Bodhgaya is where Prince Siddartha gained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. It’s where he became Buddha some 2600 years ago. Each year Tibetan pilgrims come from Dharamsala. The Dalai Lama often visits in January. We didn’t make it until March and most of the adventure was the journey. Here’s a one day itinerary for exploring the birthplace of Buddhism in India, Bodhgaya.
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Where to stay in Bodhgaya
There are some great places to stay in Bodhgaya– here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Bodhgaya, mid-range places to stay in Bodhgaya, and budget accommodation in Bodhgaya.
The Royal Residency, Bodhgaya: The Royal Residency Hotel is located near central Bodhgaya. The rooms at The Royal Residency feature a flat-screen TV with cable channels, air-conditioning, a private bathroom with a hot tub, a wardrobe, a kettle, a seating area, and views of the bustling city. Enjoy freshly brewed coffee at the in-house café along with snacks from the snack bar. This luxury hotel option in Bodhgaya also has wellness facilities that offer fitness classes, yoga classes, and massages. This top hotel in Bodhgaya offers quality services and a great experience here in Bodhgaya. Check room rates and availability here.
Maya Heritage, Bodhgaya: The Maya Heritage Hotel is conveniently located in central Bodhgaya. Each room at this mid-range Bodhgaya hotel is equipped with a flat-screen TV, air-conditioning, a private bathroom, a seating area, soundproofing, and access to a WiFi connection. Enjoy continental breakfast at the on-site restaurant and good coffee at the in-house café. The Maya Heritage hotel is a fantastic well-priced place to stay when in Bodhgaya. See room rates and availability here.
Gaurav Guest House, Bodhgaya: The Gaurav Guest House is located near central Bodhgaya surrounded by the main attractions here. Rooms at this Bodhgaya guest house include a private bathroom with a bidet, bathrobes, and slippers, an in-room safe, a patio with a view of the garden, and air-conditioning. This guest house in Bodhgaya has an in-house café and; a kitchen space is also available with a dining table and an electric kettle. A WiFi connection is also available here. If you’re looking for budget-friendly accommodation while in Bodhgaya, Gaurav Guest House is the perfect place. Read more reviews and check rates and dates here.
How to Get to Bodhgaya
We arrived in Gaya this morning after another overnight train. We’ve come from Varanasi. We’re now in the state of Bihar. Gaya is the closest town to Bodhgaya with a train station. It’s our only day here and we’re late by about an hour.
The cloakroom is as far away from the station entrance as could be and is also the outward parcel room. It’s obvious by how they’re ignoring us that they don’t get much business and that no one wants to deal with the western visitors. Regardless, we make up the usual information that they need and hand over our “must be padlocked” backpacks.
Gaya is seriously LOUD.
And then we step out into the noisiest place we have been to. PERIOD. Wow.
Before we came to India, I told Nige that the road noise would be much, much worse than any country we’ve been to. And it’s true, but Gaya. Gaya takes the biscuit. This is loud with a capital LOUD.
How to Go from Gaya to Bodhgaya
We’re here long enough to pick up an auto for 150 INR to Bodhgaya, 13 kilometers away. We negotiate our driver, who we’ll call “Nutter” down from 200 INR, allowing him to take on folks en route. They’ll sit in the front with him, rather than it just being the two of us.
Nutter is a nutter pyscho auto-rickshaw driver. He’s the one who creates spaces where there are none. He’s the one who argues with the traffic police. The one who pulls into a crowded junction to block it more. The one who accelerates towards the bumps in the road. Yes, he did do all of this. One of his front seat passengers escapes paying with some chewing tobacco. We escape with our lives some 40 minutes later.
Why You Should Visit Bodhgaya
We’re in Bodhgaya, because this is where the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Our explorations in India along Buddhist lines also took us to Sanchi, which was incredible (read about it here) The original Bodhi tree might no longer be here, but a cutting obtained from the Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, now grows here. The original tree was killed by the jealous wife of King Ashoka, but it grew again. It was also cut down several more times, but each time a new tree replaced it.
