2014 - Buddhist Pilgrimage to India/Nepal - day 1 in Bodhgaya

“In the Master’s Footsteps” 24 Nov - 5 Dec 2014 (12D/11N)

Five holy places of Buddhist Pilgrimage:
(1) Lumbini in Nepal, the Buddha's birthplace
(2) Bodhgaya in India, the Buddha's enlightenment
(3) Sarnath in India, the Buddha's first sermon
(4) Vaishali Kothua in India, the Buddha's last sermon
(5) Kushinagar in India, the Buddha's passing away

1) Lumbini Garden, Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of Lord Buddha.

2) Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya, India, the place of Buddha's enlightenment.

3) Dhamekh Stupa, Sarnath, India, the place of the Buddha's first sermon.

4) Vaishali, Kothua, India, Lord Buddha delivered his last sermon.

5) Kushinagar, India where the Buddha passed away into Mahaparinirvana.

Day 1 (24-11-2014) Kuala Lumpur - Bangkok TG 420 07:55 - 09:00
Bangkok - Bodhgaya TG 327 12:10 - 14:00

This Buddhist Pilgrimage to India/Nepal was organized by the Buddhist Gem Fellowship (BGF) President, Datuk Seri Dr. Victor Wee and BGF Committee Member, Elaine Low together with Chong Voon Siong of Ameriasa Tours & Travel Sdn Bhd. Our group leader, Professor Datuk Seri Dr. Victor Wee was formerly the Secretary-General of Tourism Malaysia. The cost per pax for the pilgrimage was RM5,950-00 on a twin-sharing basis.

On 24-11-2014, forty-one of us flew on Thai Airways to Bodhgaya, India via Bangkok. When we arrived at Bodhgaya Airport at about 2.00pm, our Indian guide, Mr. Sharad a freelance pilgrimage guide was there to meet us and transferred us to Hotel Bodhgaya Regency which was about 30 minutes’ drive from the airport.

Bodhgaya is perhaps the most important of all Buddhist pilgrimage centres as it was where Lord Buddha attained his enlightenment under a Bodhi tree.

In the afternoon, we visited the magnificent Mahabodhi Temple. We had a group photo taken before we traced the events of the first 7 weeks after Buddha’s enlightenment. We were given a very good briefing by Mr. Sharad as we walked through the Main Temple.

At about 7.15pm we went back to the hotel for dinner. After a short rest, we returned to the Mahabodhi Temple for chanting, meditation and followed by very good commentaries by our group leader, Datuk Seri Dr. Victor Wee. We finished the session at 9pm and returned to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

Dinner and overnight stay at Bodhgaya Regency Hotel, Bodhgaya.

Arrived at Bodhgaya Airport in Bihar state, India at about 2pm.

L-R: Mike Khaw Eng Aun, Wong Mun Heng, Ching Neng Bin and Robert Chong at Bodhgaya Airport India.

With 41 baggages the bus driver had a tough time putting in the big bags.

Our comfortable air-con bus for the 11 days in India and Nepal.

Our Indian guide, Mr. Sharad a freelance pilgrimage guide.

The busy Bodhgaya town road in India.

Two nights' stay at Bodhgaya Regency Hotel, Bodhgaya.

The lobby wall painting of Buddha at Bodhgaya Regency Hotel, Bodhgaya.

The lobby wall painting of Buddha at Bodhgaya Regency Hotel, Bodhgaya.

The lobby wall painting of Buddha at Bodhgaya Regency Hotel, Bodhgaya.

Ching Neng Bin roommate Cheong Jin Jee from Penang, formerly an Asean Scholar in Singapore.

At the entrance of the Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya, India.

Lilian Agumo Estolas and Ching Bee Geok bought some lotus flowers at Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya.

There was tight security check at the entrance to Mahabodhi Temple, even mobile phones were not allowed into the Temple. On 07-07-2013, ten low-intensity bombs exploded in the temple complex injuring 5 people. One bomb was near the statue of Buddha and another was near the Bodhi tree. Three other unexploded bombs were also found and defused. The blasts took place between 5.30am and 6am. Fortunately, the main Temple was intact and sanitized. The Intelligence Bureau of India may have alerted state officials of possible bomb threats about 15 days prior to the bombing. On 04-11-2013, the National Investigation Agency announced that the Islamist Jihad group, Indian Mujaheedin was responsible for the bombings.

