Shortly after the one-year anniversary of his escape from Tibet, His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, embarked on his first pilgrimage in the land where Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment and first planted the seeds of dharma. The Karmapa's month-long pilgrimage to some of the sacred Buddhist sites in India took place as Tibetans throughout Tibet and the diaspora celebrated Losar, the Tibetan New Year, in 2001.
His Holiness began his pilgrimage by traveling from his temporary home at Gyuto Ramoche Temple near Dharamsala to the Indian capital city of Delhi. Arriving there on February 21, he was enthusiastically greeted by members of the Tibetan refugee community as well as prominent members of the Indian Parliament and the Chief Minister of Sikkim, P.K. Chamling.
After spending two days in Delhi, His Holiness proceeded to Sarnath (at Varanasi), where Shakyamuni Buddha first turned the wheel of dharma. While in Sarnath, the Karmapa stayed at Vajra Vidya Institute, a monastery and shedra (institute for higher religious studies) opened in 1999 by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, one of the Karma Kagyu lineage's most esteemed scholars and His Holiness Karmapa's senior tutor.
At Vajra Vidya, the Karmapa performed a Mahakala puja preceding Losar and participated in other religious activities and celebrations on the first days of the New Year. On February 25, His Holiness bestowed a long-life empowerment and offered a public audience to 1500 devotees.
During the following week, His Holiness conducted a consecration ceremony for the Varjra Vidya Institute and visited other sites around Varanasi, including the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies and Koshambi.
On Sunday, March 4, he conducted a long-life ceremony for Thrangu Rinpoche, and planted a tree in the Vajra Vidya Institute courtyard. Later that day, His Holiness visited the Ganges, where he conducted a short purification ceremony and placed flower garlands on the sacred river.
The Karmapa traveled on March 5 to Bodhgaya, the place of the Buddha's enlightenment, where he was greeted by one hundred monks from his seat-in-exile at Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, and by over one hundred monks from other Kagyu monasteries in India and Nepal. Upon his arrival he gave a short public audience, and visited the Mahabodhi Temple, where he offered prayers.
On March 7 His Holiness travelled to the place near the River Phalgu (known in the Buddha's time as the Nairanjana River) where Shakyamuni Buddha spent six years preceding his enlightenment in austere yogic meditation practice, and also visited the cave of the Indian mahasiddha Shawaripa. The next day, His Holiness made a trip to the extensive ruins of Nalanda, the great Buddhist monastic university of ancient India, and visited Vulture's Peak, a small mountain just outside the city of Rajgir and the site of the Buddha's second turning of the wheel of dharma, which included the Prajnaparamita sutras. On March 11, His Holiness bestowed the long-life empowerment of Amitayus in a public ceremony at Namgyal Monastery.
On March 13 His Holiness returned to Delhi, where he visited many temples and places of interest, such as the Gandhi National Museum and the Bahai Temple. He conducted a prayer ceremony for all religions, and was the guest-of-honor at a reception hosted by the Joint Action Committee of the All-Sikkim Buddhist Association. On March 17, the Karmapa's last full day in Delhi, he concluded his month-long pilgrimage by bestowing a long-life empowerment at a public ceremony in Buddha Jayanti Park.
Upon returning to Dharamsala His Holiness spent a day attending His Holiness the Dalai Lama's annual monlam teachings on Tsongkhapa's Lamrim Chenmo (Stages of the Path to Enlightenment).
On March 25, His Holiness embarked on a five-day pilgrimage to Tso Pema (Lotus Lake), the site where King Arshadhara tried to have Guru Rinpoche burned to death, only to have the flames turn into a lake with Guru Rinpoche at its center on a lotus. The lake is southeast of Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh.
Thousands of people attended a Karma Pakshi empowerment offered by His Holiness outdoors at Tso Pema on March 27. During his stay there, he visited Drikung Kagyu, Drukpa Kagyu, and Nyingma monasteries and two Hindu temples around the lake, and spent a day visiting a nearby practice cave of Guru Rinpoche.
So concluded the first extended period of travel for His Holiness in India.