Top Buddhist Destinations in India
India is one of the few countries in the world that houses a sizeable Buddhist population. It is also temporary home to the Dalai Lama himself. The Buddhists’ most sacred annual festival, the ‘Vesakha Day’ or Buddha Purnima marks Lord Buddha’s birthday and is a public holiday in India. The day is used by Buddhists of all traditions to commemorate the birth, enlightenment and death of Lord Buddha. Falling on 14th May this year, the propitious day saw a variety of cultural activities, fairs, religious processions and prayer meetings being held across the country’s Buddhist circuit.
India is home to some of the world’s most significant and beautiful Buddhist tourist spots and pilgrimage centres. These places come especially alive around Buddha Purnima. A Buddhist traveller could choose to explore all of the innumerable sites over the course of a long time. Alternatively, one may visit the following four top Buddhist destinations in India.
Ladakh, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is at once the most peaceful and the most festive of all Buddhist centres. The region comes alive with festivals and annual masked dances in the months of June/July. Hemis Monastery, the largest in Ladakh, also brings out its treasured huge painting of Buddha once every 11 years for public display during its annual festival. Tourists may stay at the monastery during tourist season and take part in the Hemis Spiritual Retreat, or take up homestay accommodations with local villagers and indulge in simple Tibetan food and lifestyle. There is a meditation centre at Choglamsar that offers meditation courses and retreats. The magnanimous 15-metre high statue of Maitreya Buddha at Thiksey Monastery is another must-see. http://www.shantitravel.com/en/indian-himalayas/ladakh-zanskar/kalachakra-2014-in-ladakh-discovery-of-little-tibet/
Bodh Gaya, in the state of Bihar, is the most sacred pilgrimage centre for Buddhists. Pilgrims and tourists alike flock here to pay homage to the holy Bodhi tree, believed to be a descendant of the Mahabodhi tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The tree stands within the Mahabodhi temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site that also has a magnificent gilded sitting statue of Buddha. Shravasti and Patna are two other historical Buddhist centres in Bihar.
Touted as the cradle of Tibetan Buddhism in India, the state has strong historical links to the ancient Buddhist activities of 8th century. Dharamshala is the capital-in-exile of the Dalai Lama and houses many famous monasteries with breathtaking locales as the backdrop. Tabo Monastery in Spiti valley, said to be over a thousand years old, is also one of the holiest and oldest Buddhist centres and is called the ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas’ for its frescoes and stucco paintings. http://www.shantitravel.com/en/indian-himalayas/himachal/from-manali-to-dharamsala-bara-bhangal-trek/
This tiny state nestled in the lap of the Himalayas is home to about 200 monasteries, the largest of them being Rumtek Monastery, where Buddhist festivals are held in May/June and during the Tibetan New Year (Losar). It also houses several ancient manuscripts, unique art objects and icons.