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Old 8th April 2014, 02:35   #1
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Default Sarnath Sojourn: A Traveller's Tale of Serenity


It had been 8 months since I embarked on one of my tours. Touring had had to be given a low priority as academic pressure was mounting, and lending a deaf ear to the call of academics would have impedimented my career plans seriously. However, we (yours faithfully and 2 other law scholars) were invited for a paper presentation to the Benaras Hindu University on the occasion of a National Seminar organized by this prestigious institution. It was on this occasion that the idea of clubbing this academic venture into a touring soiree embedded deep inside my mind.

31/03/2014

Having completed the seminar curriculum successfully in the two previous days, we decided to leave for Sarnath early in the morning, as one of my friends was local to the area and he provided excellent review of Sarnath. For me, the initial enthusiasm was a bit reserved as I would not be riding on my bike and the prospect of leaving for Sarnath in an auto-rickshaw was a slight deterrent to my touring spirit. Whatsoever, we were very much delighted as this was an opportunity to visit the holy place where the Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining ‘moksha’ (enlightenment) — and I am pretty sure majority of us would remember reading the same in our childhood history books. Now let’s start the tale with a few pics. Image description after the image (not before).


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Image 1: Yours faithfully near the entrance gate of the Benaras Hindu University.

We took a bus from BHU till Varanasi Cantt. Cost: Rs. 12 per head. From Varanasi Cantt. we could get an auto further till Sarnath which was about 17kms. away from Varanasi (BHU campus to be precise).

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Image 2: Enroute Cantt. a pic clicked from the bus. The rising sun at 7 in the morning provided the perfect silhouette.

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Image 3: The bus had to take a small u-turn nearing the Varanasi junction due to the famed Benaras traffic and I got the opportunity to capture this moment.

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Image 4: The majestic Varanasi railway junction. View from the road.

On reaching Cant, we inquired from an auto-rickshaw and he agreed to take the three of us to Sarnath, for a sum of Rs. 90.

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Image 5: Only 7 kms. to our destination. The canopy of the auto packed an added charm to the pic.

The auto-wallah was a talkative one, once he came to know about my penchant for travelling, he started pointing out the places we crossed like Paharia, Pandeypur, etc. and roads leading to Mughalsarai, Jaunpur and the like.

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Image 6: Our guide leading us to the star attraction of Sarnath– the Buddhist temple. Its actual name is Mulagandha kuti Vihara was rebuilt by Mahabodhi Society in 1930s to maintain this historical monument where Buddha took shelter from rain in his first rainy seasons after attaining moksha.

The guide accosted us once we deboarded the auto on reaching Sarnath. Seeing us uninterested in hiring a guide, he told us that without a guide, we will not know which places to visit and the historical significance of the places we would visit. Seeing us still unconvinced, he shot the final arrow by saying he will only charge Rs. 30. We were unsure whether we heard right, and inquired if it was 30 for each one of us. On his assurance that it was the collective price, you can easily guess what our choice was

He convinced the autowallah (who had agreed to wait for us till our return) to ferry us to the closely clustered monuments without any extra charge.

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Image 7: The trio with the temple in the background.

Well, the handy guide also came with a steady pair of hands, thus taking this well focused pic which was another incentive for us.

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Image 8: The Date palm trees in the compound provided picture-perfect background for shutterbugs like me

The ruins of the Mulagandha Kuti Vihara marks the place where the Buddha spent his first rainy season. This modern temple is a monastery renovated in the 1930s by the Sri Lankan Mahabodhi Society (now head quartered at - Kolkata), with beautiful wall paintings by Kosetsu Nosu, Japan’s foremost painter. Behind it (west side) is the Deer Park of Sarnath or ‘Mrigadava’ (where deers can still be seen).

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Image 9: An angle at the backyard of the Buddhist temple from where the Dhamekh Stupa is visible.

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Image 10: A click from the posterior right side of the temple.
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Old 8th April 2014, 02:45   #2
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Image 11
: The entrance of the Dhamma Chakka Pavattana Sutta. The Buddha gave his first teaching here after attaining enlightenment to his 5 fellow ascetics where the subject matter of the sutta was “The Four Noble Truths”.

