I went on a pilgrimage organized by the BSWA with Ajahn Brahmali as our spiritual leader. Here is a link to a talk which he gave after on his pilgrimages.
One purpose of a Buddhist pilgrimage is to give us an experience of the life of the Buddha so we can "Recollect" the Buddha. This is one of the 40 meditation topics suggested by the Buddha. The second purpose of a pilgrimage is for inspiration. Our meditation practice can bring us a lot of joy. But there are also dry spots. Inspiration is invaluable at these times to keep us going.
The Buddha said we should visit his birth place, Lumbini, the place of his Awakening, Uruvela (Bodhgaya), the place where he first taught, The Deer Park in Isipatana and the place of his complete release from suffering, Kusinara.
Under the Bodhi Tree where the Buddha was Awakened, Urevela (Bodhgaya)
Where the Buddha realized Paranibbhana (the death of his physical body), Kushinara
My pilgrimage was spiritually led by Ajahn Brahmali of Bodhinyana Monastery near Perth, Australia. It was because he was the leader that I decided to go on this particular pilgrimage. I had been listening to his talks on the internet for years. He just oozed compassion. I wasn't let down when I met him in person. Experiencing this quality in another is also a source of inspiration to develop it more in oneself.
The organization of the pilgrimage was wonderful. Each evening, we would gather and Ajahn Brahmali would read and discuss a sutta (a teaching given by the Buddha). He chose a sutta that the Buddha had delivered at the very site we were to visit the next day. Once on the site, we could recall those words. It felt as though I was present as the Buddha was teaching. Very inspiring!
The entire pilgrimage was wonderful. But 3 sites stood out.
First was Vulture's Peak, so named as the top of the hill looks like a large raptor. It was here, just outside of Rajagaha, that the Buddha spent much time in solitude, meditating in a stick hut. We hiked up before dawn and meditated as the sun slowly started a new day. The emotional feelings were tremendous, sitting where the Buddha had sat. Recalling this inspired my practice back home.
The second special site was the Deer Park in Isipatana (now called Sarnath). This is where the Buddha gave his first teachings to his 5 spiritual companions. After the second teaching, all became enlightened. As I sat on a bench in the Park, I felt I could hear the Buddha speaking his words to me; inspiring me.
The final special site was the museum in New Delhi. Some coin sized bone fragments, sifted from his cremation ashes, had been discovered and relocated here. My nose pressed against the glass case, inches from The Buddha's bones, I wept. It was so emotional, being so close to the actual body of the Buddha. It made him so real. I had never doubted his reality, but this made it so poignant. 2,600 years later I could almost touch the Buddha!