The Mahabodhi Temple (Literally: "Great Awakening Temple"), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a Buddhist temple in Bodhgaya, marking the location where Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, is said to have attained enlightenment.

Buddhist monks in saffron robe praying at Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya.

Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya, India, the place of Buddha's enlightenment.

Very good commentaries by our group leader, Datuk Seri Dr. Victor Wee at Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya.

Taking a rest at Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya.

The tallest tower is 55 meters (180 ft.) tall. The Vault of Mahabodhi Temple is being coated with gold plates weighing 290 kg. donated by the Government of Thailand.

All of us queuing up to get into Mahabodhi Main Temple in Bodhgaya. 

On entering the Mahabodhi Sanctum, one comes face-to-face with the great gilded image of Lord Buddha seated in the earth-touching posture (bhumi-phassa-mudra). Just gazing at this magnificent image of our Lord will certainly evoke feelings of joy and reverence in the heart of the pilgrim! This is the result of the faith and devotion in heeding the Buddha’s exhortation to “visit the holy places and look upon them with feelings of reverence”.

The colossal gilded image is from the 10th century AD. Here Lord Buddha is depicted as sitting on a patterned cushion instead of a lotus. It is supported by a pedestal, decorated with figures of lions alternating with elephants. The patterned cushion is a common feature found in other Buddha images in Eastern India, which had probably copied from this image. Most people were not aware of the fact that this image was not located inside the temple when archeological explorations were going on in and around Bodhgaya by the then British government. According to an article on “Buddhagaya Sculptures” in the Sambodhi 1993, R.L. Mitra noted that it was located in the Mahant’s compound. Later on, at the request of Cunningham and Beglar, it was moved to its present location at the main shrine.

Queuing up inside the Mahabodhi Main Temple in Bodhgaya.

Queuing up inside the Mahabodhi Main Temple in Bodhgaya.



Queuing up inside the Mahabodhi Main Temple in Bodhgaya.

In approximately 250 BCE, about 200 years after the Buddha attained Enlightenment, Buddhist Emperor Asoka visited Bodhgaya in order to establish a monastery and shrine on the holy site. The new Mahabodhi temple included a Diamond Throne (called "the Vajrasana") to mark the exact spot of the Buddha's enlightenment.

While Asoka is considered the Mahabodhi Temple's founder, the current structure dates from the 5th to 6th century. One scholar, however, considered the building as "largely a 19th century British Archaeological Survey of India reconstruction based on what is generally believed to be an approximately 5th century structure." Prior to that, there seemed to have been a pyramidal structure perhaps built in about the 2nd century (Kuṣāṇa period). Knowledge of it comes only from a small, circa 4th century terracotta plaque found at modern Patna. It is significant that this version does not have the upper terrace with the small temples in the four corners. These small temples, although not used as such today, probably reflected certain esoteric traditions in Buddhism that were emerging more and more into less esoteric contexts by the late 4th and early 5th century.

The side wall of the Mahabodhi Temple.

The Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained Supreme Enlightenment is situated behind Mahabodhi Temple. It is a Pipal tree (Ficus religiosa) said to have sprung up at the same time when the Buddha was born, i.e., his co-natal (sahajata). According to the commentaries, different Buddhas attained Enlightenment seated under different trees of their choice and each of them became the "Bodhi tree" of the particular Buddha during his dispensation. In the present dispensation, only the Bodhi tree of Gotama Buddha is reverenced.

The site of the Bodhi tree is the same for all Buddhas. It is believed that no place on earth can support the weight of the Buddha’s Enlightenment. The ground is so firm that it remained unmoved, even as a violent earthquake shook the world and scattered Mara and his army who had come to challenge the Bodhisatta for the Seat of Enlightenment. Even Sakka Devaraja is unable to travel in the air immediately above it.

From earliest times, kings and commoners have come here to honor it. Being the object of veneration of Buddhists, it naturally became the target of destruction by the enemies of Buddhism. According to Hsüan Tsang, the Bodhi tree was first cut down by Asoka before his conversion to Buddhism. However, later out of remorse,Asoka revived the tree by bathing the roots with scented water and milk. Asoka paid homage to the tree so earnestly that his queen, Tissarakkha, was filled with so much jealousy that she had it destroyed secretly. Again, Asoka had it revived. Thereafter, he built a wall over 3 metres high to surround it for protection.

