The land of the Buddha in essence and therefore of monasteries in etymology, the state of Bihar is one of the most popular of tourist destinations in India. A land of ancientries, being one of the oldest inhabited places in the world, this region in eastern India bears also as distinguished a legacy as far as its span of touristry is concerned, with a documented history of it dating back as far as the 4th century BC. Developing as a center of culture, power and knowledge in ancient and classical India during the times of the past, it therefore isn’t any surprising that Bihar today boasts a range of attractions that are of touristy concern, from ancient monuments and royal architectural manifestations to centers of learning and religious importance. A jaunt to this part of the country is an overwhelming experience in itself, encountering through the course of it such experiences and adventures steeped in beauty and culture and heritage that makes it a trip to different worlds of wonder all at once. With such myriad dimensions of its physicality to explore that renders a true feel of the cultural diversity and traditional riches that India remains so resplendent it, a tour to the state of Bihar makes for a refreshing account of the country lauded for its unity in diversity. Here’s how to make the most out of your sojourn to this state that has forever stirred the curiosity of travelers and tourists, from times immemorial right up to the present day by partaking of some of the most remarkable activities that Bihar has to offer-
Dig into oodles of heritage at the couple of World Heritage Sites
As a land that has forever been steeped in immense significance, of the cultural and the religious as well as of ancientries, Bihar is home to more than a few monuments of national and international importance. But amidst its trove of such structures that have proudly stood the test of the times, in sum and in substance, Bihar is most prominent in hosting two of the most exquisite of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India- the Mahabodhi Temple and the Nalanda Mahavihara.
The most prominent attraction of one of the most prominent religious sites in India of Bodh Gaya is the world famous Mahabodhi Temple or the Great Awakening Temple. It is here that the Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment thereby rendering it an absolute tourist stopover. One of the four holy sites related to the life of Lord Buddha, the temple is one of the earliest brick Buddhist temples in India, having been built sometime in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Also one of the many prominent spiritual places to visit in India, this temple in Bodh Gaya is also as phenomenal a sight in its architecture as it is a site in its legacy.
Any visit to the Mahabodhi Temple Complex is incomplete if you do not take in an up, close and personal view of the Bodhi Tree. Said to be the tree under which the Buddha meditated prior to attaining enlightenment, the existing Mahabodhi tree is however only a direct descendant of the original. Apart from the central attraction of the tree, the Mahabodhi temple also leaves visitors wonderstruck with its wide grounds and serene meditation garden. The meditation place in the inner courtyard, the spiritual sounding of the bells, the calm emanating from the divine presence within all make the Mahabodhi Temple among the most important places to visit in Bodh Gaya.
No less popular a heritage site than the Mahabodhi Temple is Nalanda, a revered Buddhist monastery and also a prominent center of learning of the ancient world. Also associated with the Buddha, this historic site that has existed all through since the 5th century, is standout in being the most ancient university of the Indian subcontinent, significant therefore in monastic as well as scholastic legacies of it. The ruins of Nalanda which today comprises of stupas, shrines, viharas and important art works in stucco, stone and metal commands therefore a huge inflow of tourists in also its continuing legacy as one of the world’s oldest living cities, with a repertoire of heritage, of both educational and religious leanings.
Go responsible with your travel by indulging in ecotourism
Bihar is known for a variety of its elements that entice and enthuse tourists but for a land explore more in its cultural extravagance and spiritual beckonings, the natural endowment of the state often does not inspire the same awe. But there are a plenty of options for ecological tourism that can be indulged in the state, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers. With more than a dozen protected areas, Bihar comes across as a land of the green magic as well.
While the Gautam Buddha Wildlife Sanctuary is a given in the land of the Buddha, other options worth exploring are the Pant Wildlife Sanctuary that is famous in particular for the Rajgir Zoo Safari park that it houses, with India’s first and only glass bridge in tow for even more touristry lure. But perhaps the most notable of all such protected areas in Bihar would be the Kanwar Lake Bird Sanctuary located in Begusarai district. As Asia’s largest freshwater oxbow lake, this protected Ramsar site is a hub of ornithological activities, with an impressive avian biodiversity to its credit, as it happens to be an important stopover along the Central Asian Flyway. Equally pronounced is the fish biodiversity in the lake, locally known as Kanwar jheel, that which is also home to five critically endangered species.
Equally remarkable in its natural endowment is the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary of the Bhagalpur District. A protected area for India’s national aquatic animal, the endangered Gangetic dolphins in Asia, the sanctuary also contains rich diversity of other threatened aquatic wildlife as well as avifauna and waterfowl, establishing it therefore as one of the must visit places in Bihar for anyone who derives joy in an assortment of natural wonders.
