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Buddhist Pilgrimage , Vacations & Group Discounts
Buddhist Pilgrimage: The complex at Sanchi has some of the oldest and finest examples of Buddhist architecture. The Jataka stories about the Buddha's earlier incarnations, and episodes of the Buddha's life, form the main subject matter in the sculpted architraves of the Chaitya, temples, pillars and monasteries. They present a fascinating array of complex images narrated in a linear fashion.

Sanchi was once situated on the major north-south trade route, the famous Dakshinapatha, and this was one of the reasons why kings and merchants continued to patronise it till well into the 6th century AD. The profusion of images at Sanchi seem to exude life at its fullest, reflecting the agrarian prosperity of the times (22nd century BC to 7th century AD) when Sanchi was at the height of its glory.
Suggested travel itinerary / Places to visit:

Ajanta and Ellora

ajanta & ellora Situated in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, Ajanta has acquired world renown for its famed paintings. The caves of Ajanta provided the canvas for innumerable paintings, not by Buddhist monks as is commonly believed, but by highly trained members of guilds of artists under monastic and royal patronage.
Ajanta paintings - the brilliant union between sacred and secular art.
Beginning in the 2nd century BC, and continuing for 900 years, twenty-six caves were chipped out of a horseshoe shaped cliff. The paintings at Ajanta flow into one another, forming an endless kaleidoscope of colour and motion. Although the Jataka tales from the main theme of the paintings also depicted are scenes from contemporary courtly life. The large individual figures painted with an eye for colour and detail attract attention. The best paintings are in cave numbers 1, 2, 16, 17 and 19; and the best sculptures are in cave numbers 4, 17, 19 and 26.
A visit to Ajanta is incomplete without visiting the nearby caves at Ellora. Starting from the 7th century AD, Ellora carried on the great legacy of Ajanta and was subject to Buddhist and later Hindu and Jain influences. The sculptures at Ellora are massive in form though they continue to reflect the fluidity of the Ajanta sculptures. There are twelve Buddhist caves in all and the entire spectrum of carvings pulsates with life and energy. The famous rock-cut Hindu temple of Kailasanath is in Ellora.
Aurangabad provides a base for visiting the caves of Ajanta, 100 kms and Ellora 30 kms away. Indian Airlines connects Aurangabad with Mumbai and Delhi.

Nagarjunakuonda and Amravati

Buddha Buddhist religion spread to Sri Lanka and Burma from the bustling Bay of Bengal ports of the Andhra coast. One of India's richest Buddhist sites, Nagarjunakonda, ancient Sri Parvata, now lies almost entirely under the Nagarjunasagar Dam. The monasteries and chaityas were reconstructed on top of a hill called Nagarjunakonda (konda is the Telegu word for hill), which rises from the middle of the lake. The island takes its name from the Buddhist monk, Nagarjuna, who lived around the turn of the 2nd century AD and was the exponent of the philosophy of sunyata (void). Statues, friezes, coins and jewellery found at the site are housed in a museum on the island and give a fascinating insight into the daily lives of this ancient Buddhist centre.
Nagarjunakonda is about 150 kms southeast of Hyderabad, the state capital of Andhra Pradesh. There is a regular ferry service to Nagarjunakonda.
Amaravati, ancient Dhanyakataka, is about 38 kms from Vijaywada, and can also be reached via Guntur, 35 kms away. An emissary of Emperor Ashoka, who went to propagate Buddhism in the region, laid the foundation of the Great Stupa at Amaravati. It has a brick-built circular vedica (drum) and platforms projecting in the four cardinal directions. Much of the vast archaeological findings from the site, magnificent sculpted friezes, medallions and railings, are now exhibited in the British Museum, London, and the National Museum, Delhi.
There is also a small Archaeological Museum on the site containing some of the finds from the area. Some of the exhibits are from other sites in the Krishna valley region as well.

