We travel along the fertile plains of the Ganges, beautiful with its mustard and lentil fields, to the lush 'terai' that leads to the foothills of the Himalayas. We visit the remains of ancient monasteries and stupas, museums with exquisite art, living temples and villages that have changed little since the time of the Buddha 2,500 years ago. We take a boat ride, stop at mango groves, visit Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, visit schools and meet/mingle with pilgrims from all over the world. The pilgrimage has all the ingredients of a truly memorable journey, widening our perceptions and consciousness. It is an opportunity not only to deepen our knowledge and practice of the Buddha and his teachings but also to get an insight into an India that few penetrate.
On this journey we touch a culture and civilization that are both ancient and contemporary. We take an inner and an outer journey through a fascinating and mysterious India. India herself is a great teacher. Shantum, who is an advisor to the United Nations Development Programme on a number of social development and environmental programmes in India, shares the underlying structures and subtleties of Indian society so that the travelers get a real sense of our living and ancient cultures. We visit homes of both villagers and city dwellers, and have an opportunity to share ideas and stories with local people. This journey is not only intellectually stimulating, exposing the mind to challenging ideas and diverse lifestyles, but also spiritually transformative.
Normally there are 15-25 people on each journey, which allows for greater individual attention in the context of a supportive sangha and also makes it possible to cater to personal needs and interests. We are very conscious about the comfort, health and safety concerns of our travelers. We therefore choose to stay at the best hotels available in the areas we traverse - hotels that meet the exacting standards of the Japanese. Shantum Seth is a Buddhist practitioner and an ordained teacher (Dharmacharya) in the Zen (Dhyana) tradition of the Vietnamese Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. Shantum teaches in India and abroad and has been leading pilgrimages since 1988. He was brought up in India and speaks the languages of the areas to be visited.
He has also lived in England, the USA and France for fourteen years. Shantum, after working in the Footwear industry, was involved in activist politics. For the past 20 years he has been working in the Development sector and is presently an adviser to the United Nations Development Program on volunteer promotion and on livelihood and tourism programs. He is also actively involved in Ahimsa Trust which is working on Peace and Development issues. He has contributed to a number of books including 'Walking with the Buddha', 'I have arrived, I am home', and 'Volunteers against conflict'. He has also been consulted on films including the 'Life of the Buddha' made by BBC/Discovery. He lives with his wife and daughter in New Delhi, India.
Day 1: Arrive Delhi. Transfer to our comfortable hotel.
Day 2: Delhi - Patnameet. At noon with the rest of the group and visit Shantum Seth's family home; the house where Mahatma Gandhi spent his last days; the Crafts Museum. Transfer to the airport for our flight to Patna, departing at 1925. On arrival check in to the Hotel Maurya.
Day 3: Patna. Rajgir Patna was once the capital of the Buddhist Emperor Ashoka. Travel by motor coach 100km to Rajgir, capital of the Magadha Empire and location of the first Buddhist Council.
Day 4: Visit the site of the Buddha's first monastery: Vulture Peak, Jivaka's mango grove; the site of King Bimisara's imprisonment by his son; and Satadhara (seven hotsprings). Drive to Nalanda to explore one of the world's greatest universities, founded in the 5th century. See the Great Stupa and visit the Archaeological Museum. Overnight stay at the Indo Hokke Hotel.
Day 5: Nalanda - Bodhgaya. Continue south through primitive villages and the magnificent landscape of the Middle Way to Bodhgaya, place of the Buddha's enlightenment. Stay in the Daijokyo Buddhist House for 4 nights.
Day 6: Bodhgaya gigantic stupa in the centre of statues and many small stupas stands guard over an ancient Bodhi Tree: the place of Awakening. Spend the day in contemplation, in and around the Mahabodi Temple; and listening to stories. Visit some of the best of the outlying temples erected by Buddhists from around the world.
Day 7: Bodhgaya. Take a gentle day walk across the countryside to a cave in the Dungasiri Mountains, where the ascetic Gautama practised austerities.
Day 8: Bodhgaya. Visit Uruvela, where a young girl gave Gautama rice pudding to end his fast before he became the Buddha. Visit the hut of a local villager.
Day 9: Bodhgaya - Varanasi. Drive 260km to Varanasi on the sacred River Ganges. Varanasi is one of the holiest of holy cities. Here, stay for a 3 nights at the Radisson Hotel.
Day 10: Varanasi. Dawn and we visit the ghats where yogis exercise and circles of women perform their rituals, their invocations lulling like meditation as the sun rises once more over the earth. Join the Hindus taking ritual baths in the sacred mother river. Here was the meeting place of the yogis from whom Gautama would learn yoga and pranayama (control of breathing): Bhagava, Arada Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra.
Day 11: Varanasi - Sarnath - Varanasi. In the Deer Park, where a few deer remain behind fences, was where the Buddha preached his first sermon and set in motion the Wheel of the Teaching – the medicine of the soul. The giant stupa watches over the ruins of a cell where the Buddha is said to have lived.
Day 12: Varanasi - Kushinagar. Drive north for 265km to spend two nights at Kushinagar, the site where Buddha uttered his last words. Stay here for 2 nights in the Lotus Nikko.
Day 13: Kushinagar. Visit the Nirvana Stupa, the magnificent stone reclining Buddha and the site of his creation.
Day 14: Kushinagar - Lumbini. After an early breakfast we head across the Nepal frontier to the Buddha's birthplace in Lumbini. Stay 2 nights in the Lumbini Hokke Hotel.
Day 15: Lumbini. Visit the sacred garden in Lumbini and the Temple of Maya Devi, the Buddha's mother.
Day 16: Lumbini - Kapilvastu - Sravasti. Drive to Kapilvastu, the kingdom of Prince Siddhartha's father, King Suddhodhana, who tried vainly to protect his son from experiencing suffering. Continue to Sravasti where the Buddha spent 3 or 4 months each year on retreat. Stay 2 nights at theLotus Nikko Hotel.
Day 17: Sravasti. Visit the Stupa of the murderer, Angulimala, converted by the Buddha. Spend time in the beautiful Jeta Grover where he gave some of his most important teachings.
Day 18: Sravasti - Lucknow - Delhi. Drive to Lucknow to take the flight to Delhi. Check in for the return flight home.
Day 19: Delhi - Departure. Return flight.
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