Sarnath Travel Guide – Ultimate Travel Itinerary of Sarnath

Sarnath is one of the most revered Buddhist Pilgrim centres. After attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, here at Sarnath Lord Buddha preached his first Sermon, sanctified as Maha Dharma Chakra Pravartan (Set in Motion the Wheel of Dharma). During the time of Lord Buddha, Sarnath was called Rishipattana or Issipattana and Mrigdav because it was an ideal place for sages and was a dense forest inhabited by deers. Emperor Ashoka visited here at around 234 B.C and erected a stupa here. Today, Sarnath treasures the most expensive ruins on the Buddhist Trail.

In this blog, I am going to share my experience about my trip from Varanasi to Sarnath and the places you can visit in Sarnath with detailed information you should know about each site.

History of Sarnath

In The Rich and Eventful History of Sarnath Uttar Pradesh, Sarnath is one of the four most significant Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

After achieving enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, Gautam Buddha travelled here in 528 B.C., marking the beginning of the history of Sarnath, India. He gave his five former buddies his first sermon at this location. Buddhist literature refers to this occurrence as dharmachakra-pravartana, which literally translates to “the turning of the Wheel of Law.” They studied everything the Buddha knew, and as a result, they attained enlightenment as well. The first Buddhist Sangha, or community of monks, was thus established.

The Buddha spent the following wet season at the Mulagandhakuti vihara in Sarnath after giving his first sermon there. The Buddhist Sangha had expanded to 60 members by that point. The Buddha then dispatched the Sangha to spread his teachings everywhere. The assistance of the local rulers and prosperous merchants is largely responsible for the flourishing of Buddhism in Sarnath. When the Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang visited Sarnath in the seventh century, there were 30 monasteries and 3000 monks residing there, according to the History of Sarnath.

By the end of the 12th century, Turkish Muslims had looted Sarnath. The location was heavily looted for building supplies and has been abandoned ever since. After that, Sarnath was utterly abandoned until the British started excavating and restoring this ancient city in 1836.

Sarnath is not just a popular Buddhist destination, but it is also a significant Jains sacred site since Shreyansanath, the Eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism, is thought to have been born there. Even Sarnath has a temple that is devoted to him.

Places to visit in Sarnath

While there are many historic stupas, statues, and buildings in the vicinity of Sarnath, a number of Buddhist temples have lately been constructed that are modelled after Thai, Burmese, Korean, and Chinese temples. These temples offer a distinctive viewpoint of this historic town. Here are a few places you might check out while travelling to Sarnath.


Chaukhandi Stupa

The stupa has great significance in history as Lord Buddha during his first visit to Sarnath after attaining the enlightenments, met his first disciples here who earlier had abandoned him.

Sarnath Buddhist Complex

The primary archaeological complex in Sarnath is the Buddhist Complex. The enormous Dhamekh Stupa is without a doubt the complex’s major draw. But other stupas, monastic locations, and artefacts can be found scattered around the complex.

The ancient constructions that may still be seen today in Sarnath date from the third century BC to the twelve centuries AD. Buildings were constructed, they were destroyed, and occasionally another structure was built on top of the demolished one. Therefore, it is apparent that not all of the structures in the complex date from the same era.

Let me take you around the ruins and the key structures that make up the Sarnath Buddhist Complex.

Dhamekh Stupa

The most well-known structure in Sarnath is the Dhamekh Stupa. Originally constructed in 249 CE, the enormous stupa was a creation of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka.


The Dhamekh Stupa is a sturdy, cylindric building with a diameter of 28 metres and a height of 43.6 metres composed of red bricks and stone. It is thought that Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon here after achieving enlightenment. Dharma Chakra Pravartana, or the setting of the “Wheels of Law,” is the name given to this well-known occurrence in the life of Lord Buddha. The word “Dhamekh” may have evolved from the phrase “Dharma Chakra.” The stupa has undergone numerous alterations and additions over time. The area also symbolizes the inauguration of the first Buddhist Sangh. The stupa’s exquisite artwork remnants made it clear that the building may have had lovely embellishments and carvings.

Dharmarajika Stupa

Another stupa in the complex from where two Buddha statues were excavated. The stupa was built by Emperor Ashoka in 3rd Century B.C.

