Synonymous with peace, mediation and spirituality, Buddhism is one of the oldest and most widely practiced religions in the world. And considering that Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, spent many years of his life in India, there are some beautiful Buddhist pilgrimage places in the country for you to explore. Holding great religious significance and exuding divinity, these sites are frequented by pilgrims and historians from across the globe. So, if you are looking to explore the popular ancient Buddhist sites in India for inner peace and serenity, the following are a must-visit.
1. Bodh Gaya, Bihar
Counted among the top Buddhist pilgrimage places in India, Bodh Gaya is a must-visit for pilgrims and tourists. After giving up his princely life to practice asceticism, Siddhartha Gautama sat in meditation under the Bodhi tree here for 49 days to attain enlightenment. A red slab of stone under the Bodhi tree is the spot where Buddha meditated for many days.
Gaya is also known for housing the famous Mahabodhi Temple which has a huge statue of Gautam Buddha in deep meditation. The temple is frequented by Buddhists and tourists keen to know about the life and teachings of Lord Buddha. The revered Mahabodhi Temple has also been a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list since 2001. The place exudes a different charm in winter when many monks, including the Dalai Lama himself, come to Bodh Gaya from Dharamsala.
- Mahabodhi Temple Timings: 5:00 AM to 9:00 PM; 7 days a week
- Distance from Bihar: 69 km
- Best Time to Visit: October to March
- Travel Tip: Wear loose-fitted clothes and simple sandals in Bodh Gaya. You must take off your shoes before entering the inner part of the temple complex.
2. Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh
Steeped in natural beauty and serenity, Dharamshala is famed for being the abode of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. It is situated in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, at the foothills of the mighty Dhauladhar Ranges. Dharamshala, which is also known as the Little Lhasa of India, is one of the best places to experience the Tibetan culture in the country. The hill station is dotted with many beautiful and peaceful monasteries that are perfect for those looking to meditate amidst lush green surroundings.
Among the many monasteries here, Namgyal Monastery in the Tsuglagkhang Complex holds special significance for being the residence of the Dalai Lama. The place also serves as an important centre of learning and meditation for the monks residing here. Other places radiating Zen-like peace and divinity in the hill station are Gyuto Monastery, Nechung Monastery and Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, among others.
- Namgyal Monastery Timings: 5:00 AM to 8:00 PM; 7 days a week
- Distance from Dharamshala: 4 km
- Best Time to Visit: March to June
- Travel Tip: The place is very crowded during long weekends, so plan your trip accordingly.
3. Mindrolling Monastery, Dehradun
Located at the foothills of the majestic Himalayas, Mindrolling Monastery is one of the most important holy places of Buddhism in the country. The site is also known as Buddha Temple Complex and frequented by Buddhists from across the globe. Mindrolling Monastery was built in 1965 and is a part of the Nyingma School of Buddhism. It is counted among the most significant and largest Buddhist centres in the world; many individuals attain spiritual bliss here every day.
Showcasing the Japanese style of architecture, the monastery is a sight to behold. It has a total of five floors, with statues of Lord Buddha and Guru Padmasambhava inside. The first three floors are adorned with eye-catching golden wall paintings, showcasing the life of Lord Buddha. The fourth floor has an open platform from where you can enjoy mesmerising views of Dehradun Valley. The 220-feet high and 100-feet wide Stupa, also known as the Great Stupa, is a major attraction here. The monastery is also known for housing a 130-feet high statue of Lord Buddha.
- Mindrolling Monastery Timings:
- Summers: 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM and 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM
- Winters: 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM and 1:30 PM to 6:00 PM
- The monastery is open 7 days a week
- Distance from Dehradun Centre: 10 km
- Best Time to Visit: April to June
- Travel Tip: If you are a shutterbug, you must carry your camera to capture the scenic views. The place becomes chilly in the evenings, so keep some woollens handy.
4. Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh
Holding great significance among the followers of Buddhism, Kushinagar in Gorakhpur is the place where Lord Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana. After Lord Buddha died, Emperor Ashoka built a Stupa here to denote the exact spot of his Mahaparinirvana. The Stupa, which is popularly known as Mahaparinirvana Temple, has a 6-feet long statue of Lord Buddha reclining on the right side. This Buddha temple makes Kushinagar a prominent pilgrimage site in the country.
Kushinagar also has a 49-feet long stupa, called Ramabhar Stupa, in the form of a large brick mount. This stupa is built in the place where Lord Buddha was cremated. This religious town is also home to Wat Thai Temple, Matha Kuar Shrine and many small temples and monasteries run by Buddhist nationals. Kushinagar organises a grand fair on Buddha Purnima every year and attracts many tourists and pilgrims from across India.
- Mahaparinirvana Temple Timings: 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM; 7 days a week
- Distance from Kushinagar Centre: 650 m
- Best Time to Visit: November to February
- Travel Tip: Go for buses or auto-rickshaws for economical transport in Kushinagar.
5. Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh
Sarnath near Varanasi is one of the most important holy places of Buddhism in India. This small town is the place where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon five weeks after he attained enlightenment. What’s more, it was Sarnath where the celebrated mantra “Buddham Sharanam, Ganchami” originated. The town has many ancient Buddhist sites as well as other places of spiritual significance if you are planning a religious trip. From Buddhist stupas and temples to museums and excavated ancient sites, there are many places to explore in Sarnath.