After the fall of the Mauryan Empire in the 2nd century B.C., the Sunga king Pusyamitra, a persecutor of Buddhism, also destroyed the Bodhi tree but a sampling of the tree from Sri Lanka was brought back and replanted in the same spot. During the 6th century A.D., Sasanka, a Hindu king cut down the Bodhi tree but sometime later it was replanted with a sapling from the Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka by King Purvavarma of Magadha, who then built a wall 7.3 metres high to surround it. Its remains were 6.1 metres high when Hsüan Tsang visited it. In 1876, the old decaying Bodhi tree fell down during a storm. Cunningham replanted a sapling from it on the same spot. The present Bodhi tree is over 130 years old now.

The Buddha’s Stay at Seven Places after Enlightenment
After attaining Buddhahood on the full-moon night of Wesak, as dawn broke, the Buddha uttered a paean of joy (udana). While sitting on the Vajrasana, he decided to continue sitting on the undefeated throne on which he overcame Mara and fulfilled all his wishes, including his wish to become a Buddha.

First Week on the Throne (Pallanka Sattaha)
Immediately after his enlightenment, the Buddha sat on the Diamond Throne for seven days in meditation absorbed in the bliss of emancipation (Arahantship Fruition). At the end of the seven days, he emerged from the absorption and contemplated on the Doctrine of Dependent Origination (Paticca Samuppada) the whole night.

Mahabodhi Temple compound.

Mahabodhi Temple compound.

Mahabodhi Temple compound.

Second Week of the Unblinking Gaze (Animisa Sattaha)
Throughout the second week after his enlightenment, as a mark of gratitude to the Bodhi tree for providing him shelter, the Buddha stood gazing at the tree without closing his eyes. On the spot where the Buddha stood a shrine was erected by King Asoka. The Animisilocana Cetiya or ‘Unblinking Gaze’ Shrine is located on elevated ground within the courtyard in front of the Temple.

Mahabodhi Temple compound.

Third Week on the Walk (Cankama Sattaha)
The Buddha spent the third week after his enlightenment doing walking meditation along a ‘jewelled promenade or Cankama’ running from east to west between the Diamond throne and the Animisilocana Cetiya.

Mahabodhi Temple compound.

Wong Mun Heng and Ching Neng Bin standing beside the Asokan Pillar in Bodhgaya.

Fourth Week in Jewelled House (Ratanaghara Sattaha)
The Buddha spent the fourth week after his enlightenment in the ‘Jewelled House’, reflecting on the Abhidhamma, which deals with absolute truths concerning mental and material processes. As he contemplated on the deep and profound doctrine of the Patthana or Conditional Relations, there arose great rapture in the Omniscient mind, which activated material processes in the body to emit rays of six colours – blue, gold, white, red, pink and a massive brightness of all these assorted colours. This spot is now marked by a small shrine within the compound to the north of the Cankama.

Fifth Week at Ajapala /igrodha Tree (Ajapala Sattaha)
During the fifth week after his enlightenment, the Buddha sat at the root of the Ajapala Banyan tree reflecting on the Dhamma and absorbed in the bliss of Phalasamapatti (Fruition of Arahantship). This Banyan tree was called Ajapala because goat-herds came for shelter under its shade. Here the Buddha declared the qualities of a true Brahman in reply to a question by a conceited Brahmin. This site is indicated by a signboard within the courtyard, directly in front of the Temple.

Sixth Week at Mucalinda (Mucalinda Sattaha)
After seven days at the Ajapala Banyan tree, the Buddha moved to the Mucalinda (Barringtonia acutangula) tree, a short distance south of the Temple. There he sat for seven days at the root of the Mucalinda tree, absorbed in the bliss of Arahantship. At that time, there arose an untimely rainstorm and gloom for seven days. Mucalinda, serpent king of the lake, came out and used its coils to encircle the Buddha’s body and its hood to cover the Buddha’s head thereby protecting the Lord. The site of this episode is at the Mucalinda pond, a short distance south of the Temple.

Mucalinda pond, a short distance south of the Mahabodhi Temple.

