Inside the Buddha shrine-Mahabodhi Society-Sarnath-Varanasi
Going around the prayer wheels - Mahabodhi Society
Yatris tread hallowed ground with the magnificent Dhamek Stupa in the background - Sarnath
One of the many heritage structures of Varanasi
Welcome at Gurudwara Badi Sangat Nichi bhag - Varanasi
Inside the Gurudwara Badi Sangat Nichi bhag Varanasi
Sri M after darshan at the Sri Ram Janki Mandir - Bulanala
Sri M inside Mosque Amiya Mandi - Pillikothi Varanasi
Warm welcome prior to a stupendous breakfast-Golgadda Varanasi
From one holy destination to another - Varanasi to sarnath
The meeting point of Varuna and Assi – Varanasi – became the place of reunion for many Satsangis and padyaatris (Travellers on foot). Padyaatris who had taken short breaks, Satsangis who have been joining the Yaatrav(Journey) off and on, all seem to have congregated in Varanasi to form one large family.
Having arrived in Varanasi the day before, and some of them even earlier, most got a feel of one of the oldest and holiest cities on earth. To the surprise of many second-timers, the city looked unnaturally clean. The recent visit by the Prime Minister of India and Japan seems to have prompted the civic authorities to remove tons of garbage out of these beautiful Ghats and river banks. In effect, most of the 80 Ghats of Varanasi looked remarkably neat and walkable.
Armed with must-visit-lists, Yaatris (travellers) visited shrines, temples, Ghats, ashrams and eateries even! What struck most was the overall safety that envelopes this place. You could run into a European lady meditating near Manikarnika Ghat at night as flames incessantly devour the remains of dozens of dead bodies. It could either be a spiritual phenomenon or a commercial one.
Today's walk bridged two of the most spiritually exalted places in India – Varanasi and Sarnath. Varanasi, famous for the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, the bathing Ghats on the Ganga, scores of Shivlings, quaint little shrines of Deities, Manikarnika Ghat where the funeral pyres have been ablaze for the last 3000 years, the ultimate holy place for a Hindu; and Sarnath, probably the second most important of Buddhist pilgrimage centres, where Buddha delivered his first sermon.
On their way to Sarnath, the yaatris walked along the meandering streets of Varanasi, lined by many heritage buildings and shrines. They visited the Gurudwara Badi Sangat, made famous by Guru Tej Bahadur and presence of the Ganga Kund within.
Sarnath is a treasure trove for followers of Buddhism. The imposing brick structure i.e. Chaukhandi is where Buddha, after getting enlightenment, had a discussion with five of his former disciples. Then he held a sermon at the Deer Park. The huge memorial erected by Ashoka was destroyed and only a huge circular platform remains.
The pontiff of Mahabodhi society who described each of the monuments to the group, lamented the damage caused by extremists to memorials of such outstanding events in world history. He highlighted the relevance of Asha Yaatra's (Walk of Hope) message of peace and oneness in this context.
The park has the remains of the Ashoka Pillar kept in a glass enclosure. The Ashoka Chakra which is the national emblem of India was originally at the base of this Pillar.
The show piece structure in the deer park is the Dhamek Stupa. It is a memorial of Buddha's sermon on dropping of desires, hearing which five of his disciples became 'arihants' or realised souls.
As the Walk came to a close, the walkers returned to Varanasi and got busy exploring the ghats.