For more details:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhammac...avattana_Sutta


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Image 12: The inscription of the “Dhama Chaka Pavatana Sutta” which talks about the Buddhist concept of middle way, impermanence, and dependent origination.

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Image 13: This is the place where (in the exact position), the Buddha set in holy communion and imparted the “Four noble truths” to his five fellow ascetics.

For more details:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Noble_Truths


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Image 14: The prayer wheels in the courtyard which are a common sight in Buddhist monasteries, viz. in Ladakh and Arunachal (Tawangg Monastery).

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Image 15: This huge bell in the courtyard rings at 4 in the morning and 7 in the evening daily; its boom can be heard till a minimum of 4 kms. away. The metallic bell weighs 2 ton. Maintenance by the Maha Bodhi Society, Head Office Kolkata (previously in Sri Lanka). Kudos to their flawless maintenance!!

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Image 16: The Mulagandha Kuti temple as seen from the Dhamma Chakka Pavattan sutta courtyard.

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Image 17: Entrance of the temple.

Photography inside isn’t prohibited but you must donate Rs. 20 for it. I am 5 feet 7, so this bell must be at least 6.5 feet above the ground.

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Image 18: The Buddha shrine placed inside the temple, being maintained by monks who come from all over India as well as Tibet, Sri Lanka and Japan.

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Image 19: A shopkeeper selling memorabilia and books inside the temple. All the figurines and beads were quoted north of the 2K mark.

The exact same memorabilia were available outside and Kashi Vishawanath Mandir for less then ten times that price. Didn't quite know whether this difference was due to the material used or the advantageous place of business (associated with the religious sanctity of being inside the temple, hence being more precious).

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Image 20: Upward view of the temple from the steps. No angle was left unexploited

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Old 8th April 2014, 02:56   #3
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Image 21: The Nichigai Suzan Horinji Temple, simply known as the Japanese temple (or in the words of the guide - Japani mandir) is at a distance of just 500m from the Buddhist temple; we were ferried by the auto. The Buddha statue being housed inside this temple was completed by the Japanese in the year 1992.

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Image 22: The Japanese inscription (most probably the name of the temple) on the stone edict in the courtyard of the temple. A statue of the Buddha (in his dying posture) is kept inside the temple along with the original ‘Tripitakas’ (containing the Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidharma Pitaka).

For more details:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tripi%E1%B9%ADaka

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Image 23: View of inside the temple.

The Buddha died exactly in this position while in sleep at Kushinagar, Gorakhpur. Notice the thousand-spoke wheels on the sole of his feet.


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Image 24: Paying reverence to the Buddha.

Notice the hymn to my right which reads “Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo”. This is the pattern in which his Japanese followers take his name just like we do by uttering “Buddham Saranam Gachami…….”

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Image 25: View of the temple pit.

The brown colored box seen on the table contains the original granth of the Buddha ‘Tripitak’. The chandelier above is made from pure chandan wood and enscribed with radium-gold which glistens in darkness.

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Image 26 : A close-up of the Buddha’s figurine.

Notice his significantly long ears which was by birth and considered as one of the “32 signs of a Great Man". The arms are longer than the legs, while the hair is ringlets.

Refer: http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?...of_a_great_man

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Image 27
: Lovely Gompa-like Japanese prayer house in the compound. The serenity you experience in this place isn’t similar to anything from this world!

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Image 28: Buddha statues placed strategically under the jackfruit-trees (sal kathal) in the compound where the Buddha once sat and meditated.

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Image 29
: Posing at the entrance of the carved decoration of the Northern gateway to the Ashokan pillars of Kalingan fame, made of sandstone & nearly 2300 years old, signifying the Lion Capital of Ashoka.

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Image 30: The Ashokan pillars vanguarding the monument which houses the most important of Buddha’s sayings along with Buddha in different praying postures.
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Old 8th April 2014, 03:06   #4
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Image 31: The Ashokan Lions standing guard over the monument.

This is a common feature which I have seen all over India. In our assamese community, we have naamghars (prayer house) wherein the entrance is guarded by two lions, seated majestically on their hind legs.

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Image 32: Buddhist saying: “Rejoice in Buddhas appearance in the world with hopes for all humanity.”

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Image 33: Reflecting upon “May peace prevail in the world through the wisdom of the Buddha.”

