Gaya is a religious centre for Hindu pilgrims who believe temple offerings here relieve the recently departed from the cycle of birth and rebirth. For foreign tourists, it merely serves as a transit point for Bodhgaya.
Bodhgaya is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage place in the world. Located in the state of Bihar, it's here that Lord Buddha became enlightened during intense meditation under a Bodhi tree. The exact spot is now marked by the sprawling Mahabodhi Temple complex. It's a very serene and peaceful place. Monks from all over the world can be found sitting at the foot of an enormous carved Buddha statue, reading Holy Scriptures in deep contemplation. The town is also home to dozens of Buddhist monasteries, maintained by various Buddhist countries.
The other monasteries, built and maintained by various Buddhist countries, are also fascinating -- particularly the different architecture styles. Don't miss the very ornate Thai temple, shimmering with gold. Another popular attraction is the towering 80 foot statue of Lord Buddha. Bodhgaya also has an Archaeological Museum displaying an interesting array of relics, scriptures, and ancient statues of Buddha.
When to Visit - The pilgrimage season starts in Bodhgaya from September, and reaches a peak in January. Ideally, the best time to visit weather wise is between November and February.
Festivals - The biggest festival in Bodhgaya is Buddha Jayanti, held on a full moon in May each year. The festival celebrates Lord Buddha's birthday. Other festivals in Bodhgaya include the annual Buddha Mahotsava, a three day celebration filled with cultural and religious activities.
Side Trips - A side trip to Rajgir, where Lord Buddha spent most of his life teaching his disciples, is recommended. It's located 75 kilometers (46 miles) from Bodgaya, and can be reached by bus or taxi. There you'll be able to visit Gridhakuta (also known as Vulture's Peak), where the Buddha used to meditate and preach in the rainy season.