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DAY 1: Arrival in Kathmandu, Nepal
Friday. Upon arrival into Kathmandu, you’ll be met at the airport and transferred to the hotel. You are welcome to arrive earlier than this date and we can arrange a transfer and any extra night’s accommodation upon request. In the evening, we will have an introductory meeting with all pilgrims at the hotel followed by a buffet dinner. Stay overnight in Kathmandu.
Day 2: Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple) and day at Boudhanath Stupa
Following breakfast, we will begin our first day of our pilgrimage with a visit uphill to Swayambhunath Stupa (also known as ‘Monkey Temple’), one of the most ancient and holy sites in Kathmandu, dating back to as early as the third century BC.
We will spend the rest of the day exploring the large Boudhanath Stupa which is a spiritual hub for Tibetan Buddhists in particular, who visit to circumambulate this deeply-symbolic structure. You will have ample time to circumambulate and meditate at Boudhanath Stupa and even do some shopping. Around Boudhanath Stupa are the best places to purchase quality Newari handcrafted Dharma items, including statues and thangkas.
DAY 3: Lumbini
After breakfast, departing Kathmandu, we catch a short scenic flight toward the Nepal border where we visit Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. Here we visit the Maya Devi Temple which houses the birthstone marking the Buddha’s exact birthplace. The afternoon activities include a short teaching and group meditation led by Mindah. We will then visit many lovely Buddhist temples nearby, as well as the World Peace Pagoda. This is one of hundreds of beautifully constructed world peace stupas built around the world by Nichidatsu Fujii, a Japanese Buddhist monk, to help inspire peace and harmony among all. Stay overnight in Lumbini.
DAY 4: Kapilavastu
After breakfast, we will visit Kapilavastu where the Buddha lived as a prince before leaving his palace. On the way back to our hotel we will also stop to see the remains of the monastery that the Buddha’s father (King Suddhodana) built for him and his disciples when the Buddha first returned to the palace after his enlightenment. In the afternoon, we visit the Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini Gardens again where you can meditate in the peace and tranquility of the park.
DAY 5: Kushinagar
Departing Lumbini we will clear immigration at the Nepal/Indian border enroute to Kushinagar. Arriving in Kushinagar, we visit the Mahaparinirvana Stupa to pay our respects to the place where the Buddha passed away into Mahaparinirvana. This is an excellent place for us to reflect on the impermanence of our own lives as well as contemplate the extraordinary possibilities if we choose to live a life of practicing kindness, virtue and meditation. Enroute to our hotel we will visit the Ramabhar Stupa, which is the cremation stupa of the Buddha. Stay overnight in Kushinagar.
DAY 6: Vaishali
Early this morning we will depart Kushinagar and drive through rural India to Vaishali. Vaishali was frequented by the Buddha and is the place where he spent his last rains retreat (a three-month meditation retreat during the monsoon period). Here the Buddha cured the local people of a great plague and famine, ordained the first Buddhist nuns, one of them being his step mother, Prajapati Gautami, and also announced his impending departure from earth (his Mahaparinirvana). This afternoon we will visit the Ashoka pillar and the Buddha’s relic stupa before journeying onward to Rajgir where we will stay overnight.
DAY 7: Bamboo Grove, Vulture’s Peak & Nalanda
Today after breakfast, we will make a brief visit to Bamboo Grove where the Buddha spent many rains retreats, before taking a scenic walk up to Vulture’s Peak where the Buddha gave one of his most revered teachings, known as the Heart Sutra. After a short talk and guided meditation at Shariputra’s cave (one of the Buddha’s chief disciples) we’ll head back downhill and visit the ancient ruins of the Nalanda Buddhist University. This was a thriving center of higher learning for thousands of Buddhist monastics between the fifth to the twelfth century AD, before it was razed to the ground by Muslim invaders in 1193.
After exploring the archaeological excavations of Nalanda and the Shariputra stupa, we will head over to the museum to view the hundreds of Buddhist artifacts uncovered during the excavations. Then, with great anticipation we will journey onwards to the most popular Buddhist pilgrimage site of all time, Bodhgaya, the place where Buddha attained Full Enlightenment underneath the Bodhi tree. Stay overnight in Bodhgaya.
DAY 8: Bodhgaya
This morning right after breakfast, we will visit the Mahabodhi Stupa and the Bodhi Tree in the main temple grounds which marks the spot where the Buddha attained Full Enlightenment. After exploring each of the significant places in the temple grounds associated with the Buddha’s awakening, we will make a brief visit to a nearby village to see how the locals live.
