Day 01. Morning arrival transfer Allahabad airport / station
Sangam literally means confluence. The place has been named so because it is situated on the confluence of Ganges, Yamuna and a mythical river named Saraswati. The actual confluence is located around 7 Kilometers from the Civil Lines. The place is considered to be one of the most sacred in Hindu religion and is the site for Ardh-Kumbh and Kumbh Mela that takes every 6 and 12 years respectively.
Anand Bhavan is the ancestral home of Jawaharlal Nehru, the freedom fighter and the first Prime-Minister of India. The place is also home to Indira Gandhi, the “Iron Lady of India”. The place has today been turned into a fine museum. The importance of this place also increases because of the fact that several momentous decisions and events, related to the freedom struggle took place here. The main building houses a museum that displays the memorabilia of the Nehru family.
Day 02. Same day excursion chitrakoot
RAM GHAT – Chitrakoot
Ram Ghat, the focal point of Chitrakoot, is a long stretch of steps cut into the banks where pilgrims perform religious ablutions and rituals. Many compare its hallowed sanctity to Rishikesh and Benaras. Here, people believe, the sacred river Sarayu surfaces from its subterranean sojourn, and then vanishes again. Here, too, is the Tulsi Chabutra, the platform on the Ram Ghat where the great poet-saint Tulsidas wrote the Ram Charit Manas. Long flights of landing steps lead up from the brown, lapping water. Ferrymen wait expectantly in their canopied barges, often festively decorated with tinsel streamers. Early in the morning, devotees stand waist-deep in the flowing river, worshipping the dawn with an oblation. This is also the time when there is a tintinnabulation of bells ringing from all the shrines at the same time, the hollow calls of conches, and the chants of voices raised in prayer.
PARAM KUTIR – Chitrakoot
The Param Kutir is believed to be the prime cottage, the first hut, erected by Lakshmana for his brother and sister-in-law. As the eminent scholar C. Rajagopalachari says, /”Lakshmana was a clever workman. He soon constructed a strong hut, which was weatherproof and made it comfortable and convenient. Single-handed, he completed the mud hut with windows and doors, all made of bamboo and jungle material./” Clearly, such a fragile hut could not last the eons that have lapsed since the age of Lord Rama. The Param Kutir has been reconstructed as a temple, popular with worshippers today.
BHARAT MANDIR – Chitrakoot
Lord Rama/’s younger bother, Bharat, came to Chitrakoot to persuade the prince to return from exile and assume his rightful position as ruler of Ayodhya. He was unsuccessful but, according to a local legend, Bharat and his army of /”chariots, elephants, horses and foot soldiers/”, as well as the royal family and nobility of Ayodhya, camped a little below Param Kutir. Today, that spot is marked by the Bharat Mandir where the whole court is worshipped as resplendent idols.
JANAKI KUND – Chitrakoot
The steep escarpments and thickly wooded embankments upstream of Mandakini give way to the Janaki Kund, considered to be the favourite bathing spot of Sita. A straight stretch of river and a series of steps on the left bank descend down to the water, almost greenish-blue in colour. The sounds of temple bells waft through the stillness if you happen to visit the place early in the morning. The recitation of prayers is broadcast through the loudspeakers and pilgrims start arriving even before the eastern sky turns orange.
SPHATIK SHILA – Chitrakoot
Beyond Janaki Kund, the river is enchantingly beautiful, the tilting boughs adding to the beauty. A further journey upstream leads you to Sphatik Shila where a large boulder bears the impressions of Lord Rama/’s footprints. Another thing that is likely to attract your attention are the horde of monkeys swinging on the branches of trees overheads. Pilgrims offer peanuts to the monkeys, as many hold these primates in reverence as the descendants of the monkey-god Hanuman.
