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On Buddha’s Trail

Varanasi – Bodhgaya Buddhist Pilgrimage Tour Package (3 nights, 4 days)


Introduction

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.

Day 1: Fly to Varanasi from Kathmandu.

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.

Evening Aarti
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

Day 2: Boat ride and sunrise viewing from the Ganges. Full-day sightseeing in and around Varanasi.  Time given to do ritual puja (shraddh)

Breakfast at hotel. Early morning boat ride on the Ganges to view sunrise and morning rituals on the ghats. People who wants to do shraddh can do in their own expense. Full-day sightseeing of Vishwanath, Tulsi Manas and Durga temples, and Benares Hindu University.   

Boat Ride & Shraddh (ritual puja)
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.” If anyone wants to any kind of ritual puja they are given couple of hours for that and then they can continue with other program in the day.

Vishwanath Temple
The Vishwanath Temple is the best example of Varanasi’s spiritual heritage as well as its ability to continue under challenges. Dedicated to Shiva’s Vishveswara (Lord of the Universe) manisfestation, the temple was built in 1776 by Ahalya Bai of Indore. Its towers were plated using 800 kgs of gold—a contribution of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore. The chance to perform puja at this most sacred of spots is reason enough for pilgrims to come to Varanasi.

Gyan Kupor Well (Well of Knowledge)
Located near the Vishwanath Temple, the water from this sacred well is said to give anyone who drinks it an intense spiritual experience. This supernatural property of the water cannot be verified, however, because the well is now covered. It is also believed to act as a vault, containing the original Shiva lingam housed in a temple destroyed by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

Durga Temple
This Nagara-style temple with multiple sikhara tiers was built in the 18th century by a Bengali maharani. The ochre-colored building houses an image of Durga in its inner sanctum.
  
Tulsi Manas Temple
The site of this temple marks the place where the poet Tulsi Das lived and wrote the Ram Charit Manas, the Hindi version of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Engravings of verses and scenes from Das’s book cover the temple’s walls. Daily performances of Hindu mythological tales are held on the second floor of the temple.

Benares Hindu University
Founded in 1917 by Pandit Malaviya, the Benares Hindu University is a beacon of Varanasi’s old fame as one of the Sub-continent’s greatest centers of scholarship. The university offers degrees in traditional Indian art, music, culture and philosophy, and is of special importance for scholars of Sanskrit. Its major attraction for visitors is the Bharat Kala Bhavan, which exhibits miniature paintings, sculptures dating back to the 1st century and old photographs of Varanasi.  

Day 3: Drive to Bodhgaya

Breakfast at hotel. Early morning drive to Bodhgaya. At Bodhgaya, visit the major sites associated with Buddha’s life.

Bodhgaya
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

Day 4: Drive to Varanasi, and departure by air

Breakfast at hotel. Early morning drive to Varanasi. At Varanasi, transfer to airport for departure.
Package Includes:

•    Transport, pick-up, and drop
•    Sight-seeing and activities in Varanasi and Bodhgaya
•    Hotel accommodation (with B&B)
•    Round trip air ticket
Package Excludes:

•    Lunch and dinner
•    Visa fee at the International Airport only for foreigners
•    Laundry
•    Personal expenses