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Image 34: “May peace prevail in the heart of all beings through the wisdom of the Buddha.”

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Image 35: Resting awhile on the steps after the long walk.

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Image 36: The entrance as it appears from the steps; the road to the right leads to the most popular saree house (run by govt. funded NGO providing employment to poor artisans).

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Image 37: We enter the saree house to the left of the monument. The saree seen in the pic is popularly referred to as ‘Radium saree’, a party wear. It has been awarded by the govt. as claimed by the guide for its indigenous styling technique.

I ordered a saree as a gift for my sister for Rs. 950 ('No bargaining' proclaimed outright) and paid Rs. 250 in advance after choosing the 'Delivery to home' service. Balance amount was paid when they delivered the saree to my sister’s house in Delhi. The parcel was sent via Indian post and the deliverer took another Rs. 35 extra as commission for sending the balance by money-order to the sellers.

I inquired with the seller whether they stock only ladies-wear or for gents as well. In response, he showed me different varieties of cloth of resam and khadi material. The range was 350, 550 and 850 from which beautiful desi shirts and kurtas can be sewn. It was a joy to feel the Rs. 850 variety which was both soft and tough at the same time.

After inquiring from the guide later, I came to know that the pure Vanarasi sarees can also be also be bought from here, and the range starts from 2500 INR. In my mind, "Lets keep this for later event when I visit Sarnath with the females of the family."

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Image 38: The handlooms in the basement crafted for the trade. Some workers come from the nearby Sarnath gaon and work here. On that particular day, they were on leave as there was some festival going on in the village. Our attendant shopkeeper (Choubey ji) informed that they (the artisans in the village) have received 200 modern handlooms from the government under some yojna (scheme).

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Image 39: An old lady, selling memorabilia by the road. The small white idols were priced around Rs. 250 while the orange Buddha statues ranged from Rs. 50-90. Got two Buddha figurines as gift/ memorabilia for family members. Though bargaining was possible, didn't bargain as a 10 or 20 Rs. was much more important for the old lady than to me and buying some items from these poor people meant encouraging the local trade.

The foreigners were very interested in these memorabilia and were buying the same by hoards.

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Image 40: Entrance to the Dhamekh stupa; the Digambar Jain temple (as mentioned in the overboard sign) is located to the left side of the stupa.

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Old 8th April 2014, 03:35   #5
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Image 41: The Dhamekh Stupa at 128 feet high (43.6 meters) and 93 feet (28 metres) in diameter was built by Ashoka in 249 BC (i.e. nearly 2300 years ago) of solid bricks to enshrine the relics of the Buddha. The Buddha had given his first conversation of Dharma in the courtyard on which the stupa stands now, to his disciples after attaining nirvana “revealing his Eightfold path leading to nirvana”.

For more details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path

Also known as Dharma Chakra Stupa, it withstood the damage of the Turk invasion. The wall is covered with floral pattern, swastika, other geometric designs and carved figures of humans and birds of the later Gupta period. The inscriptions are in the Brahmi script.

Alexander Cunnigham bored a vertical shaft through its centre down the foundation and found a slab with inscription “Ye dharma hetu prabhava hetu….” in the Brahmi script.

For more details:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ye_Dharma_Hetu

The pictures of this stupa (and the one at Sanchi) is the most shown pictures in history books under topics dealing with Buddhism. So seeing this Stupa was like a dream come true.

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Image 42: The ticket for visiting the Sarnath Archaeological Museum can be bought from this pink building adjacent to the museum. Doesn’t it look like a hill resort?

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Image 43: The picturesque entrance of the Archaeological museum which was constructed in 1910, beautifully covered under the cool shade of a number of trees, majority of which were Date trees.

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Image 44: Rs. 5 ticket that one needs to buy from the counter adjacent to the road for entry into the museum.
Isn't that mighty cheap for a museum which houses such ancient and historically priceless relics?

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Image 45: A Bodhisattva sculpture with multiple arms at the extreme right end of the museum. Photography is strictly prohibited, aided by security checks, metal detectors and multiple CCTVs. Now don’t inquire how I managed to click these pics

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Image 46: The sandstone sculpted Lion Capital of Ashoka – the main attraction of the museum right at the centre from the entrance, originally erected atop an Ashokan Pillar in 250 BC is 2.31 m in height.

