Travel Guide

A Brief Introduction to Bodhgaya

Bodhgaya is one of the holiest Buddhist pilgrimage sites. It is located in Gaya District of Bihar state in India. Prince Siddhartha attained perfect enlightenment under a bodhi tree in Bodygaya some 2,500 years ago. Historically, it was known as the Bodhimanda or ground around the bodhi tree. Some 250 years later, dharma king Ashoka visited this holy site and he is considered the founder of the Mahabodhi Temple. The famous Chinese monk scholar Xuanzang visited this site in 637 CE.

The sacred site of Bodhgaya was “lost” for centuries as Buddhism declined in India. After Burmese Buddhists rediscovered it in the 1880s, the British colonial government began restoration work. In 1891, the Sri Lankan Buddhist leader Anagarika Dharmapa founded the Mahabodhi Society and started a campaign to return control of the temple to Buddhists. In 1949, the Society became part of the 9-member management committee of the temple. In 2002, UNESCO declared Bodhgaya a World Heritage Site.

Today, this holy ground is home to more than a dozen temples and educational institutes representative of Buddhist traditions from various areas, including China, Japan, Korean, Taiwan, Bhutan, Tibet, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Burma. Several historical sites, such as Rajgir and Nalanda University, are in the vicinity

Getting There

Delhi – Bodhgaya …………….. 1,008 km
Gaya – Bodhgaya …………….. 16 km
Patna –Bodhgaya …………….. 135 km
Varanasi – Bodhgaya ………… 252 km

By Air

Gaya Airport is 7 km from the town of Bodhgaya. Between October and February, a few international and domestic airlines offer flights to Gaya:

Thai Airways International (from Bangkok)
Indian Airlines (from Kolkata and Mumbai)
Druk Airlines (from Kathmandu). Druk is the official airline of Bhutan.

Note : The Government of India has approved on arrival e-visa facility at Gaya International Airport for visitors from 87 countries including Europe, USA, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

Patna Airport is about 115 km north of Bodhgaya. Many domestic airlines offer regular flights to Patna from New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Varanasi.

Indian Airline —- (http://indian-airlines.nic.in) —- (airline code: IC)
JET Airways —- http://www.jetairways.com) —- (airline code: 9W)
Air Deccan —- (https://www.airdeccan.net) —- (airline code: DN)
Air Sahara —- (http:/www.jetlite.com) —- (airline code:S2)

Varanasi (Benares) Airport is further away at 240 km.
From Kathmandu: Indian Airlines
From Delhi: Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Air Sahara/JetLite

Long distant bus is also an option for travel from the airport in Patna or Varanasi to Bodhgaya. Travel agencies can arrange for a car or jeep, a tour bus or a minibus to meet you or your group at the airport and then drive you to Bodhgaya. Tourist taxis are easily available around the airport as well, although the former may be safer.

By Train:

Travel by train is inexpensive and offers a unique opportunity to see the country and meet the people. However, travelers are advised to exercise caution for a safe journey. Arriving in Bodhgaya during daylight hours is recommended for your safety.

Gaya Train Station is approximately 16 km north of Bodhgaya. Several train lines connected to New Delhi, Kolkata, Varanasi (formerly Benares) and Patna stop at Gaya. Tourist taxis are easily available around the station.

From Delhi: Grand Chord line of the Delhi-Kolkata section of Eastern Railway, Rajdhani Express, Purusnltta Express, Howrah-Kolkata Mail
From Kolkata: Howrah Express, Kolkata-Howrah Mail, Rajdhani Express
From Patna: Palamau Express, Hatia Patna Express.
From Varanasi: Doon Express, AC Express, Poorva Express.

More information is available online from the official website of Indian Railways (http://www.indianrail.gov.in).

Soulful Tours: We are also arranging air ticket to Bodhgaya, Patna and Varanasi.

This year we are organising two retreat tour in Bodhgaya during His Holiness The Dalai Lama teaching in Bodhgaya.

1st: Mindfulness Retreat in Bodhgaya (3rd to 8th January 2018). A 06-day tour featuring Dalai Lama’s teachings and introduction to Tibetan Buddhism.

2nd: Mindfulness Retreat in Bodhgaya (11th to 21st January 2018)A 11-day tour featuring Dalai Lama’s teachings, introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, guided meditation, Guided pilgrimage to Buddha path and etc.

For more detail: http://soulfultours.com/tour/retreat-tour-india-dalai-lama-teachings-bodhgaya/

By Car or Jeep

Bodhgaya is connected by road to many cities and towns. Reputable travel agencies can arrange for a reliable car or jeep with a dependable driver.

