Bodh Gaya is the single most sacred site of Buddhism. It was in the forest here that Prince Siddharta sat under a tree and achieved enlightenment two and a half millennia ago. From here, he went out as the Buddha to teach his Eightfold Path to the masses. The tree was soon enshrined within a stone fence, and the marking of this holy spot later grew to include a stupa, which was overbuilt by larger and larger stupas, a temple, and other markers (such as stone lotuses) noting just about everyplace the Enlightened One had so much as placed his foot during the period of his epiphany. The famous tree is now called the Bodhi tree (Bodhi is Pali for enlightenment; it's also called a pipal tree, or Ficus religiosa), and the village around it is known as Bodh Gaya.
The bounteous, sheltering Bodhi tree that stands here today is said to be the 3rd generation descendant of the very tree under which the Buddha sat. A cutting of the original tree was sent to Sri Lanka by Ashoka's daughter, where it flourished. A few hundred years ago when the original died, a cutting was brought back from Sri Lanka. The area around the tree and its associated Mahabodhi temple is serene; monks and lay Buddhists come here from all over the world to meditate.
Inside the temple, the wealthy international Buddhist trust that cares for the site has taken great pains to "modernize" the setting. What is actually a dank, cave-like temple cut from black granite, has been painted over in bright colors with thick layers of high gloss paint. Padded linoleum covers the floor, with a small patch cut out for offerings. A chandelier lights the interior and spotlights focus on the Buddha's statue inside a clear glass enclosure. The ancient statue, carved from the same black stone as the temple, is now immaculately coated with gold. They have even installed air conditioning, so one can feel the blessings of the Buddha immediately upon entering his timeless presence. There is nothing left of the look, feel, or ambiance to suggest that this is an ancient Indian site, as opposed to any ordinary modern temple. This is not entirely a bad thing in a living temple; modern pilgrims can be very comfortable here. But as an archaeological treasure, it has been defaced.