Ashokan Piller

A glass exhibit surrounds the Ashokan Pillar. The bottom part of the original 5.25 m high pillar, which was crowned with the Lion Capital, is all that is left of the pillar. There are three inscriptions on the Pillar. The earliest one is an Ashokan decree written in Brahmi script. The King threatens the monks and nuns with punishment in the inscriptions if they split up the Sangha.

The second and third inscriptions date from the Kushan and older Gupta periods, respectively.

Main Shrine

Today, the entire shrine lies in ruins. It seems sensible that when it was at its grandest, the building was large. The main shrine was over 60 metres high, according to the renowned Chinese traveller and monk Hiuen Tsang, who wrote about it in his journal.

Panchayatana Shrine

This one was built during the time Gupta dynasty and looked like a temple.

Rectangular Courtyard

Rectangular Courtyard situated between Dhamek Stupa and the main shrine. There are so many votive stupas and shrines one can see here.

Monastery I – VII

The complex has three sites designated as monasteries. Monastery I has an open courtyard and rows of cells on three sides.
Monastery II belonged to the Gupta period. There are only traces of nine cells surviving today in this one. Monastery III dates back to the Kushan period and looked like Monastery II. Monastery IV is not fully excavated. The work is still in process. The exposed portion consists of some cells and the remains of a verandah. There are other remains of monasteries around the complex which you can check while roaming around the ruins.

Sarnath Deer Park

The first Buddhist Sangha was founded in Deer Park, where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon at Sarnath.

Mulgandha Kutir Vihara

From the Dhamekh Stupa, one can view the current state of the historic Mulgandha Kuti Vihara’s remains. There is a plaque at the historic location that states that Lord Buddha most likely meditated there. Possibly during the Gupta era when the old temple was built. The ASI excavation site’s remains are just next to the rebuilt Mulgandha Kutir Vihara.

Inside the temple is a beautiful golden statue of Lord Buddha. The stunning frescoes painted by Japanese artist Kosetsu Nosu inside the temple are its most famous feature. The life of Lord Buddha is shown in these frescoes inside the temple, from his birth until the moment he attained Nirvana. In front of the temple sits a huge bell and inside the temple, a relic of Lord Buddha is treasured and only brought out during Buddha Purnima to seek blessings.

Vishwa Shanti Stupa

Just one kilometre to the southeast of Sarnath’s primary Buddhist complex is where you’ll find the Vishwa Shanti Stupa. One of the gateways at the Great Sanchi Stupa is replicated at the Stupa’s entrance. The replica Ashokan pillars with lion capitals are also visible when you pass through the gate.

Bodhi Tree

According to legend, Sanghamitra, the daughter of Emperor Ashoka, visited the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, the place of Lord Buddha’s enlightenment, and she removed a branch from the tree and planted it in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Angarika Dharampala removed a sapling from the tree and placed it at this location in Sarnath in 1931 after the branch turned into a tree. The tree currently stands as a representation of tranquilly, offering shade and rest to weary travellers.


There are a few other temples in Sarnath that you can visit that show how Buddhism is practised in other nations.

  • Japanese Temple or Nichigai Suzan Horinji Temple
  • Chinese Buddhist Temple
  • Tibetan Temple or Lhaden Chenmo Tibetan Monastery
  • Thai Temple and the huge Buddha Idol
  • Burmese Buddhist Temple


Museum in Sarnath

Buddhism-related items can be found in abundance in the Sarnath Archaeological Museum. Along with other priceless relics, there are many statues and idols of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The Ashokan Pillar’s Lion Capital is also shown inside the museum. India’s national emblem is a lion’s capital.

Sarnath Museum remains open all days except Friday from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening.

Entry Fee:

Indian – INR 5 pp
Foreigner – INR 100 pp

Accommodation in Sarnath

There are a few good hotels available in Sarnath, you can stay there. The Tibetan Monastery also offers to-stay options to tourists against some donations. Otherwise, you can stay in Varanasi and make a day trip to Sarnath.

How to reach Sarnath from Varanasi

You can take a cab or auto to reach Sarnath from Varanasi as it is only a 10 km distance from Varanasi. I would suggest you talk about the places in Sarnath and the rate before the trip. You can bargain as the auto or cab drivers ask little hire price to take you to Sarnath.

Sarnath is a small place and most of the attractions are located within walking distance. You can walk around to explore the places or hire an auto to cover the places.

