Following the story of the historical Buddha's life on earth, to each of the eight
places of traditional pilgrimage, which are hallowed by the Buddha's Birth,
Enlightenment, Decease and other significant events. Other sites, which are important in
the story of Gautama Buddha and have been rediscovered in recent years, are also
described, and the author suggests where a search should be made for those that still
remain hidden. He also discusses the problems that arose when attempts were made, little
more than a hundred years ago, to identify these places in the light of the descriptions
by Chinese pilgrims that have come down to us. He reveals the errors of that time, which
have been rectified in the light of more recent evidence.
This is a personal journey by a well-known travel-writer, whose lifelong
interest in Buddhism leads him to present his own picture of the origin and development
of the faith and to propose answers to questions that are still unresolved. Tales told
along the way by people who have been attracted to the same goal enrich the narrative.
The author has also provided an original plan for each of the sits visited as
well as a full description on the place, and the book is illustrated by the author's own
Duncan Forbes is a linguist, whose acquaintanceship with India and Nepal goes
back to the time of his service both in the Indian Army and with the Gurkha Soldiers of
the British Army. After a career in several different countries in Asia and Africa he
became a Fellow of Trinity College, London.
He is a well-known author of books of travel, amongst which both The Heart of
Nepal and The Heart of India have been much acclaimed. It was in the latter book that he
first introduced his readers to the land of the Buddha in a chapter entitled 'In the
footsteps of the Buddha'.
Duncan Forbes is a lifelong student of Buddhism, a member of the Buddhist
Society of London and a student of languages with a good knowledge of Hindi and Nepali.
He is thus able to move confidently about the places of Buddhist pilgrimage in Nepal,
Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which he describes. He presents the reader with a picture of
the scene enriched by his own knowledge of its origins and history, with a plan of the
site based on his own observations, and with stories told to him by fellow-pilgrims
about their interest in the faith.
Forbes has written an excellent travel book, emphasizing the main travel sites of the
historical Buddha, from his birth to his decease, mainly in the area of Bihar. Forbes
uses fine descriptive power to present his own travel experiences along this same route,
while helping the reader with a diagram for each of these centers.
His trip, especially in the mid-1990's starting from North Bihar or South Nepal
for the Buddha's traditional birth, is aided by recent archaeological discoveries for
establishing certain other centers of the Buddha's pilgrimage. This author also portrays
his travels outside this zone established by the Buddha, mainly in Nepal and in Hong
Forbes was sometimes helped by a guide, and sometimes by other informants, who
allowed him to evade certain situations which could have been disastrous. Fortunately he
knows scholarly facts of the Buddha's life to combine with the travel accounts. This is
certainly a commendable work.
I might never have gone on my Buddhist Pilgrimage if I had not seen the great stupas of
Bodhnath and Swayambhunath in Katmandu, and if I had not been to Lumbini when it was
still called Rummindei. I felt the peace of that distant and hallowed place, and I
planned my travels without knowing that others were organizing groups to do much the
Of those who helped me on my way the Venerable U. Nayaka was generous with his
time in Kushinagara, as was Swami Ananda Chaitanya Das in Rajgir. I also thank my son,
Anthony, for arranging the material in such a way that it will, I hope, be read with
pleasure, and even with profit.
For a thousand years and more the places where the Buddha of our present age lived and
moved were lost to view. The once magnificent monuments commemorating the most
significant moments in the Buddha's life had either crumbled away and decayed to such an
extent that they were no longer recognized as such, or else had disappeared completely
In recent years, beginning at the end of last century, many of the sacred sites
have been rediscovered. Some are still in dispute. Others still remain hidden. As
recently as 1995, as a result of excavations under the Mayadevi Temple at Lumbini, a
stone marking the Buddha's birthplace was brought to light on top of the platform on
which the temple stands. But the stupas of the Great Renunciation have not yet been
In this book I recount my experiences and adventures as a pilgrim bound for the
traditional, time-honoured sites of the Buddha story by the modern means of the
twentieth century. At some sites, such as Vaishali and Pava, I found little to see. But
at others, such as Bodh-Gaya and Shravasti, there was a great deal. Indeed, I saw that
Bodh-Gaya, Shravasti and Kushinagara had become the veritable building-sites of a
A lone pilgrim might be considered to be lonely. But that was not my experience.
Some fellow-visitors at Nalanda, for instance, or at Sarnath were doubtless simply
tourists. But the majority were probing the past on a spiritual journey in the present,
and those with whom I established contact were not reluctant to tell me how and why they
had become involved in the doctrine of the Buddha. Their tales seemed to me to be a
living counterpoint to the dead bricks of the stupas, and although I have not revealed
their identities. They know who they are.
A pilgrimage should be a joyful experience in spite of the trials and
tribulations of travel. The memory of it should remain with the pilgrim for the rest of
his life and should not be over-burdened with the weight of scholastic interpretation. I
have, therefore, eschewed the diacritical marks that some scholars use in
transliterating Indian names into the Roman script, and instead written such names as,
for instance, Shravasti and Kushinagara in accordance with the usual usage in India
today rather than with the Pali language of the distant past.
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