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On the Buddha Trail in India - a photo essay

Vladimir K. Photo Index here


In February and March of 2006 my partner and I undertook a pilgrimage to a number of Buddhist sites in India. Besides the normal difficulties of traveling in India---such as late trains, finding accommodation within our budget, food and the ever-present danger of sickness---we found conflicting descriptions of where certain activities took place in the Buddha’s life. Most of the information in the photo essay comes from Rana P.B. Singh’s book, “Where the Buddha Walked: A Companion to the Buddhist Places of India” (2003, Indica Books, Varanasi). However, we also consulted H. W. Schumann’s “The Historical Buddha: The Times, Life and Teachings of the Founder of Buddhism” (translated by M.O’C. Walshe, 2004, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi) as well as local brochures and pamphlets. In Bodh Gaya we also consulted “A Guide to Bodh Gaya” by S. Dhammika (2006, Mahabodhi Society of India, Bodh Gaya). In some cases, we also talked to local people at the sites to try to establish where certain sites were and what happened there.
As there was sometimes conflicting information, I cannot say that information in this photo essay is a definitive description of the activities of the Buddha in any particular place. The life of the Buddha is wrapped in myth, tradition and uncertainty. For example, while the Zen story of the Buddha twirling the flower on Vultures Peak and transmitting the “eye treasury of right Dharma” to Mahakasyapa is certainly apocryphal, exactly which peak is Vultures Peak? Gridhrakuta is the main peak but Vultures Peak is below that and is more of a bluff than a peak. Shumann says there are two caves “on the northern side of the mountain, the larger of which was the so-called ‘Boar’s Cave’” (p. 101). Locals called these two caves ‘Ananda’s Cave’ and ‘Sariputra’s Cave’. I’ve used these two names to label these caves, not because they are necessarily more accurate, but because it’s nice to think that maybe Ananda and Sariputra really did stay in these caves. Not very academic, I know, but there are times when legend is more appropriate, more interesting, than perhaps dubious historical fact (who really knows what they were called 2,500 years ago?). There are similar difficulties in Kushinagar, where the Buddha died. Archeologists claim that the site where he was cremated is where the Nirvana Temple and stupa are located while local legend has the cremation site at the large Ramabhar Stupa.
Having said all of this, most of the information I’ve used with the photographs comes from Singh’s book and I highly recommend it for anyone undertaking a similar pilgrimage although some of his descriptions of the physical layouts are incorrect or out of date.  There were a number of important places we didn’t visit due to time restrictions such as Lumbini (where the Buddha was born) and Kapilavastu (where he grew up) and Shravasti (where he spent many rainy seasons). However, we did visit the following places and by clicking on this link you can go to the photo index page and from there, chose which page you wish to see. The order of the pages is not the order of the Buddha’s life, but the order in which we visited these places.   

Buddha Trail Photo Index

There are some pretty good websites that have further information about some of these places. There is often conflicting evidence about some of details regarding these sites. I'll add more sites of interest as I run across them.

Bodh Gaya
The Root Institute: a Tibetan Buddhist institute which offers courses and retreats at Bodhgaya.
Buddhanet has some information on Bodhgaya here. This is the official site of the Mahabodhi Temple.
Buddhist Pilgrim
A Pilgrim's Guide to Buddhist India: an excellent site for people contemplating a pilgrimage to where the Buddha lived. Put together by Venerable S. Dammika.
Buddhist Pilgrimage Sites: although this is a commercial site, it has quite a bit of information on four sites: Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kushinigar
The Holy City of Varanasi: a large site describing various aspects of the most holy city in Hindu India. (if you visit Sarnath, you'll probably stay in Varanasi)
A brief (4:53 minutes) video on Kushinagar. Amateur but gives an idea of Kushinagar.
nice collection of photos here