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Travel in India

How to Visit Bodh Gaya, India
By:Edwin Thomas

Located in the Indian state of Bihar, Bodh Gaya is the most revered site in Buddhism, for it was there in the 6th Century BC that Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating under the shade of a pipal tree. Visited every year by the Dalai Lama, this small town is home to an international monastic community, and is an island of tranquility in the tumult of Bihar's poverty and banditry.

Get to Gaya. Gaya is the major city nearest Bodh Gaya. There is a small airport with domestic connections, and a direct airlink to Bangkok, Thailand, used by Thai pilgrims. Most travelers arrive by train, with the rails running between Dehli and Kolkatta. Do not take the bus (see Warnings).

Under the shade of the Bodhi Tree.
Visit the Mahabodhi Temple and the Bodhi Tree. The temple is a restoration of the original, which dates from the 9th Century BC. The tree is a direct descendant of the original Bodhi Tree - saplings from the original were sent to Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century BC, and this tree is a sapling cut from one of those, making it a "grandson/daughter." These are the holiest of holies in all Buddhism.

Visit the local monasteries. There are temples and monastic representatives of Thai, Nepali, Tibetan, Burmese, Vietnamese, Japanese and other national forms of Buddhism in Bodh Gaya. All of these are located on or just off of Bodh Gaya's main road, and can be compressed into one hot day of walking.

Learn about Buddhism. There is a Buddhist Center that offers classes, and many of the monasteries offer meditation courses and/or retreats.It is possible to stay at some of the monasteries, regardless of whether one is attending classes there (although accommodations are spartan). If you have time and intend to spend it in Bodh Gaya, this is a good use of it.

Plan ahead if you intend to visit during the Dalai Lama's winter retreat. The town is packed with the faithful and the curious at what is Bodh Gaya's peak season, and accommodations will be scarce.

Be safe. Bihar is one of the most impoverished parts of India. The countryside is infamous for its Maoist guerilla movement and gangs of dacoits (bandits). These groups are known to kidnap and/or kill anyone who looks like he might have money, including tourists. Bodh Gaya itself is very safe, but exercise extreme care outside of the town.

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