The National Emblem inspiration’s special feature is the lustrous polish which is a Mauryan Art.

Below the four lion framework is a representation of a lion, an elephant, a horse and a bull, separated by an Ashokan chakra and at the base of which is an inverted lotus.

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Image 47: This widely acclaimed sculpture of the preaching Buddha is from the 5th century, which I remembered reading about in our history book in IVth standard.

The Buddha sits crossed legged, with eyes downcast in deep meditation, and a halo around his head.

The hands are held near the chest in a special position known as Dharma-chakra-Pravartna (Setting the wheel of law into motion).

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Image 48: This small chamber houses valuable ornaments (golden) belonging to Ashoka and the Mauryan period. It has two doors and was covered by three CCTVs inside the room.

This was where the guards inquired if I was carrying a camera.

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Image 49: This is the entrance to the Thai Buddha Vihar whose premises houses an 80 feet tall Buddha statue; the architecture is in Thai style.

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Image 50: Posing before the 3 rings (somewhat similar to the Olympic rings) from where the giant Buddha statue can be seen in the background.
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Old 8th April 2014, 03:56   #6
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Image 51: The Thai Buddha Vihar can be seen from the sidewalk leading to the statue; peace and contentment is the essence of the air.

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Image 52: This is the 24-spoked Ashokan wheel located strategically as the center of attraction. It is surrounded with beautiful flowers and equipped with a powerful lighting system which gives an amazing astral look to the scene at night-time.

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Image 53: This 80 feet tall Buddha statue is the tallest Buddha statue in the world. It took 14 years to construct (1997-2011) and was unveiled on March 16th 2011 by the former PM of Thailand – Surayud Chunalot and former Governor of Lord Abbot Wat- Dhamma Suthi as a protest against destruction of Buddhist statues all over the world.

It is made from pure sandstone and marks the exchange of friendship between people of India and Thailand. The statue is houses within the premise of 2.5 acres. The cutting, polishing and carving of stones took almost five years and consists of as many as 815 stones; the work was stopped for 3 years due to some difficulties but resumed on November 2006. The total cost of construction comes to about 2 crores which was contributed by Buddhist and non-Buddhist devotees from all over the world.

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Image 54: How miniscule we are in comparison …….

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Image 55: The sidewalk leading to the gate from where we entered. The heavy foliage in the surrounding area adding up to the hitherto unexperienced tranquility.

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Image 56: A close up pic of the entry point; can’t help appreciating the potent mixture of traditional and modern architectural design.

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Image 57: The Chaukhandi Stupa where Buddha first met his 5 disciples in Sarnath, restructured by Akbar in 1588 to memorialize the place where his father Humayun took shelter once.

The autowallah drove us back to BHU for another Rs. 120 and we thanked him heartily for his help throughout a trip that would remain etched in our memory forever because of a hitherto unexperienced serenity in a religious place of India, in contrast to donation hungry religious abodes like Pushkar and Kashi Vishwanath which had repulsed me to a great extent for intermingling business with religion.

Our guide had also informed us that staying in Sarnath was not a problem at all as getting accommodation was very easy. There are government guest houses where they charged a modest amount around Rs. 500 for a days stay, food provided per person. However, there were a number of Tibetan, Buddhist and Sri Lankan guest houses where there is no accommodation charge, however if you feel - you may donate any amount as per your wish before departing, no force. Before providing accommodation, they just inquire as to why you are there, and casual questions like number of days you plan to stay there and the like.

Took a vow to visit Bodhgaya, Kushinagar, Shravasti and Nalanda as soon as possible and departed from Sarnath with a tranquil and joyous mind.

For reference, the guide's and auto-wallah's number is provided and may prove helpful to those who may be visiting Sarnath in the near future and want to get in touch with someone in advance before reaching Sarnath.

Guide (Radhe Shyam) - 07499880223
Auto-driver (Pravesh) - 09919913788.

