Gaya is one of the most ancient and holiest cities in India. It is a major tourist attraction in the state of Bihar and is of high historical and mythological significance. This holy city is located at the banks of Phalgu River which finds its mention in the epic Ramayana, Mahabharata and also in sacred Buddhist texts. Gaya is a diverse city that accommodates pilgrimage sites for Jains, Hindus, and Buddhists. The place is also famous for Pitrapaksha Mela where people from across the country come to perform 'Pind Daan' (a ceremony) for the people who have departed from the material world.
Best Time to Visit Gaya
Moving to the best time to visit Gaya, well, it is the months between September and January. The climate during this time is pleasant and one can easily escape the scorching heat in these months. During this time many festivals also take place in the temples hence one may explore the city to the fullest.
History of Gaya
Gaya is 100km away from the capital city of Bihar, i.e. Patna and is the second-largest city in the state of Bihar. Hill ranges and Phalgu river surrounds this city from all 4 sides and the presence of nature in abundance makes this city a perfect spot to relax and introspect.
Folklores related to Gaya claim that Lord Rama along with his wife and brother came here to perform the ‘shradh rituals’ and ‘Pind Daan’ for his father Dashratha, who was the maharaja of Ayodhya and one of the renowned kings of Raghuvansha kingdom.
Gayapuri is another ancient name of Gaya that finds its mention in the Mahabharata. It is said that there lived a demon Gayasur who was transformed into hills by Lord Vishnu. Locals believe that the hills that surround the present-day Gaya are the transformed physical entities of demon Gayasur.
Apart from these Hindu significances, the place witnessed the enlightenment journey of Siddhartha who later became Gautama Buddha. It is a well-known fact that Lord Buddha got enlightenment in Bodh Gaya which is now a popular pilgrimage spot for all the Buddhist followers from across the world.
Modern History of Gaya
Once a secular and liberal place, Gaya later became an administrative hub for the British in the 19th Century. The city-operated with the name Saheb Ganj during this period. Gaya also hosted the 37th INC meet and witnessed the freedom struggles against the British.
The INC meet was headed by Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das and was participated by prominent leaders like Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and Maulana Azad. After India’s independence, the city was reinvented as a spiritual tourist destination.
Major Attractions in and Around Gaya
1. Phalgu River
Sited on the east side of Gaya, the water can be seen in the river only during the monsoon. If you visit at any other time of the year you will find it dry. In case you dig some mud, you’ll find water flowing continually below the river bed. Locals claim that this river flows below the bed because it was cursed by the Goddess Sita. Local priests claim that performing puja along the banks of the river has a maximum benefit and it also blesses the next 7 generations of the person who performs shradh, and tarpan here.
2. Vishnupad Temple
The temple was constructed in 1780 with black stone, this age-old temple is a popular and unusual destination to visit in Gaya. The temple has sacred footprints of Lord Vishnu imprinted on a stone slab, which is believed to be of the time when Lord Vishnu crushed Gayasur under his feet. Every day these footprints are covered with special Malaya Chandan and adorned with flowers. Vishnu Sahasranam is chanted with the offering of Tulsi leaves at the temple.
3. Gadadhar Vishnu Temple
Just next to Vishnupad temple on the banks of Phalgu river lies a temple named Gadadhar Vishnu temple. A statue of a 4-armed, black avatar of Lord Vishnu carrying a Gada is worshipped here.
Ratnaghara is made of two words Ratna (jewels) and ghara (house), which together means ‘house of jewels’ is a popular Mahabodhi temple in the city. The temple features the tallest statue of Gautama Buddha in a meditative state that is 880 meters tall and was inaugurated and consecrated by Dalai Lama.
5. Tibetan Monastery
This one is the biggest monastery in the state of Bihar and is known to be home to many original and sacred Buddhist texts. The temple also has a 10m high drum made of metal which is known as the wheel of law or Dharmachakra.
How to Reach Gaya
Gaya is a hub of various fascinating, religious and culturally prominent sites that are worth exploring. You can arrive here conveniently via a widespread network of roadways, railways, and airways. Gaya is approx. 1,000, 1,700, 500 and 2,000km from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Bengaluru respectively. Listed below are some best travel options that you may consider if planning a visit to the city.
Travelling by a personal car or bike or an interstate tourist bus will give you a chance to explore village life during the journey. All the top tourist destinations in Gaya are well connected by roadways hence commuting within the city won't be a problem. Mentioned below is the estimate of distance in kilometres and the best route to take if arriving from nearby cities of states.
Patna - 117 Km via SH 4
Dhanbad - 217 km via NH 19
Sasaram - 130 km via NH 19
Varanasi - 255 km via NH 19
Ranchi - 225 km via NH 20
Gaya Junction is the railway station where you must deboard to explore this holy city and the holy structures that are spread all over. The station receives regular and frequent trains from all the metro cities of India such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Bengaluru. Howrah Rajdhani Express, Jharkhand Swarna Jayanti Express, and Maha Bodhi Express are a few popular trains on which one may make the reservations. The following are some popular direct trains by which you may travel to the city.
Gaya International Airport is the nearest one to the city and is just 10km away. The airport receives direct and connecting flights from across the country. From the airport, tourists may take local transport like a taxi or a bus to reach the desired destination in the city. You may travel with the following airlines via their non-stop flights to Gaya. From Delhi, you can travel via AirIndia with a one-way fare starting from Rs. 5000 and from Kolkata with IndiGo with one-way fare starting from Rs.12000.
Here is a list of Indian cities from where flights are available to Gaya