We declined offers of various local guides and went by ourselves, consulting our books along the way. I don't know if you are going with a group or by yourself. For our trip, we searched around online and found a Delhi based agency called GoHeritageIndia, that advertized "the most spiritual and ascetic journey" for Buddhist pilgrimage. They booked us hotel (breakfast included), domestic flight and train tickets, as well as a car with driver. The good thing with planning with a travel agency is they take care of you the whole trip. Wherever we go, the travel manager in Delhi kept in touch with local agencies. During one leg of the trip, we had a driver from Varanasi who stayed with us for 12 days driving us from Sarnath all the way to all the Northern pilgrimage sites including Lumbini. He finally dropped us off at Lucknow train station. He said he had done this many times. This agency is highly imperfect (particularly in coordination between the central office and the city-specific subcontractors), but in general we found them decent -- basically we just used them to reserve rooms, trains, and drivers, and provide water and the breakfast food that came with the hotel. In general, this sidestepped a lot of concerns on our part. Next time, knowing India better, we might do it differently.

The Dhammika book suggests staying at least two days in Rajgir, Sarnath, Savatthi, and 3 days in Bodhgaya. And that's pretty much what we did. The next time, we might spend an extra day -- or even two -- in each of the first 3.) So we had a lot of time in major sites to look around and meditate instead of rushing through. We skipped modern temples during the day and went for the oldest archaeological sites.Most of the places we stayed are in towns away from actual pilgrim sites where various functional temples are situated, otherwise we would like to spend time in the evening in temples for puja and meditation.

In terms of our actual itinerary, we flew to Mumbai to spend the night. The next day, we flew to Varanasi, which is 20 minutes' drive from Sarnath. Since we were then in a large hub of Hinduism, we decided to see evening Ganga aarti and take early morning boat ride along Ganges to see the sunrise and the ghats. We also visited one Hindu temple that is open to foreigners. We declined all other tours of Varanasi and spent 2 days visiting Sarnath. They arranged to have a driver take us there back and forth for two days and the car sat outside of the park all day waiting for us. Next time we would like to book a hotel next to Sarnath, since we saw many along the main road close by.

Our itinerary took us to the following, in this order