KAMADGIRI MOUNTAIN – Chitrakoot
Legend has it that before creating the universe, Lord Brahma performed a powerful ritual with 108 fire pits, which fashioned the landscape of Chitrakoot. However, modern-day geologists would have it that the step-like structures of the Deccan Trap were formed by lava welling up from the depths of the earth. Consequently, mountains in this region hold huge caves. The entire, bow-shaped, mountain of Kamadgiri is believed to be hollow, thereby concealing an enormous lake in its interiors. Around this subterranean reservoir, it is said, sages sit in timeless meditation. Perhaps this is why Rishi Bhardwaj advised Lord Rama to spend much of his exile around this supremely serene place.
Today, devotees walk barefoot around this mountain, convinced that their wishes will be granted by this spot, hallowed by the royal exiles and the sages. The hollow mountain is said to have four doors: the Pramukh Dwar, or main entrance, which is now a shrine, and three other portals. No ordinary human has crossed this mysterious threshold and seen the great lake inside Kamadgiri, but there/’s a curious phenomenon associated with the mountain. Rain falling on the protected trees of this hill does not run off, but sinks in and then emerges as 360 springs that start flowing at the same time as if they were the outlets of an overflowing underground lake.
GUPT GODAVARI – Chitrakoot
Nineteen kilometres to the south of Ram Ghat is a great cavern called Gupt Godavari. Deep in this cave, according to legend, the river Godavari emerges as a perennial stream from the rocks, flows down to another cave below, and then disappears. A massive rock protruding out of the ceiling of the Gupt Godavari cave is said to be all that remains of the demon Mayank. He had the temerity to steal Sita/’s clothes while she was bathing and was petrified by the vigilant Lakshmana. Another legend has it that Lord Rama held court in this cave, along with his faithful brother Lakshmana, during their exile. At the entrance to the cave is a beautifully carved sculpture of the Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) .
A word of warning. If you are scared of bats, be a little wary when you enter Gupt Godavari. They hang in clusters from the ceiling, twittering, quarrelsome, fluttering, emitting their high-pitched squeaks whose echoes help them avoid obstacles in the dark.
Do look out over the plains of Chitrakoot from this high point. As your eyes travel closer and closer to the sacred lands around the Mandakini river, the terrain becomes appreciably greener and greener, protected by the veneration of the soil of Chitrakoot. Indeed, the burden of its timeless heritage sits very lightly on tolerant Chitrakoot.
SATI ANASUYA – Chitrakoot
When you emerge from the cool, slightly musty, darkness of the cave into the fresh, bright, loam-scented hills, you will realize that faith has done more for the preservation of the ecology of Chitrakoot than all the laws of man. This green environment recharges the Mandakini which is said to originate in the hills near Rishi Atree/’s ashram. Today a monastery marks the traditional site where Rishi Atree, his wife Anasuya, and their three sons meditated. It is believed that the Mandakini originated as a result of the meditation of Anasuya.
HANUMAN DHARA – Chitrakoot
On one of Chitrakoot/’s wooded hills, 5 km from Ram Ghat, you will come across a shrine dedicated to Hanuman, the great warrior. Aptly christened the Hanuman Dhara, pilgrims trudge a steep 360-step stairway to seek the blessings of Hanuman. Legend has it that Hanuman flew to this hill, enflamed with rage and victory, after setting fire to Ravana/’s palace in Lanka, and helping to rescue Sita. To cool his wrath, he stood under a stream of icy water gushing out of a rock in Hanuman Dhara. His idol still stands bathed by a flow of cold, crystal-clear, water. While you are at Hanuman Dhara take some time off to stop at the old step-well, on the way up: it reputedly never goes dry, thanks to the rain-trapping forests of Chitrakoot.
Day 03. By surface from Allahabad to Varanasi via Ayodhya.
Ayodhya, the temple town, with a sacred site around every street corner is best discovered at a leisurely pace. The only way to get a true feel of the town is by wandering through it, exploring the little alleyways and letting your mood decide which route you want to take. It is not a tourist town and offers a welcome break from the hotspots of India (unless, of course there is another ugly religious controversy brewing). Among the innumerable holy places there are also a few Buddhist and Jain shrines.
