Rich tapestry of Buddhist travels

Rich tapestry of Buddhist travels
The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya marks the location where Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.

Chan Kai Waey's brush with Buddhist teachings happened during her first year at a local university. After hearing tales from her seniors about pilgrimage tours, she was inspired to embark on her own journey.

That dream materialised late last year when the account executive went on a backpacking trip with a friend to some Buddhist destinations in India.

"We went to places such as Bodhgaya, Nalanda and Sarnath. The visit to Bodhgaya was quite fun as we're allowed to collect fallen leaves from the Bodhi trees.

Most visitors to the place are keen to perform this activity as the Bodhi tree represents wisdom in Buddhism," says Chan.

She adds that she experienced a moment of pure serenity when she visited Bodhgaya.

"As a Buddhist, I believe that the place is filled with a holy aura and I am glad that I got a chance to experience the peaceful environment," she says.

Tour manager Chong Voon Siong says the favourite destinations for Buddhist travel are India and a part of Nepal.

"The important destinations are Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar (in India) and Lumbini in Nepal," he says.

The four pilgrimage sites are also mentioned by Buddha in the Mahaparibbana Sutta scripture which details the end of Buddha's life.

"Bodhgaya is the place where Buddha gained enlightenment and Sarnath was where he preached his first sermon.

Lumbini in Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha and Kushinagar was where he passed away and entered Nirvana," explains Chong.

He operates Ameriasa Tours & Travel in Kuala Lumpur that organises 10-day trips to Buddhist places of interest such as the aforementioned pilgrimage sites, as well as Nalanda and Vaishali.

Located south-east of the Patna capital, Nalanda was an ancient centre of higher learning. During its glory days, the university attracted scholars from Tibet, China, Greece and Persia.

"Vaishali was the centre of the Buddhist council congregation. The Buddha visited the place several times, spending his fifth and last vassas there.

Emperor Ashoka erected the Pillars of Ashoka to commemorate the spot of the last sermon," says Chong.

Vassa, also referred to as Rains Retreat or the Buddhist Lent, is a three-month annual retreat observed during the rainy season.

According to Chong, the best time to visit the four main pilgrimage sites are between October and March when the weather is fair and relatively cold.

He also adds that there are certain rules and decorum that holidaygoers have to observe when visiting the four places.

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