Travel Bucket List: India – Bihar Part 2

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We start with the state’s capital Patna. The capital and largest city of the state, Patna is the 19th largest city in India, covering 250 sq km and with a population of over 2.5 million people, its urban agglomeration is the 18th largest in the country. One of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world, Patna was founded in 490 BC by the Kings of Magadha. Ancient Patna, known as Patliputra or Pataliputra, was the capital of the Magadh Empire through the Haryanka, Nanda, Mauryan, Shunga, Gupta and Pala dynasties. Pataliputra was a seat of learning and fine arts and was home to many astronomers and scholars including Aryabhata, Vātsyāyana and Chanakya. During the Maurya period, around 300 BC, its population was about 400,000. Patna served as the seat of power, political and cultural centre of the Indian subcontinent during the Maurya and Gupta empires, but with the fall of the Gupta empire, Patna lost its glory which was revived again in the 17th century by the British as a centre of international trade. Following the partition of Bengal presidency in 1912, Patna became the capital of the Bihar and Orissa provinces and remained the capital even after the state of Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar. Patna is a pilgrimage for Sikh devotees as it is reckoned to be the birthplace of last Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

The modern city of Patna is mainly situated on the southern bank of the river Ganges and also straddles the rivers Sone, Gandak and Punpun. As of 2015, Patna’s was the 21st fastest growing city in the world and 5th fastest growing city in India according to a study by the City Mayors Foundation. Etymologically, Patna derives its name from the word Pattan, which means port in Sanskrit. It may be indicative of the location of this place on the confluence of four rivers, which functioned as a port. It is also believed that the city derived its name from Patan Devi, the presiding deity of the city, and her temple is one of the shakti peethas. Many also believe Patna derived its name from Patli, a variety of tree that was found in abundance in the historic city and is also seen on the state tourism’s logo. Patna is mentioned in the Chinese traveller Fa Hien’s records as Pa-lin-fou. Patna has been known by various names through more than 2,000 years of existence, from Pataligrama, Pataliputra, Kusumapura, Kusumdhwaja Pushpapuram, Padmavathi, Azimabad to the present-day Patna. Legend ascribes the origin of Patna to the mythological King Putraka who created Patna by magic for his queen Patali, literally the trumpet flower, which gives it its ancient name of Pataligrama. It is said that in honour of the queen’s first-born, the city was named Pataliputra where gram is Sanskrit for a village and Putra means son. Legend also says that the Emerald Buddha was created in Patna when it was Pataliputra by Nagasena in 43 BC.

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Also known as Maa Patneshwari, the Patan Devi Mandir is one of the most sacred and the oldest temple in Patna and is believed from where Patna derived its name. The temple is one of the 51 shakti peethas according to the Hindu mythology and so is highly revered by Hindus. It is believed that the right thigh of Devi Sati fell here when the whole body was cut into 51 pieces by Vishnu’s Sudarshan Chakra.

The Mahavir Mandir is the second largest religious shrine in North India and is one of the leading temples dedicated to the worship of Lord Hanuman. Thousands of devotees from different parts of the country flock here daily to offer prayers to and seek blessings. It is believed that Sankat Mochan Hanuman listens to the prayers of his faithful devotees hence if worshipped with a pure heart no wishes would be left unfulfilled and hence it is also known as Manokamna Temple or the wish-fulfilling temple. The temple is located outside the Patna railway station and is a complex of buildings. The temple attracts huge crowds on festivals like Ramnavami and the temple’s offerings or neivedyam is prepared by experts from the famous Tirupati temple. The temple is open from 5:30 am and 10:30 pm.

