Sarnath is a small Buddhist town situated 13 km north of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. Sarnath is famous owing to the fact that it is one of the four most important pilgrim sites for the Buddhist. On Buddha Poornima day every year, Buddhists from all over the world visit Sarnath to offer their prayers to Lord Buddha. It is believed that the hair and teeth of Buddha are preserved in Sarnath which is open to public viewing every year only on this day.
According to the Buddhists scriptures, Lord Buddha gave his first teachings of Dhamma to his five disciples in this town. Dhamma is a Sanskrit which means dharma or a way of leading a spiritual life. The Deer Park is considered to be the place where Lord Buddha wandered for a quite time. The Dear Park still has many animals like deer, ducks, etc. It is beautifully preserved up to this day.
Next to the Deer Park is the Dhamekh Stupa which is a large structure constructed by Emperor Ashoka is 249 BC. This stupa is considered to be the exact spot where Buddha gave his first teachings of the four noble truths to his disciples. Near the stupa is a small representation of Buddha and his disciples, this structure is constructed under a tree which is considered to be a part of the original Bodhi tree from Gaya in Bihar where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. Within the complex is also a large bell and plenty of Buddhist prayer wheels.
There a few other temples and stupas that is worth a visit while in Sarnath. Chaukhandi Stupa is visible as soon as one enters the town. It was constructed in the fifth century. It is the spot where Buddha first met his disciples. Mulagandhakuti Vihara is believed to be the place where Buddha spent his first rainy season.
Sarnath Archeological Museum is a well maintained small museum showcasing the ruins that were found in Sarnath during excavations. It has an impressive collection of artefacts. The sculptures include the Lion Capital of Ashoka – the national emblem of India and parts of the Ashoka pillar. Sri Digamber Jain Temple which is in close proximity of Dhamekh Stupa is the place where the fourteenth Jain Thirtankar (Jain priest) was born, making Sarnath a pilgrim site for the Jain community as well.
Thai other temples and stupas such as the Japanese Stupa, Chinese Temple and Burma Mandir are some of the other attractions. All these stupas are well maintained and have artistic paintings on their walls. The Jambu Sri Lankan Buddhist temple is also one of its kind. One of the tallest Buddha statues in the country is also seen at Sarnath. This statue overlooks the entire town of Sarnath which is a representation of Lord Buddha blessing the people.
While at Sarnath one can also visit the various handloom shops around, that are built by the Buddhists society. These handloom shops employ the underprivileged to work on their artefacts. The famous Banarasi sarees and many other handicrafts can be bought from here at a much cheaper rate as compared to what is available at Varanasi. The best way to explore this town is on foot or by hiring a rickshaw.
One can reach Sarnath easily by road, rail and air. Sarnath has a railway station nearby but very few out station trains arrive here, the best way to reach this town by rail is to reach Varanasi Cantt railway station which is at a distance of 6 km from Sarnath. Varanasi Cantt is connected to many major cities across the country.
By bus one can access Sarnath by reaching Varanasi bus station which is situated opposite the Varanasi Cantt railway station. The Varanasi airport is the nearest airport to Sarnath at a distance of 24 km. Taxis and rickshaws are easily available from the railway station, bus stand and airport.
Sarnath has plenty of accommodation options ranging from budget stays to mid range hotels. Considering it is a pilgrim town, the accommodations have basic amenities and nothing fancy. Pilgrims flock to Sarnath throughout the year but the best time to visit this holy place is during the winter months of November to February. One to two days are sufficient enough to explore the whole town.