What to Buy in Sarnath

Sarnath has so many small shops to buy souvenirs but you have to bargain for them. Small Buddhist idols, prayer flags, key chains, and magnets are available at Sarnath. Also, wooden toys and handicrafts are available too.


Is Sarnath Safe for solo female travellers?

Yes. You just have to take care of basic rules to be followed by solo female travelers in India. It is a small city so no roaming around at night, dress up according to the local people’s sensibility and enjoy your trip to Sarnath.

I hope you will like the places and find calm and peace while visiting the places in Sarnath. If you liked this blog and found it useful, then please share it with your family and friends.

This trip is in collaboration with Uttar Pradesh Tourism Board but the views and experiences are mine.


This blog post is part of the blog challenge ‘Blogaberry Dazzle’ hosted by Cindy D’Silva and Noor Anand Chawla in collaboration with Make a Wish Box.



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47 thoughts on “Sarnath Travel Guide – Ultimate Travel Itinerary of Sarnath

  1. Sarnath is high up on my wishlist. I’ve been wanting to go on a Buddhist trail since quite some time. Good that I came across your blog. It would indeed be a good idea to visit Sarnath during my Varanasi trip. I may not be much interested in the modern Buddhist temples modeled after Thai or Chinese styles, but concentrate entirely on Sarnath complex. Dhamekh Stupa is quite majestic. I’m sure I’ll feel goosebumps when I get to see the original Ashokan Pillar. Btw, are there any deers in the deer park now?

  2. I’m curious to learn more about this sort of location. The history of Sarnath is really fascinating. It’s great to know there are so many excellent places to explore in this area. The ancient building of the Dhamekh Stupa is quite beautiful! I can’t wait to begin my exploration of this lovely location.

  3. I have been to Sarnath once and I agree that it has so many things to offer. I loved the museum there. Hopefully I can go back again soon.

  4. I am very interested in Buddhism and visiting the historical sites connected with Lord Buddha is one of my dreams. The huge Dhamekh Stupa looks quite impressive to me. But I think it takes a good guidebook to imagine how Sarnat looked like before. Judging from your pictures, there is not so much left. It has been more than ten years ago that I visited India. Back then we travelled mostly in the south, so a visit to the north should be great.

  5. It was interesting to read about the Sarnath and its connection with Anuradhapura, in Sri Lanka. I have visited the latter and I remember the Bodhi tree there. Also, that was where I have seen stupas for the first time. I have visited Varanasi before but I haven’t made it to Sarnath as well. Next time, hopefully. It’s so interesting to see how different the stupas are from each other.

  6. I love that you always provide some great information about the history of places you visit. It was good to understand why Sarnath is both a sacred destination for many peoples. As a Civil Engineer I am always fascinated with architecture and construction and to see structures built in the past. Even if much of this site is in ruins. The golden statue of Lord Buddha seems like such an amazing contrast.

  7. I realized I only know a tiny bit of the history of Buddha after reading this post. With 3000 monks residing there at one time, it’s no wonder they built a lot of monasteries. I’ve seen Buddhist stupas at Borobudur only. The one in Sarnath is totally different.

  8. Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh is one of the significant historical sites connected to the roots of Buddhism. The trip from Varanasi to Sarnath looks like a perfect pilgimage. The place holds importance on how Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon on Dharmachakra-Pravartana after attaining enlightenment from Bodh Gaya. And also interesting facts related to the Bodhi tree and how one of its branches was taken from Sarnath by Emperor Ashoka’s daughtar Sanghamitra and planted in Anuradhapura in Srilanka. The Dhamek stupa, the Vishwa Shanti Stupa, , the Bodhi tree and The Sarnath museum is something I would love to visit. It reminds me of Sanchi stupa in Madhya Pradesh another significant site of Buddhism with an enormous stupa and relics from Buddhism.

  9. I am not really familiar with Sarnath but I am happy to know that there are many places to see and visit. Thank you for sharing a bit of its history. It made me appreciate the place more. It would be nice to see all those infrastructures up close.

  10. Wow, what an interesting history this place has. I’m glad that they started to restoration work and made sure to save everything after it was abandoned. It looks like there is a lot to see even today. I love the legend behind the Bodhi Tree. I feel like there is always story to everything and knowing them just gives more depth to our visits.

  11. I would like to go again. But for at least three days now. I want to explore slowly and go to all the monasteries from other countries as well.

