Everyone has their own method of madness. You might have travelled through India by following the Dravidian-styled temples of the Cholas or the Pallavas. Or maybe you followed the trail of the most picturesque cricket stadiums built across the nation. Why not travel the lesser-known areas of India such as Rajgir, Vaishali, and Wargha following the seven peace pagodas?
Peace Pagodas, known as Shanti Stupas, are Buddhist monuments built to inspire peace. A place for individuals of every race and background, the stupas were ideated under the guidance of Japanese monk Nichidatsu Fujii who was heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi's commitment to non-violence.
Built around the world especially in war devastated cities like Hiroshima, Munich and Nagasaki, the pagodas symbolise unity and togetherness. A lot of these great structures were built by locals with the help of other monks and nuns from the Nipponzan-Myohoji Buddhist Order, founded by Fujiii.
Darjeeling, West Bengal
A popular tourist and dream destination, Darjeeling is noted for its tea industry and the riveting Kangchenjunga mountains. Witnessing an exemplary diverse mix of cultures with the hill station's history intertwined with that of Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and British India, it is also home to the first of India's seven peace pagodas. The Darjeeling Vishwa Shanti Stupa was built under the guidance of Nichidatsu Fujii, who was good friends with the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. On your visit, explore the lush green fauna of the city while remembering to hop on to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
Situated in the Buddhist heartlands of Bihar, Rajgir was the first capital of the kingdom of Magadha, an empire which would lay the foundation for the legendary Mauryans to follow. Believed to be one of Gautama Buddha and Lord Mahavira's favorite spots, it is home to one of the seven peace pagodas spread across the length of India. The Rajgir Vishwa Shanti Stupa is built atop the Rajgir Hills and is said to be place where the Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra. Near the stupa is the Nipponzan Myohoji temple, which is also worth a visit. This prominent Buddhist and Jain location is about 110 km from the state capital of Patna. Other places to visit nearby would include Bimbisar's jail, the Hill of Vultures, and the Venu Vana, an artifical forest where one can meditate.
Now an archaeological location, Vaishali was once the capital of the Mithila region. A 3-hour drive from Rajgir, this Bihari city contains one of the best preserved Pillars of Ashoka monuments. An important location where the Second Buddhist Council convened, the ancient city houses the third of the peace pagodas in the country. Completed in 1996, a small part of the ancient Buddhist relics have been enshrined in the stupa. At the time when Buddha roamed the lands, Vaishali was a prosperous city and one that he visited on a regular basis. He also gave his last sermon at this sacred location.
Dhauli Giri, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha
The fourth peace pagoda in India was built during a two-year period with the guidance of Nichidatsu Fujii and the help of his monks. Dhauli hills, which is on the banks of the river Daya, is a momentous spot in the history of India. The area marks the location where the Kalinga War fought and which ultimately led to Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism. The Daya river is said to have turned a bloody red colour enabling the King to realise the horrors of war. On the climb leading up to the peak of the hill lie rocks with the Edicts of Ashoka carved on them.
Situated at a hilltop in Changspa village from where one can see the landscape of the Ladhakhi city of Leh and its surrounding mountains, the Shanti Stupa was built by the locals of the region. Holding the relics of the Buddha at its base, it was enshrined and inaugurated by the current Dalai Lama. Once you have paid a visit to this pagoda, you can always go and explore the natural wonders of this mountainous location. The Pangong Tso Lake is a much talked about destination, while the Indus valley near Leh also attracts major eyeballs. On a full moon night, I recommend a side trip to the Nubra Valley which is illuminated on this pivotal occasion.
One of the newer peace pagodas of the world, the Delhi Vishwa Shanti Stupa is just over a decade old. Placed near Humayun's Tomb, a traditional Japanese garden has been constructed around it. While the National Capital does house the sixth peace pagoda in the country, the bustling metropolitan has many other sites of must visits. Ranging from monuments such as the Red Fort and the India Gate to the Jama Masjid and the Akshardham Temple, it is a real challenge to explore the corners of this magnificent city.
An important centre for cotton trading and a crucial part of the Gandhian Era, this Maharashtrian town is where the final of the seven pagodas is located. Statues of the Buddha are mounted on top of the stupa facing the four directions. Named after the Wardhan river which flows through the district, the town served as a major hub of the Indian Independence movement. The Indian National Congress held its annual meeting here. An ashram of Gandhi is constructed here as well.