The main temple complex houses the famous Mahabodhi temple/stupa and a descendant of the original Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment. There are also temples or monasteries from many other nations with a Buddhist tradition such as Thailand, Tibet and Japan.
The town is a popular spot for tourists from across the Buddhist world. Consequently, a large tourism industry has sprung up along with huge numbers unscrupulous hustlers, scammers, and beggars. This along with the traffic makes the serenity hard to appreciate.
The man who became the Buddha was born in Lumbini, now in Nepal. He was the son of the local ruler, raised in some luxury and well-educated by the standards of the place and time. As a young man he became a seeker of knowledge, giving up luxuries, travelling a good deal, and learning from several teachers. Bodh Gaya is where he achieved enlightenment while meditating under a tree.
Alternatively, you may take a flight to Patna Airport (110 km away) and take a train or a taxi to Bodh Gaya as Patna has multiple daily direct flights to Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.
The road is very rough and narrow so the journey can be quite slow and dangerous. It takes roughly 3 hours from Patna to reach, on best way is to avoid the Gaya market, as the roads are very narrow.
The nearest railway station is Gaya, 16 km away. From there you can take a bus or a three-wheel taxi (rickshaw) to Bodh Gaya. Rickshaw prices are variable, but the going rate was ₹20 for shared ride or ₹150 for entire rickshaw no matter what time of the day in April 2015. There is rarely a shortage of rickshaws.
The train from Patna to Gaya costs ₹25 for passenger train and ₹50 for express non-reserved seat. The fastest express trains in the early morning take about two and half hours and slow passenger trains take about four hours, which is still comparable to buses. Trains leave one to two hour interval.
Best train travel from Calcutta is about 8 hours; from Delhi, about 15 hours (2nd class air con costs ₹161 - book upstairs at Gaya station then pay downstairs at window 29).
The road from Patna is in bad condition: the train is also recommended.
- Bihar State Tourist Development Corporation, ☏ . runs seasonal deluxe bus services to and from Patna.
By far the most convenient way to get around Bodh Gaya are the auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, and tourist taxis. As always, make sure to bargain and agree on a price before setting out on the trip. The costs are usually quite low; a few rupees will likely get you most places in the city.
Bodh Gaya is very walkable. Most of the major destinations and are within 2 km (about a half-hour walk) from the Mahabdohi Temple complex. There are lots of pilgrims visiting for much of the year, so the streets will have people in them.
As with any location in the Bihar province, avoid walking in the streets alone at night.
Most temples open from 6AM to sunset and close between noon and 2PM.
- 1 Mahabodhi Temple (Maha Bodhi Maha Vihara), ☏ . 5AM-9PM. The site where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. This complex is large and contains a number of major attractions within it. One common way of visiting the statue is to "walk in the steps" of the Buddha. It is said that, after attaining enlightenment, the Buddha spent seven weeks in what is now Mahabodhi temple meditating on the nature of what he had discovered. There are several spots in the temple that relate to this tradition. Since the bombing incident in 2013, the temple has been under enhanced security. No laptop or mobile phone is allowed into the temple ground. Bring a proper camera if you wish to take pictures. People may try to sell you bodhi tree leaves. It's not allowed to take leaves from the tree, so the hustlers have either taken them from another similar tree, or taken them against the rules. You shouldn't buy them - instead, people have planted bodhi trees all around the town so take a leaf from one of those.
- Bodhi Tree: During the first week, the Buddha remained under the Bodhi tree. A descendant of this tree can be seen on the western side of the temple today.
- Animeshlocha Stupa: During the second week, the Buddha sat in a spot and stared at the Bodhi tree. This spot is now the Animeshlocha Stupa, or "unblinking stupa," where a statue of Buddha sits staring at the tree in the northern part of the temple.
- Ratnachakrama: During the third week, the Buddha paced back and forth between the tree and the stupa. This path is marked by the Ratnachakrama (Jewelled Ambulatory), which is near the north wall of the main temple. Lotuses sprang up from where he walked, and today, there are raised stone lotuses marking his steps.