  12. I know this place as reading and learning from a family since my childhood. It is one of the place in my wish list. We worship Buddha and so would like to see other Buddha’s temples too as you mention. Thank you for details. It is really helpful for me to plan our trip.

  13. As always, this a very detailed post with all the information one would need. Thank you for sharing the history as well. Filed this for when I get a chance to visit.

  14. Always into historical concepts and places since my childhood. Sarnath, is such a place, which is so well framed inside my mind form the cool time, that I want to read more of these. coming next, the places you told to visit or gave a recommendation of will be every much fruitful as there ae too many places which we don’t know either or lack the urge to visit.

  15. I have been to Sanchi but have never had a chance to visit Sarnath. I didn’t know that it has temples of other nations too. It will be interesting to seethe different ways Buddhism is practiced. Thank you for sharing such a detailed post.

  16. Loved your detailed post. Never get a chance to visit Sarnath. I will plan a trip with my kids to show this beautiful place.

  17. Thank you for the picturesque and well-informed post about Sarnath. Honestly, I had no idea about this place or its significance, and your post now wants me to explore this newfound destination. Thanks.

  18. I loved the way you shared the history details of each place makes it more easy for the person to decide if its worth to visit or not. The details and pictures add more clarity. Liked the post

  19. Wow…what a detailed travel blog have been to Sarnath with school excursion years ago.your blog tempts me to revisit.

  20. I LOVED the table of contents you’ve created at the beginning of your post. Just splendid! Varanasi is on our list of places to visit, and your blog post shall be bookmarked for reference 🙂

  21. This is such a detailed itinerary, my parents and sister are visiting Varanasi, Sarnath and nearby places in the next months and I am sure this blog will be so useful to them.

  22. I love that you always provide excellent information about the history of places you visit. I have been to Sarnath once, and I agree that it has so many things to offer. Hopefully, I will stay with my kids soon. Thank you for this well-informed, detailed post.

  23. Never read such a great post about Buddhist pilgrimages and historical places in such details thank you for writing about the bodhi tree and you have covered everything for planning trip to Sarnath. Accommodation and everything clearly.

  24. It’s my first time hearing about this place and you surely made a comprehensive itinerary on how and where are the places to focus on. Your article surely doesn’t give justice on how great this place is to visit in person. Appreciate you sharing with us your adventures! Hopefully I’ll be able to visit this too!

  25. 🤩 wow – you have assembled a detailed write up, with an index, a video, pictures and tips. I have book marked it to reference it, when an opportunity arises… Would love to visit someday.

  26. Thanks for sharing so much about the historical importance of Sarnath. We have so many hidden gems in our country waiting to be explored.

  27. Anyone who visits Varanasi has to visit Sarnath! My dad had been to Varanasi recently and even had visited Sarnath. Your pictures look amazing and your guide to the the place is prefect for a traveler like me.

  28. Like most people from Bengal, i have visited Sarnath. But never have I found such a comprehensive list of attractions here! Thanks, marking this post for my next trip.

  29. Sarnath is such a tranquil place.It seems to still resonate with the echoes of Buddha delivering his first sermon. We had visited Sarnath some years back and loved the experience. Sandy N Vyjay

  30. Sarnath looks so calm & peaceful indeed. Great UP tourism is promoting such places through bloggers like you.

  31. All these beautiful informations about different stupas and all are really beautiful. The itinerary of how to reach there is really accurate. And it looks really good. Your click looks really good.

  32. What a beautiful way to experience the world! I just read in detail a possible trip rout to Varanasi. Amazing!

  33. Great post! If I ever make my way to Sarnath I know this post is the one I should read before I plan my trip. Thanks for sharing.

  34. Sarnath is one of the four most important Buddhist pilgrimage destinations in the world. I would love to visit here too!

  35. Thank you so much for you informative guide. It looks like a a great place to visit. PS – I love your blue skirt with the colourful patterns on.

  36. Sarnath seems like such a wonderful place to visit and experience. I would love to check this place out one day soon.

  37. Sarnath is not a place I’ve heard of before, but it sounds like such an interesting and beautiful place. Thanks for the introduction to the. area x

  38. I ma loving this post and so would love to visit this area myself. Such history which is something that I absolutely love so this is perfection for me. Bookmarking to come back to this one so thank you!

  39. I haven’t yet been to Sarnath but seems like I must go after reading this wonderfully detailed post of yours!

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