Seventh Week at Rajayatana Tree (Rajayatana Sattaha)
After seven days at the Mucalinda tree, the Buddha moved to the Rajayatana tree (Buchanania Latifolia) near the Temple. Here he sat at the foot of the tree absorbed in the bliss of Arahantship for seven days. At that time, two merchant brothers, Tapussa and Bhallika, from Ukkala in Myanmar met the Buddha and offered him rice cakes and honey. They became the Buddha's first lay disciples and requested the Buddha for an object of worship. Thereupon the Buddha rubbed his head and presented them with eight strands of hairs. The brothers then returned to their native Myanmar with the precious hair relics, which were later enshrined by the king in Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. The site of this episode is marked by a signboard just south of the Temple.

Our first taste of Indian food at Bodhgaya Regency Hotel, Bodhgaya.

Our first taste of Indian food at Bodhgaya Regency Hotel, Bodhgaya.

Our first taste of Indian food and we had to get used to it for the rest of our Buddhist Pilgrimage.

Annie Watt Lai Seong, J.J. Cheong and Leong Yew Joo at Bodhgaya Regency Hotel, Bodhgaya.

Tan Huat Chye and Wong See Lan enjoying the Indian cuisine at Bodhgaya Regency Hotel, Bodhgaya.

Can you spot two orbs in the center of this photo taken by Julie Tan Chooi Kee? If you were to enlarge this photo you could see the lights inside it.

The Mahabodhi Temple has a long history. Excavations by Cunningham in 1872 suggested three periods in its construction. The first phase of construction by King Asoka during the 3rd century BC was the Bodhi Shrine, represented in the bas-relief on the 2nd century BC Bharhut Stupa. The second phase of construction during the 1st century AD, involved renovation of the original Bodhi Shrine by two pious ladies, Surangi and /Agadevi, wives of Sunga kings. Huviska, the Kusana king of the 2nd century AD undertook the third phase of construction. The images of the Buddha originated during this period. Therefore shrines were erected for their installation. Cunningham suggested that the entire Mahabodhi Temple, as seen today, was mainly the structure of the Huviska period (111-138 AD). As it was built over the remains of Asoka’s shrine, the Vajrasana Throne retains its original position of the Seat of Enlightenment. In the 7th century AD, renovations were carried out which included placing a new basalt slab over the older plaster throne at the Vajrasana. In the late 19th century, massive renovations were carried out under the able supervision of Cunningham, Beglar and R. L. Mitra to restore the Maha Bodhi Temple, which had fallen into ruins after centuries of vandalism and neglect by its squatter-occupants, the successor Mahants of Gosain Giri. The magnificent building we see today is the result of the rare devotion and dedication of Cunningham, Beglar and Mitra.

The Mahabodhi Temple is undoubtedly the most exquisite-looking building in Bodhgaya. Standing 52 m high with a base of 15.2 m square, it consists of a straight pyramidal tower surmounted by a stupa. At the corners of the base, there arise four smaller towers – miniature replicas of the main spire. The main door faces east and in front of it, there is an imposing ancient gateway decorated with carvings. The niches on the walls of both sides of the Temple contain images of the Buddha. The main shrine hall or the Sanctum on the ground floor is reached after passing through a vaulted passage, on both sides of which are stone staircases leading up to a smaller shrine hall on the first floor.

The 41 Participants: -
01. Prof. Datuk Seri Victor Wee Eng Lye
02. Tan Kim Chan
03. Low Lee Lim           04. Tan Siam Nai
05. Lee Siew Bee           06. Lee Siew Cheok
07. Baby Cheah             08. Au Yeong Su Lyn
09. Khong Yin Swan     10. Lim Moi Hing
11. Leong Yew Joo        12. Watt Lai Seong
13. Ching Neng Bin      14. Cheong Jin Jee
15. Tan Faye Shien       16. Teng Swee Lin
17. Tan Huat Chye        18. Wong See Lan
19. Wong Fook Chai     20. Choo Swee Kim
21. Tan Ching Thong    22. Ooi Kooi Geak
23. Khaw Hock Soon    24. Kong Lan Boey
25. Guoy Lee Le           26. Tan Chooi Kee
27. Tay Siok Eian         28. Tai Poh Chee
29. Ching Bee Geok     30. Lillian Agumo Estolas
31. Tan Kim Lock         32. Lim Ka Tin
33. Khaw Eng Aun       34. May Soong Sin
35. Ng Siew Hua          36. Tan Soo Kee
37. Chong Voon Siong 38. Wong Mun Heng
39. Robert Chong Wei Kuen
40. Loo Leong Teck     41. Wong Sau Chun