- Ratnaghar Chaitya: This is the spot where Buddha spent the fourth week, to the northeastern part of the temple.
- Ajapala Nigrodh Pillar: The Buddha spent the fifth week meditating and answering the questions of the Brahmans under the Ajapala Nigrodh tree, a spot which is commemorated with a large pillar, on the central path past the east entrance.
- Lotus Pond: The Buddha spent the sixth week next to the Lotus Pond, to the south of the main complex.
- Rajyatana Tree: The seventh and final week was spent under the Rajyatana Tree, whose spot is marked in the southeastern corner of the temple with an actual tree.
- 2 Archaeological Museum (Oppos. Jaiprakash Park). Sa-Th. ₹10.
- 3 Bodhgaya Multimedia Museum (next to the Mahabodhi Temple), ☏ . Open daily. Museum provides the historical and geographical context for the life of Buddha through a set of multimedia films and 3D animation movie.
- Gandhen Phelgye Ling Monastery (Namgyal Monastery, Bodh Gaya). A monastery with close ties to the Dalai Lama.
- 4 The Great Buddha Statue (The 80-foot Buddha Statue), Great Buddha Statue Road, Bodh Gaya, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. 7AM-noon, 2-6PM (5:30PM in winter). This statue is also called the "80-foot Buddha Statue" due to its impressive 25-metre height. Constructed by the nearby Daijokyo Buddhist Temple in 1989, the spectacular statue attracts pilgrims and tourists alike. Note: the contact information is for the Daijokyo Temple, which operates the statue.
- 5 Japanese Temple (Indosan Nipponji), Temple Road, ☏ . 5AM-noon, 2-6PM. A beautiful temple with a calm garden. Great place to meditate.
- Karma Dhargye Chokhorling Monastery. Beru Khyentse Rinpoche
- Phowa Center. Choeje Ayang Rinpoche
- 6 Taiwanese Temple (World Chonghwa Buddhist Sangha). A peaceful temple that also serves as a great example of Chinese architecture. A short walk from Mahabodhi.
- Tergar Monastery. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
- 7 Thai Monastery, Mastipur, ☏ .
Bodh Gaya is essentially a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists and all of its main attractions are related to this. The subsidiary tourist industry that has grown up around it (shopping, eating, and accommodation) is not really the main attraction. Perhaps unique to Bodh Gaya are the rather cheesy CDs for sale near the temple entrance that purport to be monks chanting Buddhist texts. You will know whether you want to take this home with you!
Whether you're a Buddhist or not, the main thing to do in Bodh Gaya is just to absorb the vibe of the place where the Buddha attained awakening: the vapour trail of that energy is still in the air!
- Kagyu Monlam Chenmo. In late December and early January (it corresponds to the fourth through eleventh days of the first month on the Tibetan calendar), a large prayer festival (Monlam) takes place.
- Nyingma Monlam Chenmo. Prayer festival, January/February
- Siddhartha Festival. An annual event held in November, The festival aims to celebrate the life and teachings of the Buddha. Conducted under the auspices of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.
While there is plenty to learn from just walking around in Bodh Gaya, there are some institutions that offer instruction specifically geared toward travellers and pilgrims.
- 1 Root Institute, ☏ . Office hours: 8:30-11:30AM, 1:30-4:30PM. The Root Institute is a Buddhist spiritual institute which offers courses for travellers wishing to learn more about Mahayana Buddhism as well as the culture and wisdom of India. Courses last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and a list of the dates they offer courses can be found here.
- 1 Bowl of Compassion Cafe, Bodhgaya (Opposite the police station). 10AM-11PM. Newly set-up restaurant serving delicious Indian and international cuisine, with connections to the nearby Bowl of Compassion NGO. Patrons can choose special "Compassion meals", where the extra money goes towards helping the poor of the Tikha Bigha Village. Volunteers welcome. ₹20-100.
