Away fro the eyes of the popular traveller trails, lies the small, dusty town of Bodhgaya. This the pilgrimage centre for Buddhist followers. This is also where the Mahabodhi Temple, where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment stands.
About 130 kms from Patna is Gaya District, which is noisy and crowded. But, as you move to the centre of Bodhgaya ——- you fall in step with serenity. Of course, there are vendors who line the road leading to the temple gate. The Temple is 55 metres tall, and one is greeted by the chanting of Buddhist mantras by hundreds of monks and nuns.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, the Mahabodhi Temple and the famous Bodhi Tree ——- under which Buddha attained enlightenment after six years of meditation ——- is believed to be the fifth in its succession. The original Bodhi Tree was destroyed because of natural calamities. The sanctum sanctorum is home to a gold-painted Buddha. The temple complex consists of other spots where Buddha is believed to have sat in meditation. One of them is Mucalinda Sarovar. It is believed that he would meditate here, and, during heavy rains, the king snake would arrive and protect him.
Then you have the Butter Lamp House. A part of the holy tradition, offering lamps comes naturally to every Buddhist follower. The south end of the Temple houses the famous Bodhi Tree, where the chants grow louder, and the experience is spiritual.—- Closer to the main temple, there are fragile displays of butter and flour which are symmetrically placed outside the temple. They are perhaps offerings to the temple, but it isn’t something visitors can buy and offer. They are hand-crafted and displayed by the monks.
After the December 2013 terror attacks, the town wears a guarded look with a restricted number of local vendors around the temple premises and greater security at the entry gate. Visitors are no longer permitted to take in electronic gadgets through the gates. And the complex appears sparse in devotee count.
The Meditation Park, which is closer to the entrance of the main temple complex, allows visitors to meditate from sunrise to sunset at a nominal charge. Entry to the temple complex is free. You have to deposit your phone in the lockers. Entry for a camera is 100 rupees.
The closest airport to Bodhgaya is Gaya Airport, which is approximately 21km away. Patna Airport is about 130 km and a 4-hour drive away. There are cycle-rickshaws for transport inside Bodhgaya. There are a number of hotels within the town centre, across budgets. Alternatively, you can put up at Root Institute which offers retreats and volunteer courses and is close to the Mahabodhi Temple. The winter months (Nov-March) are best for visiting. Even though the summers are hot, Buddha Purnima in May attracts a lot of visitors. Bodhgaya is a dusty town, so it helps if you buy a cover patch across the nose, while you are there. Mahabodhi Temple is clean and has drinking water and toilets within the complex.
———- Amrita Das.