other than the main temple there are six important sites in the temple complex:-
Bodhi Tree – Buddha spent his first week here.
Animeshlochan Chaitya (prayer hall) – Week 2
Ratnachakrama (Jewelled Ambulatory) – Week 3
Ratnaghar Chaitya – Week 4
Ajapala Nigrodh Tree – Week 5
Muchlinda Tank (Lotus Pond) – Week 6Rajyatana Tree – Week 7
Brief Timeline of Mahabodhi Temple
This temple has a long recorded history making it one of the oldest surviving brick structures dating back to the late Gupta period around 260 BC emperor Ashoka also made a pilgrimage to this temple thus there is a detailed record of this temple. It was emperor Ashok who had rebuilt this temple and that is the same very structure and design that we see now. Massive restoration work was carried out during the 1880’s and much of the run-down structure was restored. This site was declared as World Heritage Property by the UNESCO on the 27th June 2002.