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Bihar – Wild Wild East of India

So I went to Bihar, everyone there asked me why? They thought I was crazy to wander around the villages. Some I met had no pride in their state whatsoever. I want to show that there are very good reasons to endure the negligible risk that involves travelling here. In ancient times, Bihar was known as a center of knowledge, power and culture. The Mauryan and Gupta dynasties of Magadha arose in the area and unified large parts of South Asia under its influence and rule. Buddhism, one of the world’s most adhered to religions also started here. In order to contrast modern Bihar with the Ancient, let’s take a look at what Wikipedia has to say about Bihar in Ancient times:

‘Regions of Bihar—such as Magadha, Mithila, Anga, and Vaishali—are mentioned in religious texts and epics of ancient India. The power centre of ancient Bihar was in the region of modern-day southwestern Bihar called Magadha, which remained the centre of power, learning, and culture in India for 1000 years. The Haryanka dynasty, founded in 684 BC, ruled Magadha from the city of Rajgriha (modern Rajgir). The two well-known kings from this dynasty were Bimbisara and his son Ajatashatru, who imprisoned his father to ascend the throne. Ajatashatru founded the city of Pataliptrua which later became the capital of Magadha. He declared war and conquered Vajji, another powerful Mahajanapada north of Ganges with its capital at Vaishali. Vaishali was ruled by the Licchvi, who had a republican form of government where the king was elected from the number of rajas. Based on the information found in texts pertaining to Jainism and Buddhism, Vaishali was established as a republic by the 6th century BCE, before the birth of Gautama Buddha in 563 BCE, making it the world's first republic. The Haryanka dynasty was followed by the Shishunaga dynasty. Later the Nanda Dynasty ruled a vast tract stretching from Bengal to Punjab.

The Nanda dynasty was replaced by the Maurya Empire, India’s first empire. The Maurya Empire and the religion of Buddhism arose in the region that now makes up modern Bihar. The Mauryan Empire, which originated from Magadha in 325 BC, was founded by Chandragupta Maurya, who was born in Magadha. It had its capital at Pataliputra (modern Patna). The Mauryan emperor, Ashoka, who was born in Pataliputra (Patna) is believed to be one of the greatest rulers in the history of the world.’

Ashokan Tower by whiskeyandtears via Flickr

Looking at Bihar now it is hard to imagine one of the greatest rulers ever living in the modern-day squalor and abject poverty that are extremely visible all over the state. In 2004 the Economist magazine wrote:

“Bihar [had] become a byword for the worst of India, of widespread and inescapable poverty, of corrupt politicians indistinguishable from mafia-dons they patronise, caste-ridden social order that has retained the worst feudal cruelties”.

Poverty in Gaya by Daniel Griffin via Flickr

How did the world’s first republic fall from grace? That may be a question for another day.

Another question might be, why would I want to visit this place?

Well, that’s the point of this article. I will attempt to convince you that for all its negatives and flaws, Bihar has a lot to offer for the casual tourist. Particularly those interested in history, theology and politics. To put it simply, the juxtaposition of rich heritage and culture with poverty and violence is eye-opening. Let’s go over a few key attractions that attract visitors from all over the globe, willing to endure Bihar to reap the rewards.

Mahabodhi by Mark Dyer via Flickr
Bodh Gaya

Is a religious site and place of pilgrimage associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar. It is famous as it is the place where Gautama Buddha is said to have obtained Enlightenment (Pali: bodhi) under what became known as the Bodhi Tree. Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini, and Sarnath. In 2002, Mahabodhi Temple, located in Bodh Gaya, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is one of many things to see and do in Bodhgayana, make sure to spend some time there and really explore.

045 Shanti Stupa at Rajgir
Vishwashanti Stupa Rajgir by Photo Darma via Flickr

is the ancient seat of the Maurya dynasty and is reachable by rail and bus from Patna. There are hotels and amenities in the town and because the area around is scattered with ruins and notable spots it makes a good base to explore them. Rajgir is famous for its hot water springs, locally known as Brahmakund, a sacred place for Hindus. Vishwa Shanti Stupa, built-in 1969 by the Japanese, one of the 80 peace pagodas in the world, to spread the message of peace and non-violence. The rope-way that leads to it is another attraction.

Vulture’s Peak flank and ascent by Binh Huynh via Flickr
Vulture’s peak

Is a nearby viewpoint offering beautiful uninterrupted views of the surrounding areas. It was a favorite of Buddha, in that he spent many months meditating and preaching on the peak.

Nalanda main complex ruins, by Prince Roy via Flickr

Was an acclaimed Mahavihara, a large Buddhist monastery and was a centre of learning from the seventh century BCE to 1200 CE. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has to be visited, at one point it drew students from as far as China and Europe, for a total enrollment of up to 10000 students and 2000 teachers. Get a tour guide because the amount of information to glean here is incredible.

Vaishali, Hideyuki Kamon via Flickr

Was the capital city of the Licchavi, considered one of the first examples of a republic, in the Vajjian Confederacy (Vrijji) mahajanapada, around the 6th century BCE. It was here in 599 BCE the 24th Jain Tirthankara, Bhagwan Mahavira was born and brought up in Kundalagrama in Vai??l? republic, which makes it a pious and auspicious pilgrimage to Jains. Also, Gautama Buddha preached his last sermon before his death in c. 483 BCE, then in 383 BCE the Second Buddhist council was convened here by King Kalasoka, making it an important place in both Jain and Buddhist religions. It contains one of the best-preserved of the Pillars of Ashoka, topped by a single Asiatic lion.

The Tomb by Salim Ansari via Flickr
The Tomb of Sher Shah Suri

Is in Sasaram in western Bihar. The tomb was built in memory of Emperor Sher Shah Suri, a Pathan from Bihar who defeated the Mughal Empire and founded the Suri Empire in northern India. Situated in an artificial lake, it is sometimes called the second Taj Mahal due to its beauty, size and Indo/Islamic Architecture.

These are but a few of the amazing attractions that Bihar has to offer, if you know any we missed out, let us know. In the meantime, head over there and explore!

This is part of a series on Bihar so stay tuned to find out more. We will cover how best to get to these sights, where to stay and how to stay safe.


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