Gaya Pilgrimage

Location: Near Ranchi, Bihar
Famous as: Hindu Pilgrimage Centre
Attractions: Vishnupad Temple
Excursion: Bodh Gaya

The holy town of Gaya, located 100kms south of Patna, is of great significance to Hindus. The town is on a slightly raised ground in the valley between the Ramshila and Pretshila Hills. An essential transit point to Bodhgaya, Gaya is a fly-blown and densely packed town. It is believed that this place has been blessed by Lord Vishnu with purificatory powers. Hindus traditionally come here to honour their parents a year after death by offering 'pind' - a gift of funeral cakes.

Legend has it that a gentle demon called Gaya, appalled by the sorrow caused by death, complained to Vishnu, and as protest, died, for the world. Impressed by his resolve, Vishnu blessed Gaya with the power to absolve sinners. Like Varanasi, and many other riverside towns, Gaya is said to be a 'tirtha' - a crossing across the celestial divide.

Places of Interest

Akshayabat
This is the immortal Banyan tree that stands in the courtyard of the temple. This is the tree under Buddha is said to have meditated. Also, the final rites for the dead are held beneath it.

Archaeological Museum
Bodh GayaThis small museum housing collection of sculptures, bronzes, terracottas, paintings, arms and manuscripts is near the tank. It is open from 10 am to 5 pm on all days except Monday.

Vishnupad Temple
This massive temple located in the central part of the old town is believed to have been built over the footprints of Lord Vishnu. Inside the temple, the 40 cm long `footprint' of Vishnu is imprinted in solid rock and surrounded by a silver plated basin. This Shikhara style temple was constructed in 1787, by Queen Ahilya Bai of Indore, on the banks of the river Falgu. Non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the temple. A flight of 1000 stone steps leads to the top of the Brahmajuni Hill, 1 km south-west of the Vishnupad Temple that affords a splendid view of the temple.

Surya Temple
A temple of Surya, the Sun god, stands 20 km to the north at Deo. It attracts large crowds in November, when Chhath Puja is celebrated.

Excursions

Brahmayoni Hill or Gayasirsa
Located 1 km away to the southwest of Gaya, Pragbodhi caves are famous as the place, where Prince Siddhartha practiced severe austerities. He later returned to preach the Fire Sermon, which extols celibacy and a lust free life.

Bodhgaya Lying 13 kms south of Gaya, this place is of immense importance to the Buddhists, as Lord Buddha attained his enlightenment here.

Nagarjuni Museum
Near the Barabar Hills is situated this museum, which is the best place to start with the background review of the artistic traditions of the 3rd century B.C.

Barabar Caves
35 kms north of gaya, these mysterious caves are set in wild and inhospitable environs. The 22 km track leading to the caves in granite hills, turns east off the main road to Patna, at Belagunj. The caves date back to 200 BC. Two of the caves contain inscriptions from Ashoka himself.

How to get there
Air
Nearest airport is Patna, 125 km away.

Rail
Gaya is on the main Delhi to Calcutta line and there are direct trains to Delhi, Calcutta, Varanasi, Puri and Patna.

Road
Bihar STC buses operate services to Patna and other tourist centres at Rajgir, Ranchi and Hazaribagh from the bus stand opposite Gandhi Maidan. Private coaches run to Calcutta. Local transport: auto-rickshaws, tongas, taxis.