Bihar has remained an underrated tourist destination in India. It is ironic that Bihar was once the seat of one of the most prosperous ancient Indian kingdoms and today it suffers listlessness when it comes to heritage tourism in India. We agree, we may have a good amount of foreign tourists swarming Bihar but said unsaid they have all restricted themselves to fewer destinations in this historically affluent state. If we see, the history of Bihar is believed to have roots back to the breaking dawn of civilizations in India and then the state prospered as the seat of majestic empires like Magadh. It is also the state that gave two important religions – Buddhism and Jainism to the world. Bihar in course of years developed to a rich historic site with diverse culture and tradition. Today, what we witness is the flavoursome extracts of the legacy of different empires. And if we make ourselves a little more adjustable and open to travelling, we may be able to explore an important gem from the Indian treasure chest.
Here is Bihar from the eye of an avid traveller and for the sake of convenience the list has been split into three sections, so that you do not leave any stone unturned. Without any further ado, let us begin our journey into the historic land of Bihar:
Amongst the most famous places in Bihar is Gaya, which is a Hindu pilgrimage hub and a transit point for Buddhist pilgrimage centre of Bodhgaya. It is believed that it was here under the tree that Buddha attained enlightenment. Gaya is a busy city situated on the bank of River Phalgu and it is replete with many temples and historic sites dating back to different eras that stand as the evidence to the successful rule of Maurya and Gupta dynasty here. The glory of Gaya was extended so much so that even Hiuen Tsang could not resist mentioning it in his travelogues.
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How to Reach: Gaya is well-connected by air, rail and road from major cities of India. The best way would be to take a flight or a train.
Probably the oldest university in India, Nalanda is an important site to visit in Bihar. A perfect reminisce to the time of flourishing Gupta and Pala period, Nalanda is an acclaimed tourist attraction in Bihar. It is believed that the last and most famous Jain Tirthankara, Mahavira spent 14 monsoon seasons here. Even, Buddha is said to have delivered lectures near the mango grove in Nalanda. The fame of this education centre was to an extent that Hieun Tsang, the famous Chinese traveller visited here and stayed for atleast two years here. Even, I-tsing another famous Chinese voyager stayed at Nalanda for about 10 years, AND such was the glory of this place. Today most parts of Nalanda lie in ruins but the place is surely worth exploring!
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How to Reach: The best way to reach here would be to board a flight/train to Gaya (95kms from Nalanda) and then book a cab/taxi.
Temple at Munger, Photo: bit.ly/1hj7sDj
Dubbed as the seat of Bihar School of Yoga, Munger is yet another place that is popular amongst the tourists in Bihar. The history of Munger dates back to Aryans, who called Munger the ‘Midland’ for their settlement. For yoga buffs, Munger is not an unknown name, thus we can expect a large foreign crowd thronging this place. The present day Munger is a twin city, which comprises of Munger and Jamalpur. Reckoned to be one of the oldest cities of Bihar, Munger was once the capital of Mir Kasim before it fell into the hands of British. The place has several historic relics that further add to the charm here.
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How to Reach: Rail is an ideal way to reach Munger. The nearest railhead would be Jamalpur, which is at a short distance of about 9kms from Munger.
Ashoka Lion Pillar & Stuba – Vaishali, Photo: Swaminathan M
Vaishali is an important archaeological site that was once the capital city of Licchavi rulers. Vaishali earned fame as a birthplace of last Jain Tirthankar Lord Mahavira. It is believed that Mahavira was born and brought up in 6th century BCE in Kundalagram of Republic of Vaishali. Another major event this place was a witness to was the last sermon of Buddha in 483 BCE. Vaishali was a prosperous kingdom during the time of Buddha, it is also known for its beautiful courtesan Amrapali. So, you see, one has enough to recall in Vaishali and adding to its historic charm is the well-preserved Ashokan Pillar. This ancient city finds mention in the travel accounts of eminent Chinese travellers like Fa-hien and Hieun Tsang.