Following lunch, we will visit Sujata’s stupa commemorating the village girl who offered the Buddha his first meal after breaking his fast. After making candle light offerings in the main temple, the rest of the day is free for you to read, meditate or simply sit under the Bodhi tree and watch the pilgrims of various countries and Buddhist traditions as they circumambulate the Mahabodhi Stupa.
DAY 9: Bodhgaya
This morning we return to the main temple for free time to do personal practice. After lunch at our hotel, the rest of the day is free for you to spend the time practicing/reading in the main temple.
DAY 10: Mahakala Cave
This morning we take a short drive where we will walk uphill to visit the cave commonly known as Mahakala Cave. This cave is associated with the protector deity in Vajrayana Buddhism, as well as considered by some as the place where Buddha meditated for six years before attaining enlightenment.
After lunch, we will explore some of the many Buddhist temples close to our hotel, including some Bhutanese, Japanese, Thai and Tibetan temples. The rest of the day is free for you to spend more time in the blessed sanctuary of the Mahabodhi temple grounds.
DAY 11: Varanasi
Shortly after breakfast, we will depart early from Bodhgaya to travel to Varanasi, an ancient Indian city formerly known as Banaras. Following a late lunch we will make a trip to the River Ganges where we will take an unforgettable boat ride along the burning ghats where the Hindus cremate the deceased and view the exotic Ganga Aarti (light offering) ritual. We will then return for a lovely buffet dinner at the hotel. Stay overnight in Varanasi.
DAY 12: Sarnath
Today we visit Sarnath, the place where the Buddha gave his first sermon on the Four Noble Truths. This place is marked by the Dhamekh Stupa and surrounded by the beautiful Deer Park. After exploring the ruins at Sarnath there will be a short talk and group meditation led by Mindah. In the afternoon make a transfer to the airport to board an afternoon flight to Delhi.
DAY 13: Last Day or Onward to Aurangabad
Today our amazing Buddhist pilgrimage to the four holy sites comes to an end. For pilgrims heading home, we say goodbye to our new found friends as they journey home with a heart full of the extraordinary blessings and memories of our trip. May you always be blessed by the Buddha and his teachings!
There will be an optional day tour of Delhi to visit Red Fort and India Gate.
For those of us continuing on to undertake the exciting 4-day Ajanta and Ellora Caves Extension, this afternoon we make a transfer to the airport to board an evening flight to Aurangabad. Stay overnight in Aurangabad.
DAY 14: Ellora Caves
After breakfast we take a drive to visit the magnificent Ellora caves. These caves are particularly well-known for their impressive size. They include not only Buddhist caves, but also Hindu and Jain caves as well. The Buddhist caves were built around the 5th – 8th century, while the Hindu caves were made around the 6th – 8th century and the Jain caves were constructed around the 9 – 10th century. This morning we will view the Buddhist caves and the spectacular Kailasanatha Hindu temple flanked by beautiful large stone elephants. After a late lunch we return to relax at the hotel.
DAY 15: Ajanta Caves
Today we drive to the Ajanta Caves located outside Aurangabad. Starting around the 2nd century BC, 29 caves were carved out to form impressive prayer halls and monasteries which were decorated with beautiful murals and stone carvings of the Buddha. These paintings and sculptures are not only visually inspiring but they seem to resonate with the devotion of the workers and the practitioners that once inhabited them. All in all, these caves are unforgettable and we have a whole day to explore them. As we depart, there is the option to do some shopping of some local handicrafts in the markets outside the caves.
DAY 16: Delhi
After enjoying lunch together at the hotel, we transfer to the airport to catch an afternoon flight to Delhi. Stay overnight in Delhi.
DAY 17: Last Day or Taj Mahal Extension
This is the last day of our pilgrimage for the Ajanta and Ellora Caves Extension. After spending the last four days in high quality hotels and enjoying the relaxed pace of this itinerary, you will be well rested to catch your flight back home, taking with you the indelible memories of these extraordinary caves, which simply are unforgettable.
For those joining us on the Taj Mahal Extension, after breakfast we drive south to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra. Here we will enjoy a guided tour of the Taj Mahal, the infamous ivory-white marble mausoleum commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Following lunch at a nearby hotel, we will also embark on a guided tour of Agra Fort, a large 16th-Century fort, commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. It served as both a military base and palace. After exploring the fort, we will drive back to our hotel in Delhi for a buffet dinner.
DAY 18: Depart Delhi
Sadly, today marks the end of our incredible Buddhist pilgrimage tour (including the Taj Mahal Extension). After breakfast, we will help you to transfer to Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport for your onward flight home and bid you a fond farewell. Safe travels and may we meet again soon!