In the mid-19th century the British colonial Government started archaeological surveys of their new territories in India, and it soon became clear that, although virtually forgotten at the time, India had previously been Buddhist for over a thousand years.
When the archaeologists were trying to fit together a coherent picture of the past the detailed accounts kept by Chinese scholars of their pilgrimages in India were invaluable, and many of the sites we now identify as being Buddhist were first rediscovered because of them.
Some of the main journeys were made by three Chinese Buddhist monks in the early 5th and in the 6th centuries. The earliest recorded journey being by Faxian, who was followed a long time later by Xuanzang, and then shortly after his trip by Yijing.
Each in their turn were very concerned in describing the details, even the minutiae of life in India at the time, the places they visited, and the monks and others they met, and the texts they studied and brought back with them to China.
About seven or eight years ago I started making maps of various journeys the Buddha himself had undertaken, as, when translating, I couldn’t picture clearly in my mind where he was, it was just one place or another, with no clear positioning.
These went on to form the basis of the maps section of my Ancient Buddhist Texts website. Later, while studying some of the Asokan materials, I also added maps from that time; and for giving general talks on the development of Buddhism and its culture I made some more.
I have now made three maps following in outline the journeys made by these three great Chinese monks as they travelled through Central Asia, India and S.E. Asia, and they are now published. I have also added in some paragraphs giving biographical information and links to their main works in translation.
The most astonishing thing is how much effort these monks had to put forth to get the Dharma, often risking their very lives in their quest for the true teachings. Let their example by an inspiration to us all.
I have to thank Ven. S. Dhammika for his help in answering various questions, and correcting a number of the details on these maps, which makes them that much more useful.