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How to Reach: The nearest airport to Vaishali is at Patna (70kms) and the nearest railhead is at Muzaffarpur (36kms). So, one has the choice between flight and train, most suitable can be taken followed by booking a cab till Vaishali.
Buddha Memorial Park, Photo: Chris
Situated on the southern bank of Ganga, Patna is the largest city of Bihar. Better known as Patliputra in ancient India, the city is also believed to be the one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Patna is a pilgrimage for Sikh devotees as it is reckoned to be the birthplace of last Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. The city flourished in the period of Haryanka, Nanda, Mauryan, Shunga, Gupta and Pala earned fame all across India. Today’s Patna is a developing city, which is endeavouring to match up to the modernization; malls, high-end hotels and theatres have cropped in the city. However, Patna has to speed up a bit to become the part of other cosmopolitans. Altogether, Patna is a decent destination, with most of the modern facilities available.
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How to Reach: Patna is well-connected by rail, road and air, thus it is easy to commute to this place from all across the country
Lying in ruins, Navlakha Palace is situated in Rajnagar near Madhubani in Bihar. This palace was built by Maharaja Rameshwar Singh and said to have suffered extensive destruction during an earthquake in 1934. No renovation was done after the destruction, thus this palace remains in ruins now. It is a royal palace and even though it has been damaged so much, one can still marvel at its architectural brilliance. The palace complex comprised of gardens, pond and temples.
Hieun Tsang Memorial Hall, Photo: Shubh Singh
Obvious as it seems, this hall is built in the memory of famed Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang. It is believed that Hieun Tsang visited Nalanda in 5th century AD and was so impressed by this place that he decided to stay here for 12 long years for learning as well as teaching. This memorial hall is the reflection of the artistic and academic grandeur of Nalanda University.
Photo: Smeet Sinha
An important Jain pilgrimage, Jalmandir is situated in Pawapuri, Bihar. Jalmandir has been revered highly by Jain devotees as it is believed that it is the place where Lord Mahavira breathed his last in 500 BCE. It is reckoned to be the cremation ground for this last Tirthankara of Jain sect. The legend has it that, the demand of Lord Mahavira’s ashes was so high that a large amount of soil had to be eroded from around the funeral pyre that a pond was created here. A white marble temple was constructed and it has remained an important Jain pilgrimage in Bihar.
Vultures or Griddhakuta Peak, Photo: Lena Milosevic
Also known as Vulture Peak, Griddhakuta Peak is situated in Rajgir, Bihar. This peak is the most famous place to visit in Rajgir and its sits at an elevation of 400m. It is called a Vulture Peak due to its shape and frequent visit of vultures. The place hold an important position in history as it is reckoned to be the spot where Lord Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra in order to convert Mauryan King Bimbisara. It is also believed that Buddha started the second wheel of law and delivered several sermons here. The peak has a Peace Pagoda said to have been built by Buddhist of Japan. There are couples of caves here as well that further enhances the thrill of reaching here by a chairlift.
Photo: Saurabh Sharan
Better known as the World Peace Pagoda, Vishwa Shanti Stupa proudly stand at the historic city of Rajgir. It is one of the 7 Peace Pagodas built in India and is certainly a must visit in Bihar. The pagoda was built in 1969 to spread the message of peace and non-violence. Marked by four statues of Buddha that reflects four important phases of Buddha’s life – birth, enlightenment, teaching and death, this Peace Pagoda is amongst the finest examples of Japanese architecture in India.
Built in 1545 AD in the memory of Emperor Sher Shah Suri, this tomb is an excellent example of Indo-Islamic architecture in India. Architecturally splendid and erected at the middle of an artificial lake, this sandstone structure is worth a visit in Bihar.
Photo: Rakesh Ranjan
Reckoned to be one of the two important Buddhist learning centres in Bihar, Vikramshila was established by King Dharampala. It is believed that the king was displeased with the depleting quality of Nalanda, thus he decided to establish another better institute for learning. Vikramshila now lies in ruins but renovation work has begun now. During the excavation, Buddhist monasteries, stupas and several wall carvings have been unveiled here.