The Harmandir Takht Shri Patna Sahib, popularly known as Patna Sahib Gurudwara is one of the holiest pilgrimages for the Sikh community. Located on the banks of holy Ganga, this Gurudwara was built commemorating the tenth Guru of Sikhs, Shri Guru Gobind Singh. Regarded as the epicentre of Sikhism in eastern India, this gurudwara is the second acknowledged and accepted Takht of the five Takhts or seats of the authority of Sikhism. The morning prayer or ardaas happens daily at 5:45 am and the evening prayers at 6 pm. The langar or free food service is offered to all the visitors and they are welcome to volunteer there since it is believed to be an offering to God. The Prakash Parv or the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singhji is celebrated in December every year which is one of the major attractions of this place. The Gurudwara is open daily from 5 am to 9 pm.

One of the oldest mosques in the city, the Begu Hajjam Mosque originally dates back to the 16th century and instead of being named after its creator, Muazzam Nazir Khan, it is named after its renovator Begu Hajjam. The architecture reflects the Gaur style, as it was built under the rule of Alauddin Shah, the ruler of Gaur. There is spirituality within the walls of the mosque and beautiful carvings on them.

The river Ganga flows through Patna and one cannot leave the city without experiencing a boat ride near Gandhi Ghat. A boat ride in the Ganges between October and March could be mesmerising with its serene and captivating surroundings. The Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation has also made available motorboats on weekends and recreation arrangements. The riverbank serves as an ideal place for picnics with friends and family, but it is to be noted that the riverside activities are not that developed as compared to Varanasi and Haridwar.

Gandhi Ghat is one of the most popular ghats on the banks of the river Ganges in the city, the name of the ghat coming from when the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were immersed here. The highlight of the ghat is the mesmerising Ganga Aarti that is attended by thousands of devotees and tourists. The aarti is performed at dusk, with 51 lamps by priests dressed in saffron robes. The aarti was started in 2011 and was inspired by the ones that are performed in Varanasi and Haridwar. In addition to the boating which can be enjoyed at the ghat, it is also famous for the river cruise ship with a restaurant onboard which draws tourists. The kite festival is also a big event and is celebrated with a lot of pomp and show on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, every year.

The Agam Kuan is an archaeological site related to numerous myths and legends over the years with the most popular association with the Mauryan king Ashoka. The well is mentioned as the hell on earth in many accounts, which was probably once a part of Ashoka’s infamous Hell chambers used for torture before embracing Buddhism. People now treat the well with veneration and throw in flowers and coins to get their prayers and wishes heard.

The Shaheed Smarak or Martyr’s Memorial is a bronze statue commemorating the seven brave young men who sacrificed their lives in a protest trying to unfurl the Indian national flag during the Quit India Movement of 1942 outside a British administrative building which is now the Secretariat of Patna. The monument is a remarkable reminder of the cost of freedom, even if their names are not widely known.

The Bihar Museum provides insights into the history of Bihar and is a recent addition. One of the main reasons for establishing the museum was to create more space to house and exhibit artefacts since the century-old Patna museum was running out of space. Since there was little scope to relocate installed artefacts, the decision of keeping the focus on Human History was taken. Therefore, the Bihar Museum is where visitors can find information about the human history of Bihar to a large extent. The displays include ancient artefacts of artistic heritage, artworks belonging to various tribes and insights into the past and present of Bihar. The Bihar Museum is spread over an area of 5.6 hectares with a total built-up area of 24,000 sq m. The architecture has an interesting dispersed-scheme of buildings that include galleries, educational and administrative areas and a lobby. The museum is open from 10:30 am to 5 pm with a half-hour break between 1 and 1:30 pm for lunch. Entry fees are INR 50 for children, INR 100 for adults and INR 500 for foreigners.