Babri Masjid and Ram Janmabhumi
The contentious site is south of the shrine known as Janam Sthana, the birthplace where Rama is said to have spent most of his childhood. The compound is surrounded by high fences and is heavily guarded though it still attracts huge crowds. All visitors and worshippers are thoroughly searched before being allowed to enter the site (even ballpoint pens are confiscated before you enter the site). The makeshift Hindu temple that has been erected in place of the Babri masjid (now a heap of rubble) is basically a tent, with a background of shimmering pink and green material. (Open daily 7 am to 10 am and 3 pm to 5 pm)
Also known as Sone-ka-Ghar (house of gold), this 19th century temple is located in the center of Ayodhya and is devoted to Rama and his wife Sita. Someone once said If you want to see the real Ayodhya, go to Kanak Bhavan. It is a palatial temple where musicians sit and perform in the black and white tiled courtyard. There are three pairs of idols of Rama and Sita in the inner sanctum and a plaque on the outer wall that claims there have been palaces on this site since the Trety Yug (The age during which Lord Rama ruled, by some estimates, one and a half million years ago). (Open daily 8.30 am to 12.15 pm and 4.30 pm to 9 pm)
Stands on the ghats (bank) of the river, on the east side of town. It is said to be built by Khush, Lord Rama’s son. Legend has it that he almost destroyed the water-living Nagas (semi-divine snake people) because he suspected them of stealing his amulet. Only Lord Shiva’s intervention saved the semi-divine snakes. Khush then established this temple showing the Nagas worshipping Lord Shiva, his father’s favourite deity. Another version of this legend states that the lost amulet was found by a Nag-kanya (young girl from the Naga tribe), who fell in love with him, and as she was Lord Shiva’s devotee he constructed this temple for her. (Open daily 5 am to 11 am and 12 pm to 8 pm).
Treta ke Thakur
It is a temple that stands at the place where Rama is said to have performed the Ashwamedha Yagna. The Raja of Kulu is said to have built a new temple here about 300 years ago called Kaleram ka Mandir, where the idols of Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Bharat have reportedly been carved out of a single block of black sandstone. These idols are supposed to be from the original Rama temple, which once stood on the banks of the River Sarayu.
On the banks of the Sarayu river, this is where Rama’s brother Lakshman is said to have voluntarily given up his life-an act called samadhi. Another version says that he gave up living after he broke a vow.
A former Buddhist vihara (cave with cells) that became a Hindu temple. It is dotted with little shrines and if you stand on the topmost terrace you get a splendid view of Ayodhya, one that includes a cluster of small white buildings at the base of the hill that turns out to be a Muslim graveyard.
A steep climb (75 steps) leads to the temple fort of Hanuman – monkey god and guardian of Ayodhya. Built within the thick white walls of a fortress, it is one of Ayodhya’s most important temples and now a monastery as well. Embossed silver doorways lead to several Hanuman shrines as well as one of Rama’s wife – Sita. The temple is supposed to mark the spot where Hanuman sat guard in a cave overlooking Rama’s birthplace which is why the idol’s eyes convey a piercing, alert look that is in keeping with the warrior prowess of Lord Hanuman. Many watchful rhesus monkeys have made this temple their home, and are quite skilled at snatching prasad (holy offerings) away from unwary devotees.
Evening AARTI at Ghat
Aarti starts just after sunset, as darkness begins to spread all over. People start arriving at the ghats as early as 5:00pm. We would also reach there before time and have occupy our places as the crowd increases with the time. Dasaswamedh ghat becomes a hub of activity, with people sitting and waiting for the aarti, buying flowers and other things from nearby shops or performing pooja. Hold your cameras in your hand because you will get some very unique and breathtaking pictures here. A bunch of young men choreographing to the chanting, holding the lamps. As the aarti begins, men take their positions at the platform and begin swinging the lamp to the tune of chanting. Big lamps look beautiful after darkness sets in. The choreography is excellent and worth seeing. We would come back to our hotel and take dinner. Overnight stay in hotel.