Estimated to have been built 100 years ago, Janki temple is situated in Sitamarhi, Bihar. Sitamarhi is regarded as the birthplace of Sita, the consort of Lord Rama. It is believed that Janki Temple is the place, where Sita was born and in order to mark this event, a temple was constructed here. The temple has a welcoming gateway and large courtyard that can accommodate a massive number of devotees. Also a pond nearby called the Janki Kund is a place of interest for devotees as well as tourists.
Kanwar Lake is India’s largest freshwater Oxbow lake. Situated in Begusarai, Kanwar Lake Bird Sanctuary is reckoned to be the haven for 60 species of migratory birds. Unfortunately, this place is losing its importance due negligence, in a Wetland Governance in South Asia, held in Delhi in 2014, the condition of this wetland ecosystem was discussed. We hope that some careful steps are taken for this bird sanctuary that has been a home to many birds both domestic and migratory.
Reckoned to be the tallest and largest Buddha Stupa in India, Kesaria Stupa is one of the major attractions of Bihar tourism. The stupa is believed to have been built between 200 and 750 AD under the rule of Raja Chakravarti. With a height of 104 feet, it is an imposing structure that must be visited during a visit to Bihar.
Barabar Caves claim to be the oldest rock-cut caves in India. Dating back to Mauryan Empire, these majestic caves are certainly one of the best places to see in Bihar. Situated on twin hills – Barabar and Nagarjuni, the caves are said to be used by Ajivika sect, however, many traces of Buddhist and Jain art can be found here. Barabar Hills consists of 4 caves, whereas Nagarjuni Hills have 3 caves, each of the cave are well-polished and have articulate designs and inscriptions over its walls and ceilings.
Photo: Pallab Seth
Thai Monastery is another incredible gem from the treasure chest of Bihar. Established in 1957 with the help of Thailand’s government and Indian Buddhist monks, this temple is a must-see in Bodhgaya. Made in typical architecture style of Thailand, this temple reflects the culture and traditions of Thailand.
Constructed in 1054 AD by King Rudra Deo, Buxar Fort is a reminiscent of the glorious past of Bihar. The fort is known for its architectural brilliance and the carvings on the wall. Tourists have the chance to witness a whole treasure trove of artifacts here.
Local Sweets Shop, Sonepur Mela, Photo: Flickr
Sonepur Fair has become quite famous amongst the wandering souls, who constantly are in search of something new to explore. The festival is held in the month of November and animal trade is the highlight of this event. Also known as Harihar Kshetra Mela, this fair is reckoned to be the biggest cattle fair in the world. The fair has its origin from the time of Chandragupta Maurya. Marked by several intriguing sites, this fair is an absolute delight for the travellers willing to explore the culture in India.
Photo: Subrato Mitra
When in Patna, you must take time out to visit Choti Dargah, the mausoleum of the venerable sufi saint Makhdum Shah Daulat. The mausoleum is rich is architecture and is adorned with intricate carvings on the walls and the inscriptions from the Quaran on the roof. Truly a place to relish, Choti Dargah is absolutely a must-visit in Patna.
The Dargah of Hazrat Bibi is believed to have mystic powers of healing. If devotees are to be believed, many come to find healing from incurable diseases and mental problems and no one has returned empty handed from here. The dome of the mausoleum is covered with the holy inscriptions from Quaran and there is a black stone that also has some inscription in Arabic. This stone is said to have the healing power. Whether you have faith or not, the mysteries of this place are truly worth exploring and that is why it is one of the must do things in Bihar.
This eminent centre of Bihar School of Yoga has been an object of fascination for many around the world. Just like Rishikesh, Munger also have a high fan following from international tourists. There are many Ashrams here that provide accommodation as well as training to those seeking to learn Yoga. The place guarantees to change your perspective towards life and an 180 degree turn from previous lifestyle.