The Patna Museum, also locally known as the Jadu Ghar houses more than 50,000 rare art objects, including Indian artefacts from the ancient, middle ages and the British colonial era. Built and opened in 1917, the museum is constructed in the style of the Mughal and Rajput architectures with different galleries that contain masterpieces from the past. The Holy Relic Casket, with the sacred ashes of Lord Buddha and the beautiful statue, Yakshani, are the most highlighted attractions of the place. Archaeological objects such as coins, art objects, paintings, instruments, textiles, thankas, bronze sculptures and terracotta images by various Hindu and Buddhist artists are on display in the museum. Another of the museum’s prized possessions is a rare collection of British-period paintings depicting day-to-day life of the Indians of the era, along with a fine collection related to the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, and a first World War cannon. The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm on all days except Mondays when it is closed. Entry fees are INR 15 for Indians and INR 250 for foreigners.

The Indira Gandhi Planetarium, also known as the Patna Planetarium is one of the oldest and largest planetariums of Asia. It is also popularly known as Taramandal, meaning a circle of stars, and is one of the largest and most well-maintained planetariums in the country. A wide range of film shows on subjects related to astronomy is showcased here. Apart from that, exhibitions are also held on various related topics for visitors. There is a huge dome-shaped screen here to showcase movies where visitors need to look upon the roof to enjoy the amazing feeling of watching a sky full of fascinating stars, moons and other celestial bodies. The planetarium is open from 10 am to 5 pm with show timings at 12:30 pm, 2 pm, 3:30 pm and 5 pm and is closed on Mondays. Entry fees are INR 50 with tickets mandatory for children over 3 years of age.

The Gandhi Sangrahalaya is among eleven such public museums across India. The museum displays a visual biography of Mahatma Gandhi’s life with the help of pictures of important milestones from childhood to death, documents, quotes, models and other memorabilia. There are books and audio-visual materials about his life, principles and the struggle for freedom.

Established in 1891, the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library has a very wide collection of Mughal and Islamic scriptures including a 25 mm wide version of the Quran. It also has Nadir Shah’s sword which he raised at the Sunehri Mosque in Delhi, to order the massacre of the residents of the city. This library contains close to 250,000 books and is located on the Ashok Raj Path.

Located near Agamkuan, Jalan Museum, also popularly known as Quila House is a private museum and visitors intending to visit will need to call them and take permission before visiting. The museum has a great collection from the Mughal period and also houses some unique artefacts like the wooden bed of Napoleon III. This museum was built by Diwan Bahadur R.K. Jain in 1919 and has English and Dutch influences on its architecture and has more than 10,000 artefacts, mostly belonging to the modern period.

Golghar is a simple yet charming amalgam of history and natural beauty, built-in 1786 by Captain John Garstin as a storehouse. Golghar was never filled to its maximum capacity as it is believed that due to an engineering fault the doors open inwards only, and if the granary were to be filled all the way, the doors would not open. In addition to being a huge granary, the top of Golghar presents a wonderful panoramic view of the city and the Ganges and is a spot which locals visit to get a respite from the din of the city. Rising from the midst of a lush green garden, the stupa-shaped structure of Golghar is encircled by a flight of 145 stairs that take you to the top, from where you can see a bird’s eye view of the entire city. Visitors can also arrange for a picnic in the garden where the Golghar lies and to increase the visitor influx to Golghar, a light and sound show has been introduced as well. Golghar is open from 9:30 am to 6 pm and has no entry fees to visit.

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The Mahatma Gandhi Setu is the second-longest river bridge in India, the first one being the Bhupen Hazarika Setu or the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge in Assam. The Mahatma Gandhi Setu extends over the Ganges for 5.7 km. Named after the father of the nation, the bridge connects the capital city of Patna in the south to Hajipur in the north. The bridge has four lanes of roadways and pedestrian pathways on each side and is an indispensable part of daily vehicular transport. Earlier, there used to be toll gates, but the government has removed them. The bridge provides some spectacular views of the Ganga river flowing underneath. Today, National Highway 19 operates through it, with the government scheduled for the building of two pontoon or floating bridges parallel to it to curb traffic, which has drastically increased over the years. Before this bridge, people from this region travelled between Patna and Hajipur by ferry or boat. Though there is no entry fee to access the bridge, toll fees depend on the type of vehicle and taxes levied by the government.

