This is an excursion to Sarnath, where the Buddha preached his first sermon and set the Dhammachakka – the wheel of law in motion. Several Buddhist structures were raised at Sarnath between the 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD, and today it presents the most expansive ruins amongst all the places on the Indian Buddhist trail. The Museum at Sarnath contains important findings from the excavations in this area. In modern times, several temples have been built in Sarnath and are also worth visiting.
How the tour works:
Sarnath is about 30 minutes drive from Varanasi. We will pick you up from your hotel by car for this excursion, and drop you back at the end.
The tour covers the following highlights of Sarnath:
Chaukhandi Stupa - This site marks the actual spot where Buddha, returning after his enlightenment, met the five ascetics who had left him earlier in disgust. These five (known as the Panchavaggiya) went on to become his first five disciples.
Dhamek Stupa complex – This stupa marks the site of the deer park (Migadaya) where the first sermon (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta) was delivered. It is considered auspicious to walk around the great Stupa in a clock-wise manner. There is a Jain temple in the complex, dedicated to Shreyansanath, the eleventh Jain Tirthankara. You can also see the pre-Ashokan Dharmarajika Stupa (although only the foundations remain).
Mulgandha Kuti Vihara - these ruins mark the place where the Buddha spent his first rainy season in meditation. Nearby is the modern Mulgandha Kuti Vihar temple, built by the Sri Lankan Mahabodhi Society. It houses excellent frescoes by the Japanese artist Kosetsu Nosu. You can also see the sacred Bodhi Tree in the compound. A sapling from the original Bodhgaya tree (under which prince Siddartha attained Enlightenment) was planted in Sri Lanka, from where a sapling was brought here. Behind this is the Deer Park, which is maintained as an open animal park and still attracts deer.
The Archaeological Museum – This is a must-visit museum, where findings from the site have been displayed. Highlights include the Lion Capital of Ashoka, the Ashoka Chakra, colossal standing images of Bodhisattva, statues of Tara, etc.