6 Best Things to Do in Bodh Gaya, India

Are you planning a trip to Bodh Gaya, India? Let me share with you the best and most exciting things to do in this Buddhist holy place. You would also find few other important travel tips on the topic “things not do to” as well.

In addition, this page guides you how to have a great adventure in Bodhgaya as well as tells you why you should explore it. Learn all the must see and do things thorough my personal travel experiences to this amazing place. Things are really different there as Bihar is said the poorest state in India. Street beggars, scammers (who run after money), and insufficient of public toilets may often ruin your trip. So, it’s best to read this guide before you make your way to Bodh Gaya.

The famous – Mahabodhi Temple’s Tower. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

Uruvela was the ancient name of modern Bodh Gaya. It is the place where the prince Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment and became the Buddha at the age of 35. Among the other historic and most popular Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Bihar State, northeast India, it is considered the most important one.

Millions of pilgrims from all over the world, especially from the Buddhist nations visit Bihar State every year with an intention of witnessing the sacred places that are related to the Buddha and his life. According to my experience, Bodh Gaya is best known for two things: the Mahabodhi Temple, and Bodhi Tree. Apart from these two holy attractions, there are plenty of things to see, from the Great Buddha Statue to amazing architecture of the Buddhist temples. You can also go to Dungeshwari Hills, located a little bit far (14km) from Bodh Gaya. It’s another great historic place where prince Siddhartha spent 6 years in deep mediation prior to his enlightenment under the bodhi tree.

Let’s explore the things I have come across during my historic visit to Bodh Gaya.

1) Mahabodhi Temple and Bodhi Tree

Mahabodhi Temple’s Buddha Statue. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mahabodhi Temple is considered the prime holy place of Bodh Gaya. The temple complex houses many historic structures including the Buddha statue inside the Mahabodhi temple, bodhi tree, railings, and lotus pond (Mucalinda Lake). Once you pass the entrance gate, get ready to be dazzled by the temple’s main tower rises to approximately 55 meters high. It looks breathtaking and you can feel the tranquil atmosphere that flows throughout this beautiful temple’s complex.

Every day, the Buddha statue is worshiped by thousands of devotees and Buddhist monks. Behind the temple, there you find the sacred Bodhi tree, located in a fenced area. Nearby you spot some donation boxes to put some money in. If you want, donate some money in there but not to beggars or others who ask for money from you.

Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, Bihar. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

To avoid the crowds I suggest you to visit the temple at noon (after 12:00PM). Indeed, the time is great to take lots of amazing photographs. Please note that a lot of visitors (monks and devotees) visit the temple in the morning and evening time to engage in prayer, offerings, and meditation. In addition, pilgrims take a leisurely peaceful walk in barefoot around the temple (stupa) and bodhi tree in a clockwise direction. While others just take a seat on its grounds and gaze the bodhi tree or chant sutras including do meditation closing both eyes.

You can collect some fallen leaves of the Bodhi tree found on its grounds as they are believed to be sacred. They are rare and not everyone who visits the temple can manage to get some. My story is different as I was lucky to find three leaves and I brought them to home with extra care.

The holy Bodhi Tree of Bodhgaya. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

While you are there, visit other important structures and cultural assets which include the other Buddha statues, railings, pond, Buddha footprint, walking trails, the area where the Buddha first did his walking meditation after his enlightenment, pillars, and other objects found within its temple’s grounds. For example, the Mucalinda Lake – it’s a beautiful pond with a Buddha statue in the centre of it. It’s believed that while the lord Buddha was meditating under the bodhi tree after his enlightenment, a severe thunder storm hit the area. And he was protected by the king of Naga (serpents), called Muchalinda. Please note the pond itself has a lot of catfishes!

The Mucalinda Lake and Buddha Statue. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

When I was in Bodh Gaya, I actually began my first day with a visit to Mahabodhi temple. Before I entered the temple complex I had to proceed to the security gate and after that a security guard has checked my body with his hand-held metal detector. Security is tight there and it has to be like that because on 7th July 2013, several bombs exploded in the main temple complex. It’s also important to let you know that mobile phones are not allowed there. You can’t enter the temple complex with phones, instead take a digital camera.

If anyone there wearing robe come to you and ask for money, never trust them and don’t give them a penny. They are the king of scam! I read that in Vinaya Pitaka, Buddha restricted his disciples (monks and nuns) cannot accept and touch money or coin. Taking this into account, you should not trust them, in fact, what they tell you – is a fake story. So beware! I think security guards should be more concerned on this matter.

