Bihar is not always the first place that comes to mind when planning a vacation unless you want to cover the religious circuits. However, look a little closer and you’ll find a wealth of attractions, many harking back to hundreds of years. With a rich art scene and culture, there is much this eastern-northern state has to offer.
The first order of business for any traveller to Bihar is taking in the sights. The UNESCO World Heritage Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya is an ancient site and one of the holiest places to visit for any Buddhist devotee. It is believed that this is where the Buddha attained enlightenment. Spend time taking it all in under the shade of trees after making your way around the complex. Don’t miss seeing the Vajrasana, the Animesh Lochan stupa and other wonders. Right near the Mahabodhi Temple is the towering 80-foot Buddha statue built in 1989. It is the first statue built to such a scale in present-day India and deserves a visit.
About 100 km from Bodh Gaya in Nalanda is another stupa called the Vishwa Shanti Stupa. The peace pagoda is made of marble and concrete and can be accessed by a ropeway. While in the district, be sure to visit the Nalanda University ruins that are spread across 14 acres. This early university thrived under the Gupta, Kannuaj, and Pala dynasties. The best time to visit is from October to March. Taxis and buses are available to and from the site.
If you are setting up base in Patna during your stay, you cannot miss a visit to the famed granary, Gol Ghar. The massive structure is over 100 feet high and has walls that measure a whopping 3.5 meters wide. Shaped a little like a stupa, it is set amidst a garden that provides a nice place to rest from sightseeing.
Bihar comes alive during festivals and the biggest you need to witness is Chatth Puja that happens in November. It is dedicated to the sun, specifically the setting sun. For a good look at the colourful festivities, visit Deo Sun temple in Aurangabad. Built in the eighth century, it faces west towards the setting sun, unlike many other sun temples that face east.
If you are travelling in January, try to catch the festival of Tila Sankranti, known as Makar Sankranti in other parts of India. Also dedicated to the sun, it is marked by bathing in holy water, fairs, and delicious sweets! The government actively promotes festivals and fairs in the state so there is plenty to see. Some of them include Buddha Festival at Bodh Gaya, Rajgir Festival, Vaishali Festival and Kako Festival.
Before wrapping up your trip to Bihar, check out the shopping scene. The state is known for its gorgeous sikki work and you will find intricately crafted decorations, toys, and jewellery to take home. The famed Madhubani or Mithila art is another must-see (and buy!). The paintings are done with fingers and rudimentary tools like twigs. If you do not have time to shop for them, you can buy them online.
Bihar is a region of many intriguing layers. From being a religious centre to a place dotted with ancient structures and beautiful art, you will want to come back until you cover them all. If you are looking to travel to a heritage-filled destination, this is it.