Things to take: Apart from the usual and obvious travel requisites I would like to suggest two other thing worth taking with you. In most of the places the Buddha delivered one or more discourses. Nearly all of these can be found in either Maurice Walshe's Long Discourses of The Buddha or in Bhikkhu Bodhi's Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha. As both these books are a bit heavy to be carting around India, I suggest you make photocopies of the relevant discourses and bring them with you. To read a discourses at the very place where the Buddha delivered it can be profound and uplifting experience. Also my guide book Middle Land, Middle Way - A Pilgrims' Guide to the Buddha's India is a must for the modern pilgrim. With detailed information about places associated with the Buddha, their subsequent histories, the art and architecture found in each, maps and diagrams, this book will give you an in-depth understand of the things you'll see and help to bring them alive. All three books can be got from either Wisdom Publications, 361 Newbury Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA [ www.wisdompubs.org ] or the Buddhist Publication Society, PO Box 61 Kandy, Sri Lanka. Where relevant I mention other discourses published in the Wheel Series of booklets and give the number of each. [ BPS Texts at 'Access to Insight' Eebsite ]. These booklets are also available from the Buddhist Publication Society. If you are getting the books by post make sure you order them well before your departure.
Time to go: The best time to go on pilgrimage to India is between November and February, the Indian winter. It is warm during the day and quite cold at night and in the early morning. Before this time travel is difficult because of the monsoon; bridges are out, trains are delayed and India's ubiquitous dust is transformed into slush and mud. By the end of March the heat and dust are already unpleasant. There are Vesak celebrations at both Bodh Gaya and Sarnath in May but by then, believe me, the heat is a foretaste of Niriya.
In the future I hope to explore more Buddhist sacred places. In particular I am interested in locating Upagupta's mountain somewhere near Mathura and exploring the hill at Bihar Sharif, the site of Odantapura and where I believe there is a cave Naropa used to reside in. From time to time therefore this site will be expanded. If on returning from India you are able to correct, add to or update any of the information either here or in Middle Land Middle Way, or if you just want to tell me about your pilgrimage, I would be most happy to hear from you. You can contact me at: email@example.com .
I hope the information given here helps make your pilgrimage more meaningful. One last thing. While on the road keep in mind these beautiful words from the Ghandavyayu Sutra; "Think of yourself as a pilgrim and your teachers as guides, think of their instructions as the road and the practice as the land of your destination". Good luck and have a safe journey.
An Important Update
At the end of 2000 the Archaeological Survey of India decided to charge foreigners the equivalent of US $5 for entry to all the sites it runs, including Buddhist sacred sites. This has led to even more mismanagement and corruption than usual. For example in Sarnath you pay your fee, are given your ticket and enter the ruins. The ticket is a tiny piece of paper easy to loose or misplace. As you walk around the ruins guards persistently approach you and ask to see your ticket in the hope that you can't find it and if you can't you will have to pay them 'baksheesh'. The alternative - to be fined R500. At other sites they sometimes claim that they are all out of tickets and that you can just give them the money, which of course they pocket for themselves, The alternative - to refuse to pay and go away without seeing what you have come so far to see. These and a dozen other scams are now making visiting Buddhist sites rather unpleasant. Sarnath, the Vulture's Peak at Rajgir and Kusinara are particularly bad. But there is something we can all do to lift the fee on Buddhist sites and hopefully improve the way they are managed. If you encounter any hassles or corruption (guards acting as guides without being asked, touts, people trying to sell you things ) while in A.S.I sites, write a polite letter detailing the corruption you experienced and your unhappiness with it. Also say that you feel that it is inappropriate to charge pilgrims to enter Buddhist holy places. Send the letter to The Director, Archaeological Survey if India, Janpath, New Delhi. Mention also that you have sent one copy each to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Tourism, Mr. Ananth Kumar. Their addresses are:
Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India
The Prime Minister's Office
South Block, Raisina Hill
New Delhi, India -110 011
Tel: 91-11-3012312. Fax: 91-11-3019545 / 91-11-3016857
Home Page: pmindia.nic.in/writetous.htm
Mr. Ananth Kumar, Minister of Tourism
#501, 5th Floor, C Wing, Shastry Bhavan
Dr. Rajendra Prasad Road
New Delhi, India -110 001
Tel: +91-11-461 0350
Home Page: www.ananth.org.
If enough letters are received it just might change things for the better.