Art as the sacred expression of religion is illustrated well in Buddhist art and architecture. In Sanskrit, the word, ‘Bodh’ means knowledge. Buddha means “one who has attained all knowledge” and “one in whom there is no conflict or suffering’.

For more than 40 years, the Buddha travelled across the Gangetic Plains, spreading the word about his doctrine and way of life including The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path of moderation leading to Buddhism being spread across the world.

While Bihar is the cradle of Indian civilisation and land of monasteries whose name derives from the ancient word ‘Vihara’ or monastery, the state of Uttar Pradesh is the cradle of Buddhism, where significant sites of the Buddha’s life can be seen and experienced.

To facilitate travelling in the holy land sanctified by the footsteps of the Buddha, India’s Ministry of Tourism recommends travelling through Buddhist circuits in 15 states. The International Buddhist Conclave held in New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar served to raise awareness of the link between Buddhism and tourism and the concept of the Buddhist Heritage Circuit, where I visited Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Varanasi in one circuit, for religious tourism blends cultural understanding and peace, serving to connect religious heritage sites.

In Delhi, all three major schools of Buddhism, the Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana are represented in the National Museum’s galleries in the representation of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, narratives about the Buddha’s life and also the relics of the Buddha. To experience monks chanting sacred mantras around the relics of the Buddha was a privilege.

A short flight to the holy city of Varanasi, to meditate on the Raj Ghat on the River Ganges at sunrise, from where the Buddha embarked on his journey to Sarnath, put me in a contemplative frame of mind, while later in the day the ghats, or steps, of Varanasi come alive with hustle and bustle.

Varanasi is also home to the elaborately woven Banarasi brocade silk sari and rich zari work, with a plethora of factories and shops peppering the city showcasing the glittering red silk and gold threads of this prized Indian weave which, traditionally is worn by Indian brides.

Another 10km north east from Varanasi lies Sarnath where the Buddha held his first public discourse or sermon following his enlightenment, presenting the Maha Dharma Chakra Pravartan or Turning the Wheel of the Dharma or Buddhist Teachings. I circumambulating the stone and brick Dhamek stupa, meditating in the ruins besides the original Mulgandha Kuti Vihara and marvelled at the Buddhist sculptures and artefacts from third century BC to 12th century AD at the Sarnath Archaeological museum, with its fine gallery of Gupta period Indian sculptures carved from fine-grained Chunnar sandstone as well as the iconic Ashoka Lion Capital in its entrance.

After converting to Buddhism, Emperor Ashoka visited Sarnath in the third century BC and erected a smooth stone pillar with a lustrous polish (a typical feature of Mauryan art in the third century BC) to mark the foundation of the Buddhist sangha or community, with the Lion Capital on top of this pillar which is now India’s National Emblem.

Other sites on the Buddhist trail in Uttar Pradesh include Kapilavastu where the Buddha grew up as a child as Prince Siddhartha, when he renounced worldly pleasures in search of the path leading to enlightenment in Bodhgaya, and the ruins of Piprahwa stupa erected by the Shakya rulers.

Sravasti is the town to which the Buddha retreated during the rainy season for 27 years. Ruins of ancient stupas and monasteries can be found along with the Anand Bodhi tree – an offspring of the original Bodhi tree planted by the Buddha’s disciple Anand, and the large World Peace Bell which serves to convey the Buddha’s message of humanity through its toll.

Kushinagar is the place where the Buddha delivered his final sermon and left his corporeal self, attaining Mahaparinirvana. Here lie a range of monuments including the main site of the Mahaparinirvana Temple with a six metre red sandstone sculpture of the reclining Buddha and the Ramabhar stupa where he was cremated.

Bihar is the land from where Prince Siddhartha Gautama began his journey to search for the solution of suffering and finally attained enlightenment while seated underneath the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, thus becoming the Buddha and giving rise to a new religion called Buddhism 2,600 years ago.

As the place of the Buddha’s Enlightenment, Bodhgaya is the spiritual home of Buddhists, filled with monks from different countries who can be found in their respective monasteries peppered throughout Bodhgaya’s bucolic landscape, constructed by various Asian nations in which Buddhism is practised like the artistically vibrant Tibetan, Thai and Sri Lankan monasteries. I enjoyed meditating with groups of monks underneath the Bodhi tree at the Mahadbodhi temple and its meditation park.

Also in Bihar lies the archaeological remains of Nalanda University, the earliest international university established as a great centre of Buddhist learning in ancient times and the pilgrimage sites in Rajgir, where the Buddha’s teaching was first codified and the venue of the first Buddhist council.

In modern India, Buddhism survives only in isolated pockets amongst the people of Ladakh, Lahaul, Spiti, Kinnaur in the western Himalayas and the Monpas, Sherdukpens, Lepchas, Bhutias and Chakmas in the eastern Himalayas, whilst His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s government in exile was established in Dharamsala in north India, where there is a thriving Tibetan Buddhist community, along with other pockets in the states of India like the Tashi Lumpo and Sera monasteries in Karnataka where Tibetan Buddhist monasteries have been built in modern times.

The Buddhist trails throughout the states of India enable one to embark upon fascinating journeys to find “the Buddha in me”.

* Explore the Buddhist sites in India on the Buddhist Heritage Circuit. Various tour operators run excursions between the key sites, or travel independently

* Information on travelling in India from or from