Pilgrimage Itinerary:
Day 01 (24.11.2014) Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok to Bodhgaya, India
Day 02 (25.11.2014) Bodhgaya to Dungeswari Cave - Sujata Stupa - Bodhgaya
Day 03 (26.11.2014) Bodhgaya to Rajgir by coach (80km, 3 hrs drive)
Day 04 (27.11.2014) Rajgir to Gijjhakuta Hill (Vulture Peak) - Nalanda - Rajgir
Day 05 (28.11.2014) Rajgir to Vaishali by coach (130km, 5 hrs drive)

Day 06 (29.11.2014) Vaishali to Kushinagar by coach (180km, 6hrs drive)
Day 07 (30.11.2014) Kushinagar to Lumbini by coach (160km, 7hrs drive)
Day 08 (01.12.2014) Lumbini in, Nepal
Day 09 (02.12.2014) Lumbini to Sravasti by coach (250Km, 8hrs drive)
Day 10 (03.12.2014) Sravasti to Varanasi by coach (270Km, 11 hrs. drive)

Day 11 (04.12.2014) Varanasi to Sarnath. Varanasi to Bangkok TG328 16:30hrs 21:15hrs
Day 12 (05.12.2014) Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur



  1. Great job. Keep up the good work.
    Poh Chee

  2. Wong Fook Chai14 December, 2014

    Marvelous work. Thank you. It will serve as a good portal for us to recall the times we have together.

  3. Leong & Annie14 December, 2014

    Hi Ching, well done and thanks much for the write up post.

  4. Datuk Seri Dr. Victor Wee15 December, 2014

    Dear Bro. Ching,

    How wonderful that you have recorded the pilgrimage in pictures and write up. They only serve to remind us the wonderful time we had during the pilgrimage. I had limited access to the Internet while in India, and was unable to load your blog on my notebook. I have only read your blog now at the Serendip Lounge in the Colombo airport while waiting for my flight to KL. Looking forward to your other write ups for the rest of the trip.


  5. Datuk Seri, welcome back to KL. Bro Ching will always do the write up for all his travels to share with others. We are lucky to have him on board our pilgrimage trip.

    Best regards,
    Ka Tin

  6. Thanks Ching,

    Bodhgaya complex has changed so much since the 2 times I visited:- 1984 and 2006.

    I would like to take a tour the next time to the 8 places of pilgrimage, and additionally to other holy places in future, before going it alone again with my walking staff.

    Prior to that, I may try organise a Kedah-Perlis-Perak-Kelantan temples tour, and into South Thailand as well (Penang-Kedah-South Thailand) to encompass the 12 sacred stops of Luang Phor Thuad's coffin back from Kedah to Wat Changhai in Pattani. (only able and fit persons to come - due to danger from Islamic terrorists)-(and next time to go only on foot all the way with a walking staff).

    John Chow

  7. Au Yeong Su Lyn31 December, 2014

    Bro Ching … a very good commentary for 1st day in the blog … maha sadhu! Great photos too.

  8. It would be interesting to browse our friend Ching's blog ... very rich in contents ... if you are an ardent traveller, you will not regret to gain some experience from him. His blog is very well organized! Cheers to you, my friend Ching! Hope to hear more adventurous travel from you!
    Happy New Year 2015!

  9. Bob Loh..... Any chance of having another pilgrimage trip to India as I am very keen but dare not go alone? The 12 sacred stops of LP Tuad sounds interesting can I join ? So far I have been to one sacred place ie kampung Sami Mati, Gerik Perak..... Tq

  10. Dear Bob Loh, you are most welcome to join the pilgrimage to India should there be another trip in the near future.

    Please get in touch with BUDDHIST GEM FELLOWSHIP, D-G-2, Block D, Jalan PJU 1A/3K, Taipan 1, Ara Damansara, 47301 Petaling Jaya
    Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia

    Email: info@bgf.org.my

  11. !!Thanks for sharing Great post!!
    this very nice blog with all information.

    Kashmir Tour Packages
    Wildlife Tour Packages,
    Buddhist Tour Packages,
    Ladakh Tour Packages

    Thanks and Regards
    Culture India Trip
    +91 9927538763