Nalanda (101 km)
Rajgir (78 km)
Patna (135km)
Varanasi (252 km)
Calcutta (495km)

Tips for Travel by Train

  • 1. Train tickets for most lines are sold typically in several different categories: A/C First Class, A/C Sleeper in two- or three-tier, A/C Chair Car, 2nd Class (non A/C) in two- or three-tier. Because these categories can be confusing, it is best to consult a travel agent or tourist service center before purchasing one.
  • 2. Timetables (Trains at a Glance) can be hard to read or understand. It’s therefore easier to buy a train ticket through a travel agent or tourist service center.
  • 3. Safety around train stations. Areas surrounding railway stations, and crowded areas in general, are notoriously high risk areas full of pickpockets and thieves. Plan ahead to avoid both pushing or being pushed through a crowded area and searching through your bags for tickets or visas or cash. Never open a bag of any kind in public. Keep whatever you need handy, like a small amount of cash and your ticket, in a secure inside pocket.
  • 4. Do not expose any valuables or cash at any time. Whenever possible use the waiting room for First Class and A/C Sleeper passengers. Pay special attention when getting in and out of trains—or any other transport. Bodhgaya is located in Bihar State which is especially infamous for dacoits (bandits) and crime.
  • 5. Security on trains. First Class A/C compartments are the only place that are normally quite safe. None of the others are. Do not leave anything of value close to open train windows, doors and walkways. Never leave anything on your seat if you vacate it even for a moment to use a toilet or stretch your legs. Tightly lock up and chain your luggage to a seat for security if you plan to sleep. Do not accept food or drink from anyone including casual acquaintances on trains. Have your own snacks with you, somewhere easy to reach without exposing your valuables, visa or cash.

Weather and what to take

His Holiness teaching and our retreat will takes place from early January, winter time when the weather is pleasantly dry, warm and sunny. During the day, the temperature is usually somewhere between 20-30ºC (68 to 86ºF), but early mornings and evenings it can drop as low as 4 or 5 ºC (40ºF). Bring layers of clothing to wear and a pair of new slippers or thick socks to wear at the Temple.

Make sure that your vaccinations are up-to-date, especially for Hepatitis. Bring an adequate supply of prescription medicines, over the counter medications such as ibuprofen and nutrient supplements if you use them. Have your doctor recommend a basic travel medical kit.

You should bring sun screen lotion, moisturizer, and lip balm and a good quality hand sanitizer, Pepto-Bismol tablets, sun hat, and oral rehydration sachets. You will be able to buy purified water for drinking, cleaning your teeth etc. A thermos bottle and a heating coil (with the proper adaptor) can be very handy, especially if you bring packets of instant soup or coffee or tea bags. The bottle and coil allow you to refresh in your hotel room.

Sleeping bags are recommended for those choosing a budget or middle price hotel, or a guest house.

You must have an FM radio with earphones to get a translation of the talks, rituals and other events in your language. Do not bring a device without earphones as you will disturb everyone around you.

This is a sacred occasion attended by thousands of people from all around the world, so plan to observe a dress code which maintains modesty. Loose fitting clothes work best for comfort and decency.

Bring a pair of shoes/sandals that are easy to slide off because you will be asked to remove your shoes on many occasions.

Getting Around in Bodhgaya

Auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, and tourist taxis are the best way to get around Bodhgaya. It is necessary to negotiate and agree on a price and all trip details before setting out. Try to keep small change in rupees for the payments.

Because India is the home of the sacred cow doctrine, cows are likely to be roaming at large in the streets. It is considered a serious crime to hit a cow with a car or rickshaw so please have drivers be very cautious. Charging foreigners high penalties for hitting or hurting a cow is not uncommon.

Indian Food

Food and diet vary greatly in India, a land of such varied ethnicity, religion, geography and climate. Approximately 80% of the population is Hindu, 15% Muslim. Hindus do not eat beef or beef products—India is the home of the sacred cow doctrine so this is taken very seriously. Muslims avoid pork and pork products. In addition, many Indians are dedicated vegetarians.

Indian cooking is famous for its wide variety of flavors, usually achieved by an artistic use of spices. The most common are chili pepper, cinnamon, turmeric cardamom, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, fenugeek and mustard seed. Curry is a combination of them and does not necessarily mean hot. The spiciness varies. Dhal (lentils, split peas and beans), rice and Indian breads such as naan, chapati, puri, roti, paratha are ubiquitous staples. Indians use a lot of potatoes, known as aloo, and make pancakes and breads from lentils. Lassi, a yogurt like drink, helps digestion and provides extra protein but you must be careful that it does not contain water. Chai, Indian milk tea, and masala or spiced tea (spiced with ginger, cinnamon, cardamom) are among favorite drinks, served virtually everywhere.

