Tuesday 24th January, 2012: (Tour Day 4)
The train sped overnight to reach Varanasi, the oldest living city in the world, and one of the major pilgrimage sites for Hindus. From there it was a short bus ride of 13 kms to Sarnath (now considered an outer suburb) where the Buddha gave his first sermon (turned the wheel of Dhamma), and where the Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna. I enjoyed seeing:
* the deer park (with authentic 2,500 year old deer! just kidding)
* the Dhamekh Stupa (built between 4th to 2nd century BCE)
* the Sarnath Museum (photos not allowed inside) which included the Buddha statue removed from the nearby ruins)
* the Ashokan pillar (broken into four pieces, with the top carved lions missing) and
* the Chaukhandi Stupa (1 km away, built in 1588, which apparently marks where the Buddha first encountered his five companions and convinced them that he had become fully enlightened, and where in 2012 we took a group photo of our tour)On the way back to the hotel for lunch we saw an interesting procession through the streets - a Seik celebration – of dancing, singing, carrying large water vessels, various dignitaries on horse-drawn carriages - as well as a car ferrying a dead person on its roof to the Ganges. As I was not feeling well, I did not join the group going to the Ganges River that evening for Aarti. Apparently there were three cremations on the nearby ghats at the same time. That night we took the train 224 kms to Gorakhpur and I vomited twice.