"... here at Sarnath he turned twelve wheels of Dharma ..."
"Keep in mind this most beautiful wood,
named by the great rishi,
where ninety-one thousand kotis of Buddhas
formerly turned the Wheel.
This place is matchless, perfectly calm,
contemplating, always frequented by deer.
In this most beautiful of parks,
whose name was given by the rishi,
I will turn the holy Wheel."
Voice of the Buddha
Considered as one of the major pilgrimage sites for Buddhists all over the world, I only heard of Sarnath from Pallavi, the owner of Stops Hostels in Varanasi, when we asked her recommendation for other places to visit. Imagine my fascination rising to an ultimate high when I found out that the Isipatana or the deer park in Sarnath is the place where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma - a term I first learned from a Kerouac novel and since then, I've made a few readings about this behavioral concepts that encompasses within the different teachings in a number of faiths namely; Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism.
The Isipatana isn't that big compared to other archaeological and ancient religious sites in Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. Small as it is, it boasts of the most extensive ruins considered as among the most sacred Buddhists sites. There are several stupas, remnants of excavated old monasteries, museums, temples, courtyards and lush gardens all of which completes the structures found inside the Deer Park.
We boarded a tuktuk from our hostel and traveled over the dusty and busy roads of Varanasi for a little over an hour. Along the way I tried fighting off sleep by examining the street activities - which is bustling and over the top. Nothing surprised me because it is the India that I have come to expect. Aileen was covering her nose, as the dust might cause her asthma to relapse. Throughout the trip I was worried for her and amidst the never ending blowing of horns sounding off from all directions, I also kept an eye at the road ahead - holding tightly and praying we don't crash into a barrier, a cow or someone randomly crossing the street, as our tuktuk driver zigzags our way to the maze-like streets of Varanasi like a man whose pants are on fire.
Inside we saw a group of women workers digging up a site, they fill up their bucket with hardened soils and rocks and quickly carries it over their heads while draped with their colorful traditional clothing. There were mostly Chinese tourists - practicing Buddhists I assumed, some were meditating, praying and a few are just kneeling staring far wide and letting the ray of sun shine upon them.
I saw Aileen mingling with a Japanese Monk from a distance, I thought I lost her again since we always end up looking for each other on the places we visited - something which will occur frequently in the next stages of our India trip, especially inside the humongous Forts in the state of Rajasthan.
When I walked towards Aileen, the Japanese monk just bade her farewell after promising to add her up on Facebook. I positioned myself against the sun and stared at the Dhamek Stupa which is the most integral structure inside the deer park, as this marks the exact spot where the Buddha recited his first sermon to his five disciples right after he attained 'enlightenment'. He followed it up by teachhing the Dharmacakra (or the Dharma Wheel) which represents the "Eightfold Path to Nirvana"
Too bad the Sarnath Archeological Museum was closed that day so as we wrapped up our visit just before lunch time, I felt myself starving so I helped myself with some street foods outside while Aileen watches me in fascination. I told her that the utensils given to me was unwashed. She was like "Noooo" so I said I was just joking, but in fact I'm not. But I used it anyway, hey we're in India and I'm starving.
My stomach didn't turned topsy-turvy on me after that, might be the spoon I used was indeed washed just not thoroughly, but I can't deny the fact that our visit to Sarnath was really something else. I was reciting these words to my head "where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma" I think that put a smile to my face as we raced back to our hostels aboard the same tuktuk, late in the afternoon we catch an overnight train to Agra. Yes! Taj Mahal it is.