• Suggested Itineraries: I suggest one of two itineraries, both circular routes from Delhi and back again. The first will allow you to go to the main destinations while the second is for the more enthusiastic pilgrim who wants to see more or all of the known places associated with the Buddha and his disciples. Taking the first itinerary, you will go from Delhi to Sarnath, Bodh Gaya, Rajgir, Nalanda, Patna, Vesali, Kusinara, Lumbini, Kapilavatthu, Savatthi and then return to Delhi; ten places altogether. If you do this allow at least 3 weeks. The full itinerary includes all 28 places and would require at least 5 weeks. These suggested durations will allow you to stay in some places for a few days both to see everything at an unhurried pace and also give you a rest from the usual frustrations of travelling in India. You can of course leave out some places according to your interest or your time limit. If during your stay in India you go to Calcutta don’t miss the Indian Museum which is a veritable treasure house of Indian Buddhist art.
• Things to take: Apart from the usual and obvious travel requisites I would like to suggest two other thing worth taking with you. In most of the places the Buddha delivered one or more discourses. Nearly all of these can be found in either Maurice Walshe’s Long Discourses of The Buddha or in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha. As both these books are a bit heavy to be carting around India, I suggest you make photocopies of the relevant discourses and bring them with you. To read a discourses at the very place where the Buddha delivered it can be profound and uplifting experience. Also my guide book Middle Land, Middle Way – A Pilgrims’ Guide to the Buddha’s India is a must for the modern pilgrim. With detailed information about places associated with the Buddha, their subsequent histories, the art and architecture found in each, maps and diagrams, this book will give you an in-depth understand of the things you’ll see and help to bring them alive. All three books can be got from either Wisdom Publications, 361 Newbury Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA [ www.wisdompubs.org ] or the Buddhist Publication Society, PO Box 61 Kandy, Sri Lanka. Where relevant I mention other discourses published in the Wheel Series of booklets and give the number of each. [ BPS Texts at ‘Access to Insight’ Eebsite ]. These booklets are also available from the Buddhist Publication Society. If you are getting the books by post make sure you order them well before your departure.
• Time to go: The best time to go on pilgrimage to India is between November and February, the Indian winter. It is warm during the day and quite cold at night and in the early morning. Before this time travel is difficult because of the monsoon; bridges are out, trains are delayed and India’s ubiquitous dust is transformed into slush and mud. By the end of March the heat and dust are already unpleasant. There are Vesak celebrations at both Bodh Gaya and Sarnath in May but by then, believe me, the heat is a foretaste of Niriya.
In the future I hope to explore more Buddhist sacred places. In particular I am interested in locating Upagupta’s mountain somewhere near Mathura and exploring the hill at Bihar Sharif, the site of Odantapura and where I believe there is a cave Naropa used to reside in. From time to time therefore this site will be expanded. If on returning from India you are able to correct, add to or update any of the information either here or in Middle Land Middle Way, or if you just want to tell me about your pilgrimage, I would be most happy to hear from you. You can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope the information given here helps make your pilgrimage more meaningful. One last thing. While on the road keep in mind these beautiful words from the Ghandavyayu Sutra; “Think of yourself as a pilgrim and your teachers as guides, think of their instructions as the road and the practice as the land of your destination”. Good luck and have a safe journey.
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