My tour partner Shyamalda gave me the proposal to visit Rajgir and Bodh Gaya at a time when I became very curious about the places after reading the article on The Buddha in Encyclopedia Britannica. I readily agreed. We, a two-family group, went out on a package tour.
In March this year, we boarded our train from Naihati at 8.45 pm. and reached Bakhtiyarpur Junction next morning at 8.15. Our travel agent had arranged for a car to take us to Rajgir which is a 51 kms drive. Rajgir and Bodh Gaya share close association with the life of the Buddha Gautama.
Siddhartha, touched by the suffering of humanity and out of compassion for the world, left home in search for a solution to the problem of suffering. As an ascetic, Gautama went south, where centres of learning and spiritual discipline flourished, and arrived at Rajagaha (modern Rajgir), the capital of the Magadaha kingdom. Bimbisara, the king of Magadaha, was impressed by the handsome appearance and the serene personality of this strange ascetic and visited him when he was seated at the foot of a hill.
The king, after he discovered that the ascetic was a former prince, offered him every comfort and suggested that he should stay with him to share his kingdom. Gautama, however, rejected the king’s offer. But he agreed to visit Rajagaha again after his Enlightenment.
Travelling through the Magadha country, Gautama arrived at a village, called Senanigama, near Uruvela. Gautama’s real struggle in his search for the truth began at Uruvela. Here, for nearly six years, he practised various forms of severe austerities and extreme self-mortifications. He attained Enlightenment or Awakening under a Bodhi tree at the age of 35. The place is now called Buddh Gaya, or Bodh Gaya.
From Uruvela the Buddha went to Rajagaha, fulfilling his promise to visit king Bimbisara after his Enlightenment. Large number of people, including the king, became his disciples. The king offered his park, Venuvana, as a monastery site to the Buddha and his order.
We checked into a swanky hotel. We freshened up and after a quick breakfast were fully geared to begin our tour. We had a tight itinerary. We went sightseeing in and around Rajgir surrounded by five hills – Ratnagiri, Vipulachal, Vaibhargiri, Udaygiri and Songiri.
We rode in two brightly decorated horse-drawn carriages which dominate local transport for tourists. Our destination was Ratnagiri Hills. The clutter of the hooves and the jingle of the harness bells combined to create charming music. We stopped by Jayprakash Garden. It was a luxuriant garden with a riot of colour from the bougainvillea plants. It refreshed us to continue the ride, braving the blazing sun.
We arrived at the spot to experience the thrill of a ride on aerial ropeway. With bated breath, we got into in the moving chairs. We perched on the hilltop, where stands imposing Vishwa Shanti Stupa, which is 125 ft in height and 144 ft in diameter. The dome is 72 ft in diameter. The stupa built of marble has four gleaming statues of the Buddha on its four corners.
It offers a haven of peace and serenity away from the bustle of city life. Next we went to Brahma Kund to experience hot spring water. With nightfall the city began to dazzle with lights. To make the most of the day, we rode to Veerayatan Museum. It is a fascinating Jain museum showcasing the history of each of 24 Tirthakaras. It features ornate dollhouse-like 3D panel depictions made of wood and metal.
We found Pandu Pokhar as true serendipity. It is an amusement park offering a wide range of experiences for all age groups. It exudes an idyllic atmosphere. At dusk the display of colourful fountains enhances the beauty of the park. The lake with limpid water runs along the foot of a hill, creating a breathtaking landscape.
Our second day’s outing began with morning walk in Venu Van – a park with a difference, After breakfast we set out Pawapuri, which is famous for Jalmandir. This is the holy place where Lord Mahavira, the 24th and last Tirthankara attained salvation.
The present temple made of marble in the middle of a lake full of lotuses and approached through arch type main gate and a long bridge made of red sandstone is a superb work of art. Various species of birds inhabit the lake, but lesser whistling ducks dominate it.
The sun was blazing down from a clear blue sky, but it could not dampen our enthusiasm for the ruins of Nalanda Mahavihara. It is a Unesco world heritage site. There are ruins of monasteries of the traditional Indian design – oblong brick structures with cells opening into four sides of a courtyard.
In front of the monasteries stand a row of larger shrines, or stupas, in brick or plaster. Sariputta stupa is the most iconic of Nalanda’s structures with its multiple flights of stairs that lead all the way to the top. A museum at Naland houses many of the treasures found in the excavations.
We ended our Rajgir tour with trekking up Vipulachal, which houses an imposing Jain temple with a spiral iron staircase resembling the Kali temple in Borra Caves in Vizag.
Our second place to visit was Bodh Gaya. We fell in love with the town at first sight. It is dotted with Buddhist temples and shrines. An uncanny serenity charged my whole being as I entered the imposing Mahabodhi (Mahavihara) Temple. The image of the Buddha is sublimely adorned. It was teeming with monks. Bodhi Tree is an object of worship. Gautama attained Buddhohood in the year 623 BC on the Vaisakha full moon day sitting under this peepul tree.
There are luxuriant gardens which are a blaze of colour. A scented breeze pervades the temple premises. One of the delights of visiting the temple after sundown is the Butter Lamp House. We were fortunate to enjoy the sight of a multitude of gleaming lamps in the glass house in the evening.
Watthai, Palyul Namdroling Temple and The Great Buddha Statue are worth visiting. The 80 ft tall statue of the Buddha with his 10 chief disciples in the open air brought to mind the 169 ft bronze statue of the Buddha that I had visited in Thimpu, Bhutan.