Bodhgaya is to Buddhists what Mecca is to Muslims and what Rome is to Catholics. The Mahabodhi Temple is where we head to first. This temple is next to the Bodhi Tree and while there is no charge to enter, there is charge for cameras of 100 INR.
This is also where we meet Indian policies. Head on.
Mahabodhi Temple Entrance Policies
As you head towards the entrance of the Mahabodhi temple, there’s a (free) shoe check, a (free) bag check, a (free) mobile phone check and a BUY CAMERA TICKETS booth.
First of all, don’t leave your shoes here, it means that you get to walk about 5 minutes over hot, hot, hot tarmac and concrete and you don’t need to.
Secondly don’t check your bag. Or your mobile phone. You don’t need to. Unless you don’t want to pay a 100 INR camera fee. If you take your phone or your bag with you, you’ll have to pay the camera fee.
You’ll go through two security checks (men and women separate). These checks are NOT for the additional security that was put in place following the 2013 explosions here, rather, they’re now blatant revenue opportunities.
The security staff are checking for mobile phones, cameras, laptops and iPads. Anything that will take a photo. If they find one they will send you back to buy a ticket or to check your bag. So if you don’t want to take photos leave the camera/phone somewhere else (or stick it down your pants like I did in Delhi at the Jama Masjid) or cough up the 100 INR fee.
I’ll end my rant by saying I have no issue at all with paying a fee, but for the right reasons. If you want me to pay then give me the real reason. Don’t hide it in a “security check”, because if your security check is not even checking the pockets on my trousers or two of the pockets on my day pack which hold a Swiss Army knife and other goodies, then I’ll call you out. If your security is there for revenue generation at least be honest about it.
Willing some inner calm I manage to leave my aggravations at Indian bureaucracy at the gate (after security, where you should leave your shoes).
The Mahabodhi Temple Bodhgaya
We take the route around the temple, flipping the prayer wheels as we go.
It’s pleasant to sit in the shade and watching the pilgrims from Tibet sliding on their prayer mats in an endless adoration.
We enter the temple, which as is usual, is simple inside, but distinctive for having the floor washed with disinfectant. I’m glad, as I have no cuts on my bare feet, but the folks in front do. I leave with feet sparkling and smelling of bleach.
The Big Buddha of Bodhgaya
On our tourist pilgrimage route around Bodhgaya we stop at the Giant Buddha statue. It’s 25 metres high and is in a meditation – or dhyana mudra – pose. It took 12,000 masons seven years to complete and was consecrated in November 1989 by the Dalai Lama.
Other Buddhist Temples of Bodhgaya
Bodhgaya is a centre of spiritualism for Buddhists – and pilgrims from all over the world converge here – in March, there are lots of Tibetans and residents of Dharamsala here. There are many Buddhist temples here, each built by a specific country and reflecting the design aesthetics of that country.
The Japanese Buddhist Temple of Bodhgaya
The Japanese Temple reflects the simplicity of Japanese architecture. Open, clean, beautiful.
The Bhutanese Temple of Bodhgaya
A fabulously over the top mix of colour and imagery, this has us contemplating a visit to the country on the basis of a single temple.
The Thai Temple of Bodhgaya
The highlight of the temple visit has to be the tiger spotting when we visit the Thai temple. While it wasn’t actually a tiger, but a friendly dog, it definitely didn’t look like paint, and he definitely prowled like a Tiger too.
Where to Eat in Bodhgaya
There are many places to eat in Bodhgaya. We took advantage of the Tibetan pilgrims being in town. Tibet Om is a temporary restaurant than opens from November to March each season. We’re lucky this is their last day and we feast on veggie momos and Tibetan bread.
The family that runs this decamps from Dharamsala each year for several months and then packs up heads home again in late March. It’s a cool respite from our temple trails.
Bodhgaya itself has a pleasant and restful feel – there are lots of places to eat and grab a coffee and there’s even wifi in a few places. Before long, however, it’s time to hail an auto driver for 200 INR to return to the noise and dust of Gaya where our overnight train to Kolkata is of course running late.
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