2) Dungeshwari Hills

I photographed this beautiful landscape while heading toward Dungeshwari Hills.

When I was walking along the street to see the Great Buddha Statue, I met with a guy who offered me to take me to Dungeshwari Hills by motorcycle. At first I was surprised but the cost of the trip was expensive. “Don’t have a plan to get there today” – I said this to the man, and he left. My experience at the Great Buddha Statue will be shared right after I tell you about the trip to Dungeshwari Hills.

Dungeshwari Hills, often known as Pragbodhi caves is another important highlight for the world’s Buddhist devotees. It’s situated about 13-14km to the north-east of Bodh Gaya, along River Falgu (Neranjana River). The area is rural, and by looking at the village houses, and locals you can imagine their extreme poverty. It’s hard to find any good store to buy things there. So if you have to buy something, especially water and drinks, get them all at downtown Bodh Gaya. The cave is said that this is the cave where the Siddhartha Gautama meditated for six years without archiving his ultimate goal.

Skeletal image of Ascetic Buddha Statue. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

The cave is small, therefore, only few people can enter at a time to pray in front of the skeletal image of ascetic Buddha statue. I saw a Hindu priest seating with two unknown statues inside the cave on the right side. I had no idea why the priest was there! Probably get some donation from the visitors.

The hilly area is actually maintained by a Tibetan Monastery. They have built some stupas there alongside a temple that houses a Buddha Statue. From the top of the hill, you marvel at the beautiful surroundings. The views are indeed mind-boggling.

River Phalgu/Neranjana. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

A visit to Dungeshwari will be good if you go there with others. It would be costly if you tend to go there solo. I visited the place with a group of pilgrims. We went there by a bus, and it took us more than an hour to reach there. The road leading to Dungeshwari from the main road was terrible though the surrounding sceneries were beautiful with green paddy fields and trees. When you reach the bus stop you have got to walk to the cave all by yourself, though some motorcycle riders will take you there but that would be costly for sure. You would better go on a little hike! You will see many beggars old and young including kids lining up the mountain path to the cave, some will follow you, don’t pay any attention to them. If you want, donate some money to beggars on the way back from the cave.

3) The Great Buddha Statue

The Great Buddha Statue, Bodhgaya. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

Opened to the public on 18th November 1989, and built by Daijokyo, the Great Buddha Statue is arguably one of the best attractions in Bodh Gaya that you should never miss visiting, and you can see why. This giant seated Buddha statue is about 80 feet tall, made of sandstone blocks and red granite. It took almost seven years to complete the project with the help of thousands masons. There you also find few other statues of Buddha’s well known disciples such as Upali, Ananda, Sariputta, and others.

Daijokyo Buddhist Temple, Bodhgaya. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

You can take a walk from the Mahabodhi temple to the Great Buddha Statue as it would take not less than 15 minutes. In Bodh Gaya, the major tourist spots including the holy temples can be visited on foot. That’s a great advantage indeed. You don’t need to take a taxi, though during the summer months you have to be careful. Before you visit this peaceful structure, I highly recommend you to visit Daijokyo Buddhist Temple, a two story concrete building with a three-storied Japanese pagoda on top of the temple building. Take the stairs to get into the temple hall, where a beautiful bronze Buddha statue is enshrined. Don’t forget to take off your shoes before you walk up the stairs.

Compared to the entrance of the Mahabodhi temple, I saw no beggars out there, and that’s really great.

4) Buddhist Monasteries

Royal Thai Monastery in Bodhgaya. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

The major Buddhist nations such as Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bhutan, Japan, China, and Korea including Tibet, Laos, India, Bangladesh, and others have their own traditional style of Buddhist monasteries in Bodh Gaya.

Inside the Royal Thai Monetary. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

You can’t miss a visit to each of these beautiful monasteries to explore world’s Buddhist traditions. In search of amazing views of temple architectures, you have got to embark on trip to these masterpieces. Some of the temples are located adjacent to each other, while others are not. For example, Japanese temple (Indosan Nipponji) is located next to Karma Temple (Tibetan), after a short walk from there you reach at the entrance gate of Royal Bhutan Monastery. That sounds simple, right?