Do not eat anything raw. It’s best not to eat fruit unless it can be peeled like a banana or orange.

Exercise extreme caution at all times especially concerning water. Be very certain that any plate, glass or utensil you use has been thoroughly dried so there are no water drops left on it to contaminate it. Do not drink any water that does not come from a sealed bottle or has not been boiled. Avoid any food that might contain unboiled water.

Currency Exchange

The Indian currency is rupee, available in 2,000, 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, 1 notes, and coins. The exchange rates currently around 63 rupees to 1 US $.

It may be best to exchange money on arrival at the airport banks or licensed money changers such as Thomas Cook. You will need a passport and visa to do this. Please be advised that torn or very worn currency notes will often be rejected by local merchants, so check the notes you are given before leaving any exchange counter. A good supply of small denomination notes always comes in handy for butter lamps, rickshaw fares, small meals or needy people.

Local Customs

  • 1. Namaste” is an all-purpose greeting. It can be used in place of “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” “Good evening,” “Welcome,” “How are you?” and so on.
  • 2. When responding to a question, Indians tend to shake their heads from side to side. This can mean “OK,” “No problem,” or “Yes.”
  • 3. In most areas, an Indian house doesn’t have a street address, nor a sign. When giving directions, locals rely on land marks such as bridges, temples, and markets. It’s a good way to navigate the landscape.
  • 4. The pace of life in India is relatively slow. Allow extra time and practice patience.
  • 5. Do not touch the heads of children, because it is considered the sacred part of a person.
  • 6. Indian etiquette dictates that one uses the right hand to eat, the left is used to handle unclean matter and is thus perceived as unclean. Therefore, avoid touching others with your left hand or giving things to others with your left hand.
  • 7. Typical business hours are 9:00 – 13:00, 14:00 -17:30, Monday through Friday. Government agencies and many large-sized business organizations are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • 8. Cows are considered sacred and let free to roam in India. Hurting cows in any way is a serious offense.
  • 9. Before entering a religious place, remove your shoes. Put them on shelves or in the designated area if available. Otherwise, carry them with you in a plastic bag or your backpack.

General Safety Tips for Travel in India

  • 1. In tourist areas, thieves and pickpockets mix in with the crowd of beggars. Keep your bags close to your body at all times. Avoid crowds or be extra careful when in the midst of crowds.
  • 2. When taking a taxi or rickshaw, negotiate and agree on a price, location of drop-off and pick-up, etc., before setting off to avoid conflicts later on. Be sure that the driver knows where you want to go.
  • 3. Bargaining is a fact of life when shopping in India. If you have no intention to buy, do NOT enter into a serious bargaining for fun especially in Bodhgaya.
  • 4. Food poisoning can ruin your entire trip. So, pay close attention to food safety, eat freshly cooked food, refrain from eating salads, raw food, and cold dishes unless you know for sure they are properly prepared. Bottled water is not always safe in India. Bring a bottle of safe drinking water with you is the best.
  • 5. Diarrhea saps energy, don’t ignore it. Rehydrate your body after such incidents with electrolyte drinks (available in tablets and as powder).
  • 6. If you get a cold or flu, treat it with remedies that work for you. Try not to pass it on to others by wearing a mask and/or avoiding close contact. Flu bugs can go around easily and quickly in a big gathering.
  • 7. Clean your hands frequently with hand sanitizer or wipes.
  • 8. Air pollution is common in most Indian towns and cities. Use masks in congested areas.
  • 9. Take measures against theft. Do not assume hotel rooms are safe. Inquire if the hotel can keep your passport, travelers’ checks and valuables safely and if it guarantees secure storage. Make copies of your passport and Indian visa and a list of travelers’ check numbers, Leave one set with friends or keep it separate from the originals. Lock your hotel room securely whenever you leave, put on the extra security chain before you go to sleep.

Other Useful Tips:

  • 1. India has only one time zone and does not adopt daylight saving time (DST). It is 13 hours and 30 minutes ahead of the west coast of North America during non-DST period, or 12 hours 30 minutes during DST period. It is 2 hours and 30 minutes behind Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China.
  • 2. Electricity is 220-240 volts AC, and unstable in most areas. India uses 2- or 3-round-pin plugs but socket sizes vary and may not be always available at hotels. You may want to bring a universal adaptor and/or transformers.
  • 3. Reception of cell/mobile phones is not stable, but there are some STD/ISD phone booths to make international calls at low rates.
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