Day 04. By surface Varanasi to Bodhgaya via Gaya
AM River tour
known as the Golden Temple, it is dedicated to Lord shiva, the
presiding deity of the city. Varanasi is Said to be the
point at which the first jyotirlinga, the fiery pillar of light by
which shiva manifested has supremacy over others gods, broke through the
Earth’s crust and flared towards the heavens. More than the Gaths and
even the Ganga, the Shivalinga installed in the
temple remains the devotional focus of Varanasi. Standing on the
western bank of India’s holiest river Ganges, Varanasi is the oldest
surviving city of the world and the cultural capital of India. It is in
the heart of this city that there stands in its fullest
majesty the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in which is enshrined the
Jyotirlinga of Shiva, Vishweshwara or Vishwanatha. Here gravitate the
teeming millions of India to seek benediction and spiritual peace by the
darshan of this Jyotirlinga which confers liberation
from the bondages of maya and the inexorable entanglements of the
world. A simple glimpse of the Jyotirlinga is a soul-cleansing
experience that transforms life and puts it on the path of knowledge and
Jyotirlinga has a very special and unique significance in the spiritual history of India. Tradition has it that the merits earned by the darshan of other jyotirlinga scattered in various parts of India accrue to devotee by a single visit to Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Deeply and intimately implanted in the Hindu mind, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple has been a living embodinent of our timeless cultural traditions and highest spiritual values. The Templehas been visited by all great saints- Adi Shankaracharya, Ramkrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekanand, Goswami Tulsidas, Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati, Gurunanak and several other spiritual personalities. The KashiVishwanath Temple attracts visitors not only from India but abroad as well and thereby symbolises man’s desire to live in peace snd harmony with one another. Vishwanath being a supreme repository of this spiritual truth thus strengthens the bonds of universal brotherhood and fellow feeling at the national as well as global levels. On January 28, 1983 the Temple was taken over by the Govt. of Uttar Pradesh and it’s management ever since stands entrusted to a Trust with Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh. Former Kashi Naresh, as president and an Executive Committee with Divisional Commissioner as Chairman. The Temple in the present shape was built way back in 1780 by Late Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore. In the year 1785 a Naubatkhana was built up in front of the Temple by the then Collector Mohd. Ibrahim Khan at the instance of Governor General Warren Hastings. In 1839, Two domes of the Temple were covered by gold donated by Punjab Kesari Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. Third dome but was remained uncovered, Ministry of cultures & Religious affairs of U.P. Govt. took keen interest for gold plating of third dome of Temple.
Bharat Mata Mandir
Bharat Mata Mandir or Bharat Mata Temple is one of its kinds in Varanasi. Contrary to what most of the tourists believe, this temple is not dedicated to any God, Goddess or certain deity for that matter. It is dedicated to the human manifestation of India popularly called Mother India or Bharat Mata in Hindi. The temple was inaugurated by non other than Mahatma Gandhi, The father of the Indian Nation.
Banaras Hindu University
BHU was built in the year 1916-1917 under the special act of parliament passed in the year 1915 named BHU act. The act was passed by the interim parliament that worked under the imperial British government. Mahamna Pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Annie Besant did the conceptualization and implementation of this university. Raja of Kashi donated 1350 acres of land for the construction of the sprawling campus.
Goddess Durga is a significant manifestation of Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. In fact she is said to be Shakti, or the manifestation of Parvati that signifies the female element of Power and harmony in nature. This is precisely because a Bengali Maharani built this temple in the 18th century.
Kashi Vishwanath Mandir
The Vishwanath temple is synonymous to Varanasi. Vishwanath Temple is the most sacred and the most famous temple in Varanasi. In fact, Vishwanath Temple is extremely popular in other parts of India too. A considerable chunk of foreign visitors in India come to Varanasi every year to get a glimpse of the Vishwanath Temple even though the followers of Semitic religions are not allowed to enter the sanctum of the temple.