The most important aspect of exploring a different state or country is the opportunity to try an entirely different cuisine. Bihar is a land of physical strong people, who are often seen working in their field or taking up jobs of masonry or carpentry that require a lot of physical strength. Thus, the cuisine of Bihar is fixed in a way to offer immense strength and energy to the people while it also maintains a decent taste for the food lovers. Some of the best items from the platter of Bihar can be Litti Chokha, Dal Pitha, Kheer Makhana, Thekhua/Khajuria, Dal puri, Parwal Ki Mithai, Chana Ghugni and Khaja.
Photo: Rajesh Sarkar
Chhath is the festival of festivals in Bihar. Celebrated with much pomp and show, Chhath is the time to witness a different side of Bihar. This 6 days festival, in which Sun God is worshipped is the most important part of the Bihar’s culture. Although, during the festival season, Bihar becomes almost inaccessible with people from all over the world coming to witness this festivity, you can still try to book your tickets to see a very happy and prosperous Bihar.
Love Birds Painting- Madhubani, Photo: Sushma Sabnis
Also known as Mithila Painting, Madhubani is an important part of Bihar’s culture. This age old art is done by the use of fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens, and matchsticks, using natural dyes and pigments, and is characterized by eye-catching geometrical patterns. These paintings are mostly made by the women of Bihar and thus it holds great importance. If you happen to be in Bihar, make sure to shop for some of these paintings to add colour to your living rooms.
Bihar is indeed a land of art and it can be in any form. The vast industry of handloom and handicraft in Bihar is certainly worth praising. Producing cotton materials, fine silk, sand gamchas, fine tussar, mulberry and matka silk, Bihar has some rich collection that is absolutely worth buying. Not to forget, Bihar also has Bhagalpur, which is known best as Silk City of India. So, put aside a small amount for shopping, you never know you might just find something priceless in Bihar.
Tribes of Bihar can rightly be called the Souls of Bihar. To witness the tribal culture in Bihar can be quite exhilarating and if done with proper planning, one might end up with some valuables. Bihar is a home to several tribes like Bathudi, Binjhia, Birjia and Chik Baraik, each of these tribes has their specific rituals, dances, festivals and music, which certainly can be intriguing to witness. Taking a tribal tour in Bihar can open your eyes in so many ways and can give you a whole new perspective about life. Therefore, it is one of the best things to do in Bihar.
Bihar is a land of rich culture and all of us have to agree to this. So far we have spoken about the handloom, cuisine, history and architecture of Bihar and in order to complete this list of things to do in Bihar, a dance performance needs to be added. Chhau is a genre of dance that can be seen Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand along with Bihar. The dance is mainly performed during festivals and the use of masks is done, Chhau demands a lot of physical strength as the dance moves are difficult and requires lot of flipping and jumping. A full-fledged entertaining performance, Chhau dance is a must-see in Bihar.
If your budget allows you, you must take a ride in Mahaparinirvan Express. It is a special train that takes people for a spiritual tour (Buddhist places) in North India. The train is named after the sacred journey of Buddha to various places in India to preach. The destinations include some of the best Buddhist places in Bihar like Rajgir, Gaya and Nalanda. The journey can be on the higher side as far as cost is considered, but it is truly worth taking!
Reckoned to be the birthplace of Sita, the consort of Lord Rama, Sitamarhi is an important destination in Bihar. Sitamarhi is both a pilgrimage and a historic site thus it can be an interesting place to see in Bihar. The city has a 100 years old temple called Janaki Temple that is believed to be a place where Sita was born. Along with it, there exists a rock-cut sanctuary of the Mauryan period that is also a must-see here. Sitamarhi can be a delight for Hindu devotees yet the historic buffs will enjoy the place more!
Bihar is truly an awe-inspiring land which is under the weather rightnow, but our endeavours can make this historically rich destination attain a new high. And for this all we have to do is to promote this state and keep ourselves open to all aspects of travelling.