Bid adieu!
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Old 10th April 2014, 12:58   #7
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Nice write up SJD. It provides a good glimpse into Buddhist history, culture and architecture. Pretty informative indeed.
This is a travelogue with a difference - no cars, bikes or roads.
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Old 10th April 2014, 21:24   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aditya View Post
Nice write up SJD. It provides a good glimpse into Buddhist history, culture and architecture. Pretty informative indeed.
This is a travelogue with a difference - no cars, bikes or roads.
Thank you for complimenting my efforts, Aditya. Visiting Sarnath was such a refreshing experience and its serene environment impressed me to such an extent that I could not help but write a travelogue. Indeed it was a different type of journey for me too - sans my ride, but every moment was priceless. Highly recommendable to visit at least once in your lifetime
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Old 11th April 2014, 11:27   #9
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Very well written. Most of the tourists focus on the Ghats and give the Sarnath area a passing visit only. When we were growing up we used to call Chaukhandi Stupa as Sita Kutiya. There used to be a microwave tower right next to this stupa. I hope it is still there.

There is a reason why the auto driver pointed out Pahariya/Pandeypur. This place has one of the best Gulab Jamuns one can get. Literally melt in mouth ones. So sweet, Honey Bees come free with an order.

Post more pics of BHU if you can. I think its the best laid out uni in the country and one of the few walled ones.
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Old 11th April 2014, 12:18   #10
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What is the condition of Road from Varanasi to Sarnath and availability of parking at Sarnath?
Well we always cross Varanasi on NH-2 but due to heavy traffic never feel like taking a large SUV inside Varanasi and Sarnath is on the other side of Varanasi.
Thanks for the information. Will like to visit Sarnath later this year.
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Old 11th April 2014, 15:47   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shubhamAT View Post
Very well written. Most of the tourists focus on the Ghats and give the Sarnath area a passing visit only. When we were growing up we used to call Chaukhandi Stupa as Sita Kutiya. There used to be a microwave tower right next to this stupa. I hope it is still there.

There is a reason why the auto driver pointed out Pahariya/Pandeypur. This place has one of the best Gulab Jamuns one can get. Literally melt in mouth ones. So sweet, Honey Bees come free with an order.

Post more pics of BHU if you can. I think its the best laid out uni in the country and one of the few walled ones.
Appreciate your compliments, Subham Yes, the auto-wallah requested us to try out the mouth watering sweets in Pandeypur and Pahariya area.

It was nice to get this additional info about the Chaukhandi Stupa. If you wouldn't mind, may I request you to provide us the reasoning behind this alternate name of the stupa as Sita Kutiya? Did Sita took shelter here just like Humayun did at one time?

However, unfortunately we didn't enter the Stupa compound as the auto-wallah just pointed it out to us while passing and hence cannot answer your query regarding the microwave tower.

And yes, I have quite a few nice clicks of BHU; shall share after I fish them out from the collection.

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Old 11th April 2014, 17:36   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wanderers View Post
What is the condition of Road from Varanasi to Sarnath and availability of parking at Sarnath?
Well we always cross Varanasi on NH-2 but due to heavy traffic never feel like taking a large SUV inside Varanasi and Sarnath is on the other side of Varanasi.
Thanks for the information. Will like to visit Sarnath later this year.
My pleasure, Wanderers The road condition from Varanasi to Sarnath is overall good, however the road-condition in the periphery of Varanasi is not that up to mark, especially the mentioned area called Pandeypur wherein the road under the over-bridge is broken in stretches.

Yes, the heavy traffic is a big deterrent for large vehicles like SUVs as bikers ride reckelessly without helmets and carrying two pillions, while local auto drivers drive in Grand Theft auto mode while often barging into the wrong side of the road and then swerving suddenly.

However, once you enter the periphery of Sarnath (i.e. after about 8-10kms. from Varanasi city), the traffic mellows down significantly. Parking isn't an issue in Sarnath, because once you enter Sarnath, you will come across the main market place on the left, which has a large open area for parking vehicles (you will also see a lot of autos parked here). Best of luck to your future trip as I know you will enjoy it there, and do share your experience
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Old 11th April 2014, 21:54   #13
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Default Re: Sarnath Sojourn: A Traveller's Tale of Serenity

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Originally Posted by SJD@NewDelhi View Post

It was nice to get this additional info about the Chaukhandi Stupa. If you wouldn't mind, may I request you to provide us the reasoning behind this alternate name of the stupa as Sita Kutiya? Did Sita took shelter here just like Humayun did at one time?
Probably that was what we heard from our Dadi.
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