- 2 Fujia Green (a little out of the way around the south side of the sports oval). The Japanese options are surprisingly good (although not authentic). Big portions. ₹30-120.
- 3 Hari Om Cafe, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Very cute cafe that offers a variety of food (they advertise themselves as offering "American (New), Chinese, Indian/Pakistani, Japanese and Thai"). Very inexpensive as well. Also offers free Wi-Fi.
- 4 Lotus Restaurant, ☏ . Next to Fujia Green restaurant. A nice place with a lot of Indian options. Fairly inexpensive.
- 5 Mahayama Restaurant, ☏ , email@example.com. Breakfast 6-11AM, lunch 11AM-3PM, dinner 5-11PM. A restaurant inside Hotel Mahayama (but open to non-guests). Offers good food and is extremely close to the temple complex (~2 minutes walking).
- 6 Mohammed's Restaurant, Birla Dharamshala Rd, ☏ . Lovely restaurant with food options from a variety of countries. Good Wi-Fi and a fun atmosphere.
- 7 Samim Thai Restaurant, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Fairly good Thai food for very good prices. Not authentic Thai, but still pretty good. Very close to Mahabodhi Temple. ₹130-350.
- 8 Tibet Om Cafe, Inside Namgyal Monastery court yard gate, ☏ . Excellent pastries, specializes in Tibetan dishes. ₹30-100.
- 9 Be Happy Cafe, Kalachakra Ground (Behind Namgyal Monastery - follow signs), ☏ . A small cafe run by a wonderful Canadian woman. The cafe specializes in thin crust pizzas, Italian pastas, sandwiches in thick bread, freshly made cakes, homemade granola for breakfast and a variety of coffees.
While there are no alcohol outlets in Bodh Gaya, hotels and guesthouses serve beer (₹100-150), provided it is drunk indoors out of public view.
Monastery guest houses offer a cheap alternative to hotels, though guests are expected to adhere to their house rules. They do not charge fixed nightly rates, but instead accept donations (ask other guests for the going rate). There is a whole string of guesthouses just opposite the park from the Mahabodhi Temple. All pretty much the same well maintained with restaurants on the ground floor at around ₹200 a single. Another group of mostly simple guesthouses is north of Kalachakra Maidan.
- 1 Bhutan Monastery. Pleasant but basic single and family rooms, some with private bathroom
- 2 Burmese Vihara, Gaya Road. Very basic accommodation. The Vihara exists mainly to cater to groups of Burmese pilgrims, but there are often rooms available for others. Rules are posted prominently. Food service is only for those arriving in groups, and by prior arrangement.
- 3 Maha Bodhi Society of India (Sri Lankan Temple), Bodhgaya, ☏ , toll-free: , email@example.com. Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. Private rooms and dorms available. 5 min walk from Mahabodhi Temple. Clean and comfortable. Observe rules and respect for the temple. Join them for daily Puja sessions (40 min) in the morning and evening.
- Sakya Monastery Guesthouse, Mastipur Village (Near Bhutan Monastery), ☏ . Clean, simple, friendly, peaceful and calm environment.
- 4 Siddhartha Vihar, Bihar Tourist Complex, ☏ . Simple, but comfortable rooms.
- Taiwan Temple, ☏ . A pleasant guesthouse in a convenient location.
- 5 Kundan Bazar Guest House, Bhagalpur Village (near Old Vietnam Temple), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Single rooms to full-service apartments, bike rentals, internet cafe, book, gift, and clothing shop, snooker bar, self-service kitchen, laundry facility, tour packages, and more
- 6 Rahul Guesthouse (Less than 100 m north of Kalachakra Maidan.). Check-out: Noon. Amazingly clean rooms, with medium customer service. Some rooms have access to common balconies. Single from ₹200, Double from ₹250.