Reserve an entire day of calm to dwell in at Bodh Gaya
While exploring the Mahabodhi temple, in both its revered religious and heritage status is undoubtedly one of the prime things to do while on a visit to Bihar, this iconic draw from Bodh Gaya is not the only reason to venture into the Land of Enlightenment. Indeed as the land that bears significance in harbouring the origins of Buddhism, one of the world’s oldest religions, this place in Bihar is a massive tourist phenomenon. Revered for its spirituality and celebrated for its sanctity, Bodh Gaya indeed is the land where you can attain enlightenment, much like the Buddha himself! In its tranquil peace and calm charm, Bodh Gaya presents itself as a land of numerous wonders that manifest mainly in mysticism.
But apart from the spiritual realm to dwell in, Bodh Gaya is also the place where you can seek ‘salvation’ in everyday life pursuits as well. For one, the Tibetan Refugee Market is a sure draw that provides an all encompassing experience you would expect out of any treading on the touristry trail. The natural beauty of Bodh Gaya is another aspect that should make you fall even more in love with it, be it the trekking glory of the also sacred Dungeshwari Hills or the famously picturesque Mulachinda Lake. Even in matters of the religious, Bodh Gaya isn’t exclusively about Buddhism. The Jama Masjid for one is a prominent tourist attraction as well, being the largest mosque of Bihar. As regards the numerous other Buddhist temples and monasteries that dot the landscape of Bodh Gaya, each of them are as exquisite revelations of architectural grandeur and cultural influences.
Revel in the rituals and drown in the excitement at some of the most popular festivals of India
The homeground of the immensely ‘eco friendly’ festival of Chhath or Chhath Puja, Bihar is as much an exuberant land to encounter in its many different festivals and celebrations. Chhath in particular is one of the most popular of religious Hindu festivals that sees a rush of devotees and onlookers alike, dedicated to the Sun God and occurring a few days after Diwali to drench Bihar in a spirit of religious ardour and festivities. Even as a folk festival, Chhat Puja has come to occupy its own place of standing, celebrated therefore with great pomp and fervour, the spirit of which is discernible every year throughout the country but most prominently in Bihar. A festival of religious and cultural importance, celebrated over four days, that sees the sacred Ganga as the hub of all the rigorously religious activities, be it processions or prayers or bathing, experiencing Chhath Puja in its native land, complete with all rituals and preparations, be it in food, folklore or tradition sure is one of the things not to be missed out in life, irrespective of your religious ideologies. Spirituality permeates the air as the entire state devotes itself wholeheartedly to the observance of what is the most important festival there, throwing up a panoply of hues and emotions and experience for you to embrace and enjoy.
The serving of religion apart, Bihar also sums up within its confines celebrations of dimensions that range from the cultural to the miscellaneous. With the biggest cattle fair of Asia, the Sonepur Cattle Fair to its name, Bihar once again traces its distinguished place in the annals of history with this authentic rural event that has been continuing since the times of Chandragupta Maurya. The religious though continues to rule even in this case as the site of the fair Sonepur is regarded as holy, being situated at the convergence of the sacred rivers Ganges and Gandak. That apart, the Cattle Fair sees a wide variety of cattle thronging the grounds of the mela, from dogs and buffaloes and donkeys and ponies and Persian horses and rabbits and goats and camels and even birds and poultry. Stalls selling all kinds of items from clothes and jewelry to handicrafts and toys and utensils and furnitures are set up even as a toy train is erected for the children by the Railways, making for a month long extravaganza of fun and festivities, that attracts numerous tourists, both local and foreign into its expansive and inviting expanse.
Traditional celebrations apart, the state of Bihar also plays host to a couple of international film festivals as well a national theater festival that draws also sizeable tourists into this part of India. Experiencing the true culture and spirit of Bihar is possible only if you allow yourself to get lost in its promenade of such range of amalgamating celebrations and observances.
Dig into authentic Bihari cuisine
Sagas of places that we manage to chance upon only a few times in our lifetime would perhaps not leave as indelible an imprint in our souls if it wasn’t the local gastronomic experience there that we managed to savour during our time there. No any different is the case with Bihar, a land that is home to some of the most interesting of dishes in entire India. While Bihari food is as readily available in other parts of the country, there is nothing as authentic as gorging on local food the local way in the place to which they belong. Even in harbouring similarities with culinary manifestations of a few other Indian states, Bihari food is best savoured in Bihar. Starting with the ubiquitous litti chokha to encompassing a range of sattu preparations, be it as a refreshing drink or in the form of a breakfast chapati, as well as a wide variety of pithas and sweet servings of churra with curd, to essentially Bihari non veg delights like the Bihari kebabs or the Champaran meat, to finishing off the palate with an assortment of unique Indian mithais, most striking of which would be the parwal ki mithai while other commonplace sweetmeats like the Chhath puja special prasaad thekua or the Diwali staple anarsa, as well as pan India favorites like laddus and tilkuts and khajas and malpuas turn up in their own Bihari avatar, with a tweak here and a twist there, the entire gastronomic experience of a plateful of Bihar is one that is an unforgettable fusion of flavours, simple but never bland, humble yet remarkable and of course lip smackingly delicious in its taste as well as in uniqueness.