India's Bihar state is off the beaten track for most visitors, but it's loaded with religious and cultural history. The Bihar government has been putting significant effort into drawing visitors to the state. The main focus has been on promoting Bihar's many religious sites, of which the Buddhist ones are most prominent. Important sites for Buddhists include Bodhgaya's Mahabodhi Temple, where Buddha supposedly meditated, while the Mahavir Mandir temple in Patna, the capital, is revered by Hindus. Here are the important tourist attractions and places to visit in Bihar, India.
Visit the Bodhgaya and the Mahabodhi Temple
Bihar is where the Buddha began his journey to enlightenment, and it's possible to follow in his sacred footsteps. The most important Buddhist pilgrimage place in the world is Bodhgaya, where the Buddha became enlightened while meditating under a bodhi tree. The magnificent Mahabodhi Temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, marks the spot. It's a sprawling and serene place to spend some time. Bodhgaya also has many Buddhist monasteries and temples, with varying architectural styles. If you're interested in Buddhism, you'll find plenty of courses and retreats on offer there.
See the Small Religious Town of Gaya
AddressGaya, Bihar, India
Although it's not far from Bodhgaya, Gaya couldn't be more different. Foreign tourists may wish to skip this rather noisy and unappealing town, which is a significant center for Hindu pilgrims. The main attraction is the Vishnupad Temple, with its massive footprint of Lord Vishnu imprinted on the rock. Unfortunately, non-Hindus aren't allowed inside the temple. Pilgrims come to Gaya to perform the holy "Pinda Dan" ritual for their deceased elders, which Lord Ram and his wife Sita are said to have carried out there. The ceremony is believed to liberate the souls of the dead, as well as provide salvation and release from rebirth.
See the Ruins of Nalanda University
An essential attraction on Bihar's Buddhist Circuit, the extensive ruins of Nalanda University date back to the 5th Century, making it one of the world's oldest universities. Nalanda was a significant center for Buddhist learning with an estimated 10,000 monks and students. It survived until the 12th Century when it was ransacked by Muslim invaders and its library set on fire. More than nine million manuscripts are thought to have been destroyed. The highlight of the ruins is the pyramid-shaped Stupa of Sariputra, flanked by steps and sculptures. The ruins were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016, making it the second one in Bihar. The ruins can be easily visited from nearby Rajgir. Regularly shared jeeps run between the two places, although they do get crowded.
Take an Aerial Tram to the Stupa in Rajgir
AddressRajgir, Bihar, India
Lord Buddha spent some years at Rajgir after becoming enlightened. Although a popular pilgrimage destination for Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains, Rajgir doesn't get as much attention from foreign tourists as it deserves. A couple of days can be spent exploring the area, which has many historical sites, caves, shrines, and temple remains.
One of the most popular things to do is take the aerial tramway uphill to the Vishwa Shanti Stupa. Walk back down the hill and visit Vulture's Peak, where Buddha used to preach to his disciples. The view is noteworthy. Also of interest are the remnants of the ancient stone Cyclopean wall, constructed by Mauryan rulers, that used to surround Rajgir. Hot springs with medicinal properties attract many visitors, but they're dirty and poorly maintained. An annual Rajgir Mahotsav classical music and dance festival takes place at the end of December. The Mahaparinirvan Express Buddhist Train includes Bodhgaya, Rajgir, and Nalanda on its itinerary.
Visit the Lion Pillars at Vaishali
AddressVaishali, Bihar, India
Vaishali is another important Buddhist and Jain pilgrim destination. Lord Buddha frequently visited the city, which was large and prosperous, and preached his last sermon at nearby Kolhua. Emperor Ashoka built one of his famous lion pillars there, in the 3rd Century BCE, to commemorate the occasion. Many people also believe that Lord Mahavira, the 24th, and last Jain teacher, was born in the area, although this is debated. Other attractions include another Vishwa Shanti Stupa (six of these world peace pagodas have been constructed in India) and a small archeological museum.
The annual Sonepur Fair is an authentic rural fair that combines spirituality with elephant, cattle, and horse trading. It takes place in late November at Sonepur, around 45 minutes from the capital city of Patna. Traditionally known as a cattle fair, the Sonepur Fair now has a more commercial focus with the aim of attracting both domestic and international tourists. Don't miss the captivating spectacle of tantriks, pilgrims, and elephants taking an auspicious holy bath in the river at sunrise on Karthik Purnima!
Explore Emperor Sher Shah Suri's Mausoleum
AddressSasaram, Bihar 821115, India
If you're traveling from Bodhgaya to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, it's worth stopping at Sasaram to see Emperor Sher Shah Suri's mausoleum. In ancient times, before Mughal rulers shifted it to Delhi, Bihar used to be the center of power. Many Sufi saints came to the region and attracted pilgrims with their liberal mindsets and humanistic preaching. You'll find numerous sacred tombs of Muslim rulers in Bihar. The one belonging to Emperor Sher Shah Suri is among the most elaborately constructed. It sits in the middle of a large artificial lake.
Have a Kebab at Karim's
You might know Karim's from Delhi, but that's not the only place you can eat this restaurant's revered kebabs. Now, Karim's has opened an outpost in Patna, where you can enjoy the same tikka rolls, mutton kebabs, and Mughlai staples as the original location in Jama Masjid.