India is the place where the obliging religion of Buddhism was born. It is where a prince named Siddhartha left his worldly comforts to find the source humanity's suffering and sat in meditation under a peepal tree, which eventually transformed him to become Buddha, the enlightened one.
Although Buddhism was born in India, it did not become the dominant religion of the country. Yet India is home to over 9 Million odd Buddhists, some of them having settled here from troubled nations and others, who have been taking care of the Buddhist culture for almost thousand odd years.
One can travel to almost all of these Buddhist towns spread across the country. From the remote locations of Karnataka to the high altitude villages of Ladakh, Buddhist households would will welcome one warmly into their humble worlds. Take a look at some of the Buddhist towns in India to start an experience, which would leave you speechless.
The town of Bylakuppe in Karnataka is home to several Tibetan settlements, which was established in the year 1961 by the coalition of Lugsum Samdupling, a prominent Tibetan monk and the Government of India, which provide shelter to Tibetan refugees, who fled from their homeland in search of a safer place.
The settlement is located in Mysore and shares its borders with Coorg. The town is divided into two parts, the Old Camp and the New Camp. Major monasteries in the area are built to represent the four Buddhist traditions of Gelukpa, Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyudpa.
The largest Tibetan settlement in India is at Dharamshala. When His Holiness Dalai Lama had to escape from Tibet in the year 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru the then Indian Prime Minister, granted him and his followers asylum here.
At present, McLeod Ganj and parts of upper Dharamshala exhibit the aesthetics, philosophy and culture of Tibetan Buddhism. When here, one must visit the Namgyal Monastery and the Library of Tibetan works and archives that preserves over 80,000 odd Buddhist manuscripts. The place is fondly called as "Little Lhasa" and is also the seat of His Holiness The Dalai Lama.
PC: Geoff Stearns
Another Buddhist settlement in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh is Bir. The place is less crowded in comparison to Dharamshala, people come here to try their hand at paragliding at Billing and Bir is the centre for meditative and cultural courses, which one can practice at the Deer Park Institute.
Rewalsar is a historical town that forms the background of the mythical story of Guru Padmasambhava who is recognised as the second Buddha. According to legends, the well-known Rewalsar Lake appeared where Padmasambhava was burnt alive, who then reincarnated as a 16-year-old boy from a lotus in the lake. It is also said that it was from Rewalsar that Guru Padmasambhava went to Tibet to spread the message of Vajrayana Buddhism.
PC: David Bacon
The Buddhist community in Tawang is deeply rooted to the history of the place that dates back to early 20th century when it was part of Tibet. This hilly retreat, now in Arunachal Pradesh, is home to the Tawang Monastery, which considered to be the largest monastery in India and the second largest in the world.
The monastery is known as Galden Namgey Lhatse in Tibetan, which translates to the celestial paradise on a clear night.
PC: Giridhar Appaji Nag Y
The village is mainly visited by travellers during the Hemis festival, when the monastery is decked up with colourful masks and motifs. The festival takes place in the first week of July to celebrate the teachings of Lord Padmasambhava and attracts people from across the globe.
PC: Silver Blue
Tabo is small hamlet, which is located in the Spiti Valley, is considered to be one of the oldest Buddhist establishments in the country. The Buddhist town in India is native to the area and is not a Tibetan settlement like many others mentioned before.
Situated between Reckong Peo and Kaza, the place is built around a Buddhist monastery that is over a thousand years old. It is also known as the oldest operating Buddhist enclave in India and has a sacred presence, which made the Dalai Lama express his desire to retire to Tabo.
PC: Krishna G S
Gaya is home to four major religions of India- Buddhism, Jain, Hinduism and Islam. The origins of the town dates back to several thousand years with references made of this city in the Ramayana. The city is known for being the place where Siddhartha achieved enlightenment and became Buddha.
PC: Man Bartlett