Sarnath is a small village in Uttar Pradesh, India, about 13 km north-east of Varanasi. It's famous as the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma and also where the original Sangha was formed. Consequently, it is one of the 4 main Buddhist pilgrimage destinations.
Within the deer park complex is the large Dhamekha Stupa, constructed by the Emperor Ashoka in 249 BCE, and several other Buddhist structures that were added between the 3rd century BCE and the 11th century CE.
The town is relatively peaceful and green, and provides a welcome accommodation alternative to those wishing to visit Varanasi but not be immersed in it 24 hours a day.
Varanasi Airport (IATA: VNS) is 24 km from Sarnath and is the nearest airport.
The nearest major station is Varanasi Junction. (6 km), which is connected to most major cities in the country. Sarnath does have a small train station with local trains from Varanasi serving every 2-3 hr, but most trains terminate in Varanasi City (instead of Varanasi Junction) station. A few express trains also stop here.
Long distance buses usually arrive at the station across from the Varanasi Cantt train station, where you can transfer to a local bus to Sarnath, or take a taxi or rickshaw.
The town is easily reached by taxi or auto rickshaw from Varanasi. If you're non-Indian and arriving in Varanasi by train, a taxi driver will probably descend on you before you leave your train platform. Make no commitment there! You can negotiate a better rate with an autorickshaw driver, outside the station. If you have tons of luggage though, go with the taxi -- it won't fit in the rickshaw. The route, though once somewhat rural, is now noisy, busy, and almost completely built up till you're on the road just outside Sarnath.
- Ashoka Pillar. Only the base remains.
- Chaukhandi Stupa. Constructed in the 5th century, the stupa marks the spot where the Buddha met the five ascetics. The octagonal tower is of Islamic origin and a later addition.
- Dhamekh Stupa. Constructed by king Ashoka in 249 BCE to commemorate his pilgrimage to the Deer Park. It is believed that the stupa marks the exact spot where the Buddha taught the five ascetics the Four Noble Truths, his first teaching after attaining enlightenment.
- Mulagandhakuti Vihara. The ruins of the temple where the Buddha spent his first rainy season.
- Sarnath Archeological Museum. Remains closed on Fridays. A small, but impressive collection of artifacts excavated from the site. The sculptures are particularly of interest, including the Lion Capital of Ashoka- the national emblem of India.
- Sri Digamber Jain Temple. A Temple near Dhamekh Stupa. Accessible by main road that runs along Dhamekh Stupa. Learn about Digambara monasticism, a branch of Jain Dharma.
- Thai Temple, Japanese Temple, Chinese Temple, Burma Mandir, Indonesia Temple are other attractions
- Highway Inn Restaurant, Ashapur crossing (about 1km from the center). Recommended for tasty masala lovers and eaters.
- Holiday Inn, Main road (opposite Mahabodhi Temple entrance). 11.00-18.00. One of 2-3 restaurants in Sarnath. Good food and reasonable prices. Opening hours limited and closed for holidays, weddings, funerals etc.
- Jain Paying Guest House. Cheap and spartan, but with great family hospitality. Rs 300 per night, possibility of eating breakfast and lunch with the family (and Buddhist guests passing by).
- Mahabodi Dharmshala Temple, Thai Temple and the Burmese Temple. All of these temples offer very cheap but spartan accommodation.
- UPSTDC Rahi Tourist Bungalow, ☎ , fax: +91 (0542) 259-5379. A government run establishment - drab and uninspiring, but conveniently located.
- The Golden Buddha Hotel, Sarangnath Colony, ☎ . Probably the best hotel in town. Offers such facilities as Ayurvedic massage, a restaurant serving fresh Indian dishes, a peaceful lawn, and outdoor hot tub. Special rates for backpacking groups. Its walking distance from the main temple. The hotel can arrange a taxi to pick you up from the train station or airport. Rs 400 -1200.
In the vicinity of sacred sites:
- Wear clothing that expresses respect for the sacred nature of the site.
- Circumambulate the stupa and other sacred objects in a clock-wise direction.
- Preserve the peace and tranquility.
- Do not climb onto statues or other sacred objects.