Sankat Mochan Mandir
Sankat Mochan Mandir do not have much historical significance but is a good place to visit at least once. No body knows who established this temple. It was actually very small in its early phase. In the due course various ‘Mahants’ collected funds to upgrade the structure and today it boasts off a large complex.
Tulsi Manas Mandir
Tulsi Manas Temple has a very historical as well as cultural importance for not only Varanasi but also for the whole of India. This is because Ramayana was composed at this very place. Goswami Tulsi Das was the man who composed Ramayana in Hindi in the form of “Ram Charit Manas
Sarnath, 10 km from Varanasi, where the Buddha preached his first sermon in the Deer Park, contains the most impressive remains, as well as a modem temple. The Dharmarajika, Chaukhandi and Dharnek stupas are outstanding. There are also the remains of a monastery, and the beautifully polished Lion Capital of Ashoka. Sarnath contains a rich library and at the Mula gandha Kutir Vihara there are excellent frescoes by Kosetsu Nosu. The Sarnath Museum, not far from the site, contains some of the finest specimens of Buddhist sculpture. At all centers of Buddhist worship, the Vaisakha (April-May) full moon is observed as the anniversary of three important events – the Buddha’s birth, Enlightenment and death, while the Asadh (July – August) full moon is observed as the anniversary of his first sermon. Sarnath is one of the four most important Bhuddhist pilgrimage centres of India. Bhudda, the great sage , after attaining enlightenment (Bhudda-hood) at Bodh Gaya came to Sarnath and delivered his first sermon to five disciples (i.e. Kaundinya, Bashpa, Bhadrika, ahanaman and Ashvajit) for redeeming humanity. It is this place where foundation of a new order of monks (Sangha) and a new order of religious doctrine (Dhamma) was laid. Sarnath is also sacred to the Jains because they look upon it as the site of asceticism and death of Shreyamshanath, the 11th Trithanka
Vishnupad Temple is sacred among Hindus and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The city has developed around the temple. According to believers and religious texts, the footprints inside the temple are those of Lord Vishnu. The temple is built in Shikhara style and was reconstructed in the year 1787, by Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore.
The temple complex is quite big and houses many images of different Gods and Goddesses. There are many other shrines in and around the temple. Another important temple is of Lord Nrisimha, the god which according to Hindu mythology was a man-lion incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The temple and statue is intricately carved and designed and is a major tourist attraction at Gaya.
Though not exactly in Gaya, Akhsayabat is situated at Bodh Gaya which is 12 kilometers away from Gaya. The Akshayabat tree is the same tree under which Gautam Sidhartha meditated in search of eternal truth. Akshayabat is situated inside the temple complex and is a major tourist attraction.
Mahabodhi Temple: The temple stands in the east to the Bodhi Tree. Its architectural effect is superb. Its basement is 48 square feet and it rises in the form of a slender Pyramid till it reaches its neck, which is cylindrical in shape. The total height of the temple is 170 ft. and on the top of the temple are Chatras which symbolize sovereignty of religion. Four towers on its corners rise gracefully giving the holy structure a poise balance. This sacred edifice is like a grand banner unfurled by time to proclaim to the world the pious efforts of the Buddha to solve the knots of human miseries, to ascend above worldly problems and to attain transcendental peace through wisdom, good conduct and disciplined life.
Inside the temple, in the main sanctum, there is a colossal image of the Buddha in sitting posture touching the earth by his right hand. In this posture the Buddha accomplished the supreme enlightenment. The statue is of black stone but it has been guilder by the devotees. The entire courtyard of the temple is studded with large number of votive stupas. These stupas are of all sizes built during the past 2500 years ago. Most of them are extremely elegant in structural beauty. The ancient railings, which surround the temple, are of the first century BC and are among the very interesting monuments of the century.
Bodhi Tree: The present Bodhi Tree is probably the fifth succession of the original tree under which the Buddha had attained enlightenment. Vajrasana, the seat of stability, is a stone platform on which the Buddha is supposed to have sat in meditation gazing east, under the Bodhi tree.
Later transfer from hotel to Bodhgaya airport / station .