SURROUNDED by five holy hills, the picturesque little town of Rajgir is important for Buddhists as well as Gains . Both the Buddha and Mahavira, founder of Jainism, spent many months meditating and preaching here. The hills around are dotted with Jain temples, the ruins of monasteries and meditation caves. Dominating Rajgir is the large new Japanese-built marble and sandstone Vishwa Shand Stupa on Ratnagiri Hill, with its four gilded statues of the Buddha. Visitors can go up to the stupa by chairlift. From here, a path leads to the adjoining Griddhalcuta Hill (“Vulture’s'Peak”), a site much venerated by Buddhists. Two rock-cut caves here were a favourite retreat of the Buddha, and it was on this hill that he preached two of his most famous sermons. The incident of the Buddha subduing a wild elephant, a scene often depicted in Buddhist art, also took place in Rajgir.

To the west of Griddhakuta Hill is Valbhava Hill, at the foot of which are hot sulphur springs, crowded with people seeking a medicinal clip. On top of the hill are the seven Saptaparni Caves where the First Buddhist Council met soon after the Buddha’s death to record his teachings. Below them on the hill is the Pippala Watchtower, a curious rock and stone structure, with cells for guards that were later used by monks. It dates to the 5th century BC, when Rajgir was the capital of the Magadha Empire¬† ruled by King Bimbisara who became a devotee of the Buddha. The remains of the great clrystone cyclopean wall he built can still he seen on Rajgir’s hills.

ENVIRONS: Pawapuri, 38 km (24 miles) east of Rajgir, is sacred to Jains as the place where the founder of their faith, Mahavira, died in 500 BC. A lotus-filled tank, with the marble Jalmandir Temple in the middle of it, marks the site of his cremation.

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