Orissa Sites

Buddhist pilgrimage The Buddhist heritage in Orissa, though not as popular in the tourist circuit, is remarkable for its architectureal wealth. The Kalinga war, which transformed Emperor Ashoka into a devout Buddhist was fought on the banks of the river Daya near the temple city of Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa. Bhubaneshwar is well connected by rail and road to the rest of the country. Ashoka's rock edicts
Ashoka's rock edicts, dating from 260 BC, at Dhauli, 8 kms from Bhubaneshwar, stand testimony to his conversion to the gentle faith of the Buddha. These two 'Kalinga Edicts' differ from other Ashoka edicts which expound Buddhist principles. Dating from 260 BC the Dhauli edicts give detailed instructions to Ashoka's administratiors to rule his subjects with gentleness and fairness.
Six kilometres from Bhubaneshwar are the caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri, dating from 2nd century BC, on two separate hillocks separated by a road. At Udayagiri is the famous Hati Gumpha (elephant cave) of King Kharavela. There are several caves worth visiting with stone figures from the Buddhist pantheon and fine wall friezes. The three sites of Ratnagiri, Udaigiri and Lalitagiri, constitute a separate circuit, well connected by road to Bhubaneshwar. Ratnagiri in the fertile Birupa river valley, 90 kms from Bhubaneshwar, was a great centre of Vajrayana Buddhist till the 12th century and the Mahavihara of Ratnagiri played a great role in the development of the Kalachakratantra during the 10th century. Today, pilgrims can see the remains of this monastic university along with the beautiful sculpted panels that reveal the intricate motifs on the niches.
In Udaigiri, 5 kms from Ratnagiri, the remains of a sprawling monastery has been recently excavated, that can be reached through a long stairway. Rock-cut sculptures adorn the hilltop. Lalitagiri is situated on a small hill and has a large number of votive stupas and the remains of a chaitya hall. Also noteworthy are the large number of Buddha figures housed in the site museum. There is a stone carver's village that has survived from ancient times where excellent sculptures are often to be found.

Tawang

Rumtek monastery Tawang monastery, situated at a height of 3400 meters, in the far west of the northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, is one of the largest monasteries in India. The present monastery was built at the site of an ancient monastery in the 17th century. The VIth Dalai Lama was born near here. Tawang stands isolated from the rest of the world with its community of 500 lamas peacefully performing their daily rituals. Though difficult to reach, Tawang continues to attract scholars and pilgrims. The main attractions are a gigantic 10 meters gilded statue of the Buddha, the large collection of priceless manuscripts, books and tangkhas, which depict the Buddha and tutelary deities in different poses. Indians need an Inner Line Permit and foreign visitors a Restricted Area Permit. Both are easily available from the office of the Resident Commissioner, Arunachal Pradesh, New Delhi, Ph-23013956, of from FRRO offices in any of the metros. Tezpur, 216 kms away, is the nearest airport.

Rumtek and Pemagyantse

Rumtek monastery Situated in the lap of the Himalayas, the eastern Indian state of Sikkim, is famous for its gompas and their fascinating monastic ceremonies. Rumtek monastery is visible from the capital Gangtok though it is 24 kms away in one of the lower valleys. Runtek is the seat of His Holiness, the XVIth Gyawla Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu Order of Tibetan Buddhism. The cham dance is performed on the 28th and 29th day of the tenth lunar month (July). The monks wear grotesque masks and colourful dresses the dance culminates in a ritual dismembering of an effigy symbolising evil. A full day's trip by car from Gangtok, the monastery at Pemagyantse (the perfect sublime lotus) is 140 kms west of Gangtok. Situated at an altitude of 2085 meters, Pemagyantse presents a panoramic view of the high Himalayas. Legend has it that the great tantric saint, Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, searching for a place to meditate, shot an arrow in the air. The place where the arrow landed is where pemagyantse monastery stands. The monastery houses on its top floor a wooden, intricately crafted structure, depicting Guru Rinpoche's abode. The annual cham festival is held in February. How to get there The nearest airport is at Bagdogra, 124 kms from Gangtok The nearest railway stations are at Siliguri, 114 kms, and New Jalpaiguri, 126 kms from Gangtok.