The ancient city of Patliputra, Kumhrar has undergone multiple excavation operations to unearth ruins like the Assembly Hall, Anand Bihar, Arogya Vihar and the Durakhi Devi Temple. Located just 5 km from Patna railway station with ruins dating back to 600 BC, the ancient city has many ruins marking the capital of the Ajatshatru, Chandragupta and Ashoka empires between the 600 BC and 600 AD.

Also known as Maner Sharif, the Chhoti Dargah is a 3-storied mausoleum located in Maner, 30 km west of Patna and is an architectural marvel. The Muslim saint Makhdum Shah was buried here in 1616 and is now a popular dargah for devotees in Patna and its surrounding areas. There is also a large tank just in front of the mausoleum. A mosque was also built later in this compound by Ibrahim Khan in 1619.

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Located on Frazer Road near Patna Junction, the Buddha Smriti Udyan is a large urban park which was constructed by the Patna Government to commemorate the 2554th anniversary of Lord Buddha and was inaugurated in 2010 by the 14th Dalai Lama himself. The highlight of the park is the magnanimous Patliputra Karuna Stupa situated in the centre of the park. Sprawling over 22 acres, two special saplings were planted here at the time of its opening, one brought from Bodh Gaya and the other from Mahameghavana Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. The park complex also has a museum which houses the pot containing Lord Buddha’s ashes and also showcases Buddhist relics from Japan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Very often, there are musical shows and events organised inside the park and the park is often crowded during the morning and evening hours as people flock here for walks and meditation exercises. The laser show in the park is a local favourite which show retells the story of Bihar from the time of Ramayana up until post Independence. The Meditation Centre in the park was conceived and ideated on the lines of the monasteries and Mahaviharas of Nalanda and has around 60 cells where one can go and meditate. Each of these rooms provides a view of the Stupa which has relics of the Sakyamuni Buddha and there is also a library with books on Buddhism and an audiovisual hall. The Smriti Bagh, also known as the Park of Memories, is a wide-open space with sculptures from different countries installed to represent the expansion of Buddhism across different countries in the world. The highlight of the park is the Patliputra Karuna Stupa which enshrines the relics of the Sakyamuni Buddha encased in glass. The building is three storeys tall and is open to the public. The park is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily. Entry fees to the park are INR 20, to the Karuna Stupa, INR 50, the meditation centre, INR 500 and the museum is INR 40.

The Sanjay Gandhi Botanical Garden, or as it is locally known, the Sanjay Gandhi Jaivik Udyan was established in 1969 and has been a source of nature and greenery to the city since then. Also known as the Patna Zoo, the park has many varieties of flora and fauna, in addition to a boating facility, elephant ride, toy train for kids etc. the garden is open from 8 am to 5:30 pm and has an entry fee of INR 30 for adults and INR 10 for children.

The Gandhi Maidan Park is a famous historical venue spanning an area of about 60 acres. This park was frequented by several influential leaders of the Indian Independence Movement for launching political campaigns, freedom rallies, parades and holding religious ceremonies. Formerly known as Patna Lawns, the grounds house the tallest statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the world, a bronze figurine that rises to over 70 feet. It is a prominent landmark and is located near Ashok Rajpath, approximately 2-3 km from the city centre. During its heyday, distinguished guests like Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Indira Gandhi and many more made their powerful voices heard in these lawns. Even today, it acts as a hub for political rallies and other major events. The 72-feet tall bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi lies in the south-western corner of the ground and also has one of the eleven Gandhi Sangrahalayas or Gandhi Museums in the north-western corner.

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Officially known as Shaheed Veer Kunwar Singh Azadi Park, Hardinge Park is one of the oldest in the country. An urban the park built in 1916, the park was dedicated to the British Viceroy Charles Hardinge.

In the next part, we will check out Hajipur and the ancient university town of Nalanda.

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