The Dharma Wheels Go Round and Round at Sarnath's Isipatana

 "... 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

Tania Maria Gonzalez in Sarnath

Despite being 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 for her recommendation of 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, was the place where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, a key behavioral concepts that encompasses widely included in the different teachings in a number of faiths namely; Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. 

Tania Maria Gonzalez in Sarnath

The Isipatana isn't that expansive compared to other archaeological and ancient religious sites in Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. Still, it boasts some 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 that can be found inside the Deer Park.

Tania Maria Gonzalez in front of Sarnath

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 as usual, overwhelming to the senses. Nothing surprised me because it is the India I have come to expect. Aileen was covering her nose, fearing the dust might cause her asthma to relapse. Throughout the trip I was worried for her and amidst the never ending blowing of horns from all directions, I kept an eye at the road ahead, holding tightly and praying we don't crash into a barrier, a cow or anyone randomly crossing the street. Our tuktuk driver blazed through our way to the maze-like streets of Varanasi like a man whose pants are on fire. 

Inside the park, we saw a group of women workers digging up a site, by filling their buckets with hardened soil and loose rocks and carrying it over their heads draped with colorful sari headscarf. There were mostly Chinese tourists—practicing Buddhists I assumed—crowding inside Isipatana. They were engaged in all manner of paying their respects. Some are seen meditating, the others were praying and a few were just kneeling staring far wide and letting the ray of sun shine upon them. 

Marky Ramone Go in Sarnath

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 at the places we visited. [Spoiler Alert: something which will occur frequently in the next stages of our India trip especially inside the humongous Forts in the state of Rajasthan].

Tania Maria Gonzalez in Sarnath

When I walked towards Aileen, I overheard the Japanese monk bidding her farewell and promising to add her up on Facebook. I positioned myself against the sun and stared at the Dhamek Stupa—considered as the most sacred structure inside the deer park—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"

Pilgrims in front of Sarnath

Too bad the Sarnath Archeological Museum was closed that day so as we wrapped up our visit just before lunch time, I felt hungry so I helped myself with some street foods outside while Aileen watched me in fascination. I kidded her that the utensils given to me appear unwashed. She was like "Noooo" but I used it anyway. 

My stomach didn't turn topsy-turvy after that, might be the utensils was clean after all. 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. Later that afternoon we would catch an overnight train to Agra. Yes! Taj Mahal it is