- 7 Rainbow Guesthouse, next to Burmese Vihara on Gaya Road, ☏ . Basic rooms, are cleaned more thoroughly on request, friendly and reliable staff. ₹1000-1500.
- 8 Welcome Guest House, 2 mins walk from Tamplenear Mahabodhi Temple (opp-jayprakash prak), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-out: Noon. Welcome Guest House offers cheap and pleasant rooms in the center of town.
- 9 Hotel Sujata, Buddha Marg, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean environment and good restaurant. ₹5000-7200.
- 10 Royal Residency, Domuhan Road, ☏ , fax: . Comfortable rooms with Japanese style same-sex communal hot tub. Two-story building with acceptable quality and services. Dining facilities are good. ₹6000-8500.
Most, maybe all internet cafes in town refuse to let you connect anything to the computer such as a camera or thumb drive, and they refuse to let you upload or download photos.
"Eyes Of Compassion" Cyber Cafe (EOC) on Bodhgaya Road appears to be the only cafe in town that lets you use Skype or upload photos however you have to pay ₹5 per photo uploaded or ₹5 per minute that you use Skype. The internet is quite slow all over town. Near Om Restaurant, downstairs.
Many of the restaurants listed in the "Eat" section also provide WiFi.
As in many sacred places, you must take off your shoes before entering the inner parts of the main Mahabodhi Temple complex, as well as any of the monasteries around the area. In fact, due to this, it is recommend you wear sandals or shoes that are easy to slip on and off. A guideline more specific to Mahabodhi is to circumambulate the stupa and other sacred objects in a clock-wise direction. Although it should go without saying, do not climb onto statues, monuments and other sacred objects.
As it is a very religious town filled with pilgrims and monks, dressing modestly is a sign of respect. Loose-fitting clothing should suffice.
Sacred cow doctrine
As India is the home of the sacred cow doctrine, seeing cows wandering the streets of Bodh Gaya is not an uncommon sight. It is illegal to strike or otherwise offend cows, so refrain from doing this. Furthermore, be sure drivers of any rickshaws you are in are cautious, as hitting a cow with a vehicle is a very serious crime. Foreigners have been fined heavily for these offences.
For a non-Indian it is almost impossible to walk twenty meters in the streets without being accosted. Riksha-Wallahs and the hordes of beggars, particularly the groups of children sent to beg instead of going to school, are much more persistent than in other places.
- Deo, Bihar – Visit this place for a glimpse of Famous Sun Temple.
- Nalanda – This Buddhist university was established in 450CE. There are extensive ruins, but no inhabitants. Nalanda Museum is open 10AM-5PM daily except Friday. Shared jeeps plying the route between Rajgir and Bihar Sharif make a stop at the turnoff for Nalanda. Rickshaws and other vehicles are available from there to the main gate, a distance of 2 km. PWD operates a guest house near the gate.
- Patna - 130 km by road, deluxe buses for Patna available from BSTDC (enquiry phone No. +91 631 220 0672) Bodhgaya Hotel (7AM, 2PM daily), you can also go by train from Gaya Junction.
- Rajgir – The site of Gridhakuta (Vulture's Peak), where the Buddha stayed and gave teachings on the Mahayana (the second turning of the wheel), and Venuvana, the first Buddhist monastery. Rajgir is also an area known for its hot springs, which are open to the public. There are daily bus tours that depart from behind the Birla temple (close to Cafe OM) and cover Rajgir, Nalanda and around 10 to 12 other interesting sights on the way. These buses leave at around 8AM and return at 7PM. Be ready for a really bumpy ride, which is well worth the effort. Charges are surprisingly low. If you ask any travel agent within Bodh Gaya about this, they will most likely not tell you about this cheap option. It is preferable to book your tickets a day in advance, as at times there are large groups of pilgrims. If you want to venture out on your own, there is an option of changing buses at Bihar Sharif.
- Sarnath: Sarnath is another of the four main pilgrimage sites in Buddhism. It is a suburb of the holy city of Varanasi.