Buddha first attained enlightenment in the tiny town of Bodhgaya, in the Indian state of Bihar. Bihar, which borders Nepal, is the poorest state in the country, and where we spent most of our time. Bodhgaya, though, is incredible - basically a United Nations of Buddhism, and home to monks and pilgrims from all over the world. Stunning.
Buddha was sitting under a bodhi tree when he first reached enlightenment. A descendent of that tree lives on in Bodhgaya, and serves as the main pilgrimage point for Buddhists and spiritual tourists.
While Buddha was meditating in Bodhgaya, a rain began to fall. The story has it that all of the animals came out to shelter him so he could continue meditating undisturbed. This image of the cobra protecting Buddha is ubiquitous in Buddhist monasteries and sculpture.
The Sri Lankan Mahabodhi Temple, which houses the bodhi tree, is also home to a stunning meditation garden, filled with tiny pagodas, meditation platforms, and inscriptions. It is the place modern India forgot, and it is glorious.
I like monks. Even their feet.