Dharamsala

Leh Upper Dharamsala or McLeodganj is in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. This hill station with its magnificent view of the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas is the seat of His Holiness, the XIVth Dalai Lama and the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile. The town has a large Tibetan refugee settlement. The numerous monks in their flowing maroon robes, the many street side shops selling momos and butter tea and old Tibetan women in their traditional clothes walking past serenely turning their prayer wheels, could well be in Tibet. The bazaar has shops selling Tibetan exotica. The main road leads to the Dalai Lama's temple, Namgyal monastery. It houses giant stucco statues of the Buddha, Avalokiteshwara and Padmasambhava, and the traveller can join the devout in their ritual of circumambulating the temple and rotating the prayer wheels. A further twenty-minute trek leads to Gangchen Kyishong, where the offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives are located. Within the same complex is the beautiful monastery of the Nechung Oracle where one can witness daily services. A stone's throw away is the Men-tsee-khang, the Centre for Tibetan Medicine. A 14 kms drive down is the Norbulingka Institute, famed for keeping the cultural life of Tibet alive. How to get there Dharamsala is well connected by road to Pathankot (90 kms), Chandigarh (248), Manali (253 kms), and Shimla (317 kms). There are daily buses to Delhi (521 kms) as well. From the railway station at Pathankot there are overnight trains to Delhi. Consult your travel agent if you are planning to book a flight from the nearest airport at Gaggal (13 kms).

Tabo

Tabo is located at a hight of 3050 metres in the magnificently isolated Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh. Founded in 996 AD by the great scholar, Rinchen Zangpo, as an institution for advanced learning, Tabo celebrated its 1000th anniversary in 1996. Unlike most other monasteries in the Western Himalayas, Tabo stands on barren, flat ground and it was built with mud and bricks. A small community of sixty monks resides here. The monastery has some rare tangkhas and clay statues of the Buddha painted in the Kashmiri style. Tabo has survived because of its isolation, protected from invader by hostile, inaccessible passes. Even today, the weather permits trekking for only a limited period in the year. However, the small town is rapidly being modernised with electric lights and paved streets. The local shops here stock basic provision for trekkers. Seasonal access by road to Manali and to Simla via National Highway 22 and State Highway 30 is possible. A bus journey from Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti district, to Shimla, takes two days and to Manali, twelve hours. Tabo is 33 kms, and a slow two-hour drive by bus from Kaza.

Leh

Leh Surrounded by the snow-covered Himalayas, even the summer months, between June and September, can be quite chilly in Leh, the remote headquarters of Ladakh district, situated at an altitude of 3500 metres. Buddhist gompas The famous Buddhist gompas (monasteries) are perched perilously on the precipices with enchanting but forbidding mountains in the background. Hemis, the largest of these gompas, founded in the 17th century, has as excellent library and is famous for housing the largest tangkha in India. Hemis is the most accessible of all the Ladakhi gompas and visitors flock here during the annual festival held in June-July. Other gompas like Shey (15 kms from Leh), Spituk (8 kms from Leh), Thikse (17 kms south of Leh) are also easily accessible. However, their annual festivals are held during the winter months. Stok Gompa and the Stok Palace Museum (10 kms south of Leh) are musts for visitors to Leh because of the rare collection of paintings and tangkhas. Alchi has one of the most beautiful monasteries in the Himalayan region and the 70 kms road journey from Leh is well worth the effort. Rinchen Zangpo founded Alchi Gompa in the 11th century and it has some beautiful mural paintings dating from that period. Inner Line Permit, available easily from the District Commissioner's office in Leh, is required by both foreign and Indian travellers to visit the newly opened areas of the Nubra Valley, Tso Moriri and Pangong Tso. How to get there There are daily flights in summer by Indian Airlines to Leh from Srinagar and Delhi, but inclement weather often leads to erratic schedules. The overland routes, probably some of the most ruggedly beautiful journeys, are from Srinagar and Manali. However these roads are open only from June to October. Though these days the roads open up sooner than June, it is advisable to consult the local authorities about the same if you are planning a visit by road before June. The best season to visit Leh is between Mid-May and September.
 


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