Detailed Maps of the Buddha's movements through India during his life
Maps of the major sites
Maps of the major sites together with pairwise distances
Faxian: "Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms", as Translated by James Legge. Note that I am not satisfied with the quality of this translation, particularly the translator's notes.
Xuanzang: Vol 1 and Vol 2 of Buddhist Records of the Western World.
We have found the book "Middle Land, Middle Way" (available from the Buddhist Publication Society for US$7) a highly valuable guide, but it is marred by a variety of typos and slight errors. Nonethelesss, it retains its place as the single most valuable reference in planning a trip to the pilgrimage sites. We also recommend its associated website. Nearly all the places discussed in the book are on the online site so you can get a brief idea, but the book has lots of simple maps to show the locations of various sites in a particular area as well as descriptions on how to get there. We pretty much decided where we want to visit in North India based on that book. We are indebted to the author (Ven. S. Dhammika) for his generosity in putting together this compendium.
Particularly for those interested in learning more about the discovery and archaeology of ancient Buddhist sites, we strongly recommend The blog Nalanda - insatiable in offering.
Another very useful source of information is the pamphlets published by the Archeological Survey of India describing individual sites. We regularly look behind the window in ticket booth of the museums, archeological parks etc. to see if they have booklets for sale, and they often do. So now we have in our collection booklets entitled such as Ajanta, Sarnath, Sanchi, Kushinara (now called Kushinagar), Amravati. The prices for each booklet are very low -- our experience saw them mostly fall in the range 50-80 rupees. Most of these pamphlets are written by scholars and give reliable and sometimes very detailed descriptions, and often feature beautiful pictures. At one or two places, we also picked up a book offered locally, such as for Rajgir. The quality was considerably lower, but it still offered a bit of information.
While we found our Lonely Planet book of India of limited use for pilgrimage trip, it was still good to have as a resource book to bring along, as it provided general information of use when navigating in India (including essential information on hospitals and medical services, if those are required).
Boldface entries indicate specific locations visited intensively by or most strongly associated with the Buddha
Rajgir: There are a lot to see in Rajgir. We only noticed one hotel (a very good chain hotel called Lotus Nikko) near Rajgir. Ven. Dhammika and another friend of ours both mentioned that this area is considered not safe. Robbers and bandits are known to roam; in some places we would have much like to see (certain further cave sites), even cars are apparently at risk of being stopped by bandits! We stationed in Bodhgaya and made excursion to both places for a day. Most of our day was spent around Rajgir. Then, on our way from Bodhgaya to Patna we stopped by Rajgir again, and visited a few more sites. Next time perhaps we would prefer to book a hotel in Lotus Nikko instead of driving back and forth.
To climb Vulture's Peak, our driver took us through a cable lift to the hilltop where the Japanese Peace Pagoda is situated. Once we realized it was not Vulture's Peak, we decided not to continue climbing to see the pagoda, but instead turn to another road heading to Vulture's Peak, which is located at a nearby hilltop, lower than the cable lift top. Looking down we could see the site for a while when we headed there. It was mostly downhill walk before some uphill climb -- all on good path, and surrounded by pilgrims (rather than by the larger and diverse set of tourists going to the Peace Pagoda). We descended from Vulture's Peak via a well paved long road with slow inclination. You can climb up Vulture's Peak via that road without paying 40 rupees for the cable but I think it is quicker and easier to use the lift to get there.
Another two sites we visited around Rajgir are Pipphali cave (MahaKassapa's residence for a while) and Sattapani cave (site of the First Buddhist Council). These are located way uphill from Lakshmi Narayan temple, which is only a few steps' climb from the roadside. The steps leading to the two sites are paved but the round trip took two hours . Pipphali cave is readily seen from Lakshimi Narayan temple higher up the hill, and has the appearance of a sort of stone house with openings at various points around it. But Sattapani cave is vastly (10-20x) further according to Nate and it absolutely is not safe to go alone. We asked a security guard to go with him. Later two other men joined us. We noticed some shifty characters hovering around him as he climbed but he was well protected. You need a good half day to visit these two places, we believed that they are likely well worth it. Even though Rajgir is only 65 or 70 km from Bodhgaya, it takes over two hours to get there. Then it gets very hot. We usually see other pilgrims in the morning and late afternoon, much the same as in some other sites.On the roadside to Rajgir, we visited a stupa apparently commemorating the attack on Morgallana by thugs (this site -- Kalasila -- is mentioned in Dhammika book, although this is a bit unclear). Also along the road, there is the site for Bimbisara's jail (residual compound wall with a depression where he was apparently chained), Veluvana (the Bamboo Grove, site of several suttas), and the old Rajagaha city wall (it's more like a wall surrounding a hill fortress). We missed the Asokan stupa in Rajgir, which is located near the new cite wall. You might consider seeing it. There is also the Ajasattu's stupa we didn't see, as apparently it has been redeveloped for different purposes in the ensuing centuries. Nalanda: Because of the perception that other places in Nalanda seem generally to be of a considerably later period, the only place we looked at carefully and did puja was Temple site 3, where there is a huge stupa -- thought to be of Asoka's era -- marking Ven. Sariputta's birth place. .
Modern Bas-Relief Depiction of Buddha's Life at Maha-Bodhi Temple (Bodh Gaya)
Visitors here may also be interested in my regular photographs of Buddhist sites in India (located on Panoramio), as well as my photosynths of Buddhist art from India.
I have many additional panoramas available. If you have particular interest, please write to me (osgood 'at' cs.usask.ca), and I can provide you access to the broader set.
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