Famed for being one of the holiest sites for Buddhists, Sarnath is frequented by the followers of Buddhism round the year. This serene town boasts some ancient monasteries and stupas that add a distinct charm to the place and make it a must-visit. Some popular ancient structures here include Dhamek Stupa, Chaukhandi Stupa, Ashoka Pillar, The Mahabodhi Society Temple, and Tibetan Temple, among others. Sarnath is also known for its grand Buddha Purnima celebrations every year.
- Distance from Varanasi: 10 km
- Best Time to Visit: October to March
- Travel Tip: Varanasi is only a few kilometres from Sarnath, so you can easily take a flight or train to Varanasi and then take a taxi or bus to cover the distance.
6. Shravasti, Uttar Pradesh
Located in the heart of Uttar Pradesh is Shravasti, one of the most important cities from Gautam Buddha’s era. The place is particularly famous for housing an ancient Bodhi Vriksh, called Anand Bodhi tree, which was planted by one of the main disciples of Lord Buddha. The calmness of the tree makes it one of the most preferred spots among Buddhist pilgrims for deep meditation.
The town also has some revered and beautiful monasteries and stupas that are worth visiting. Anathapindika Stupa, Angulimala Stupa and Jetavana Monastery are popular places to meditate and practice Vipassana. In case you are looking to learn meditation from well-experienced meditators, you must visit the Vipassana Meditation Centre here for different courses. Apart from Buddhists, Shravasti is a sacred place for Hindus and Jains as well.
- Distance from Lucknow: 157 km
- Best Time to Visit: September to November and February to April
- Travel Tip: You can take a train to Balrampur Railway Station (19 km away) and then hire a taxi to reach Shravasti comfortably.
7. Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh
Situated near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, the historic site of Sanchi is known for housing some of the oldest Buddhist stone monuments in India. However, it is the Great Sanchi Stupa that tops the list. Located on a hill, the 50-feet high stupa with a 37 m wide hemispherical dome was built by Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty in the 3rd century. It is home to many important Buddhist relics as well as the ashes of Lord Buddha. A beautiful example of India’s artistic and architectural history, Sanchi Stupa was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.
Sanchi Stupa Complex comprises ancient stupas, monasteries, a sandstone pillar called Ashoka Pillar, four ceremonial gateways, the Great Bowl, and Gupta Temple. Showcasing intricate carvings, art and architecture, these structures are perfect examples of the rich Buddhist culture.
- Sanchi Stupa Timings: 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM; 7 days of the week
- Entry Fee (per person):
- Indians: INR 40
- Foreigners: INR 600
- Distance from Bhopal: 48 km
- Best Time to Visit: November to March
- Travel Tip: You can buy Sanchi Stupa entry tickets online to avoid long queues at the ticket counter outside the complex.
8. Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
Peppered with many beautiful and peaceful monasteries, Tawang is yet another important Buddhist pilgrimage place in India. It is believed that the sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in this hill station. While the place is dotted with monasteries, the revered Tawang Monastery is the most sacred for Buddhists. This 400-year-old monastery is located at a height of 3000 m and home to over 300 monks. It is also famed for being one of the largest monasteries in the country. This scenic and serene hill station exudes major spiritual vibes and is a must-visit Buddhist pilgrimage site.
- Tawang Monastery Timings: 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM; Closed on Sundays
- Distance from Guwahati: 444 km
- Best Time to Visit: March to September
- Travel Tip: Tezpur Airport (324 km) and Rangapara North Junction (320 km) are the nearest options for air and train travellers respectively. You can also take a taxi from Guwahati to reach Tawang.
9. Vaishali, Bihar
Situated near Patna, on the banks of River Ganga, Vaishali is the place where Lord Buddha delivered his last sermon. Hence, this small district in Bihar is extremely significant for Buddhist monks and pilgrims. To commemorate this important event, Emperor Ashoka even erected a huge Ashoka Pillar here. It is believed that Gautam Buddha visited Vaishali regularly after attaining enlightenment.
Apart from Ashoka Pillar, the district is known for housing Buddha’s Stupa and a huge peace pagoda called Vishwa Shanti Stupa. Abhishek Pushkarni (coronation tank) and archaeological museums near Vishwa Shanti Stupa are other important attractions in Vaishali.
- Distance from Patna: 47 km
- Best Time to Visit: October to March
- Travel Tip: The place experiences very harsh summers, so avoid planning a trip between April and June.
10. Rumtek Monastery, Gangtok
Popularly known as Dharma Chakra Centre, Rumtek Monastery is one of the most significant Buddhist pilgrimage places in India. It is located 1500 m above sea level and surrounded by lush green hills and abundant natural beauty. What’s more, the monastery offers breath-taking views of the entire Gangtok town.
This beautiful place boasts striking architecture and was established to spread the teachings of Lord Buddha around the world. It has a shrine temple, a monastery, a golden stupa and some sculptures of the 16th Karmapa. The prayer hall on the ground floor of the main monastery is adorned with beautiful murals, thangkas and statues. The top floor has a terrace and a small stupa. All in all, Rumtek monastery is a perfect blend of aesthetics and spirituality.
- Rumtek Monastery Timings: 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM; 7 days a week
- Entry Fee (per person): INR 10
- Distance from Gangtok: 22 km
- Best Time to Visit: September to June
- Travel Tip: Dress appropriately and hire a guide to explore the entire site easily.
Apart from these, some other beautiful Buddhist sites in India are worth visiting too, such as Leh Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir), Spiti Valley (Himachal Pradesh), Namdroling Monastery (Coorg) and Rajgir (Bihar). So, whether you are planning a leisure trip or a religious one to any of these states or places, make sure you take time to explore these holy places of Buddhism.