Karma Temple’s impressive interior designs. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

I have not visited all the Buddhist temples that are scattered throughout Bodh Gaya but a few such as Japanese temple, Karma Temple, Royal Bhutan Monastery, Burmese Temple, Thai Monastery, and Sri Lankan temple. Among these my visit to Royal Thai Monastery was incredibly awe-inspiring. The location of the temple is perfect and can be spotted easily from the main road (DomuhanBodhgaya Road). The complex of the Thai temple seems to you like you are nowhere but somewhere in Thailand.

5) Shopping in Bodhgaya

Here is one of the Laughing Buddha statues I bought in Bodhgaya. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

Street shopping is a fabulous thing to do in Bodh Gaya and there is a good reason why you should go for shopping in Bodh Gaya. A lot of shops are out there with variety of items ranging from various sizes of Buddha statues/images to Tibetan handicrafts to singing bowls. And prices are considerably cheap than the items you found in other Buddhist pilgrimage sites across India. I bought a laughing Buddha figurine in Bodh Gaya spending only 80 Indian rupees. To compare the price I actually did a little trick, I asked for the same item I found in Sarnath from one shopkeeper. Do you want to know the amount he charged for the same item? It was 250 Indian rupees. See the difference of the price!

You may also get scammed in Bodh Gaya as well. I hope you don’t experience that. You will have to be a smart guy to get the right item at the right price. In India, there is a problem with pricing, and you always have to bargain. That’s the way you have to go through. Bargain over and over again, and pretend to leave the place, hopefully the seller is going to call you from behind. I give you a little advice here, if they tell you to pay 100 Indian rupees for a single item, you have to tell him/her that you can only buy it for half price (40-50). See what happens then.

In Bodh Gaya, shops are everywhere, especially outside the area of Mahabodhi temple! And it’s not a daunting task to find some in the street. You would actually like to go to the Tibetan Refugee Market in Bodhgaya. There are so many things to buy for you; honestly I can’t make a list as it will be hard for me to do. I found some awesome souvenirs there though; they were exceptionally beautiful and well made. In fact, the items represent Tibetan culture and tradition, no doubt. The market itself is known for selling a wide variety of quality of winter clothes. They are really cheap, so I highly recommend you buy some.

6) Sujata Temple and Kuti

Shujata Kuti. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

Sujata Temple is an important landmark for Buddhist then the Sujata Kuti. I first visited the Kuti/Garh of Sujata, and then headed toward the temple walking through mesmerizing green paddy fields. It was getting dark outside at the time. These two places are not located adjacent to each other; as far as I could remember, you have got to walk for 10-15 minutes to reach Sujata Temple from the Kuti.

Sujata Temple – Statues of the Buddha and Sujata. Photo Credit: Nezobooks.com.

Sujata is a notable person in Buddhist philosophy. She was the one who offered kheer or porridge (made of milk and rice) to Siddhartha Gautama. After 6 years of extreme aesthetic life, the food offered by Sujata had regained energy to Gautama as he was staring from long, and helped him concentrating on meditation in the right path to be the Buddha.

At Sujata Kuti, you see no sign of actual residence of Sujata, but only a ruin stupa. It’s big and looks impressive, no doubt. While on the other hand, Sujata temple is simply the holy landmark that every Buddhist pilgrim visits. Located along the Neranjana River, the temple is a calm place with a banyan tree and a small hut where a Buddha and Sujata statues are enshrined to commemorate the historic incident that took place here thousands years ago.

In Conclusion

Picture-perfect landscape! You can experience from the top of the Dungeshwari Hills.

According to my travel experience, the above are the top 6 things to do in Bodh Gaya. I know there are other things you would gladly like to experience such as visiting the museum or eating street foods of different kinds. Please note the best time to visit Bodh Gaya is between early October and mid March.

If you are a Buddhist, you need a 2-day itinerary as Bodh Gaya is blessed with all the things explained above. In addition, 1 Day meditation course at Dhamma Bodhi Vipassana Meditation Centre would an enlightening experience. And if you are looking for a perfect day trip from Bodh Gaya, then head towards Rajgir.

For accommodation in Bodhgaya, please visit here.

I don’t know whether you have read about the life of Buddha before or not. If possible read that inspiring true story of the Buddha before you get to Bodh Gaya as it would help you understand the places I have recommended here.

Breathtaking Bodh Gaya is still one of India’s best pilgrimage sites, where millions of tourists visit every year. The day I was leaving this holy ground I felt myself that it’s worth returning for. And hopefully I will be there again in the future and find out the treasures I failed to explore on my previous visit! Thanks for reading.

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