Now that travel season is officially upon us, how many of you are peeking out of your shell? Do you feel ready to brave the crowds yet? I know many of us are still wary of a third wave hitting us in a few months and are cautious about non-essential travel. Our only concern was our child, who isn’t vaccinated yet, but we felt kids are a lot more resilient. Since he has no underlying health issues, we decided to bite the bullet and hit the road.
Patna is my birthplace, although I have never lived there. Over the years, I’ve made sporadic visits but hardly ever left the house. This trip was my husband’s and son’s first visit there, and we wanted to explore the city a little.
Air Travel in a Pandemic
Air travel rules have been relaxed a little for now. There are no tests or health checks required. No one asked for our vaccination certificates at any point in our travels. Prior check-in is mandatory, though.
I was glad to see both Hyderabad and Patna airports going paperless. No need to print out your boarding passes—a screenshot saved on your phone will suffice. You do need to keep your mask on inside the airport and throughout your flight (except while eating or drinking).
The airports and planes were brimming with people, so I guess there are enough people comfortable with crowded places now.
It felt strange to be travelling again after such a long break. I thought I would be more anxious about the crowds, but since I had made up my mind to travel, I thought no point in worrying about it now.
Things to do in Patna
I was surprised at the number of things there are to see and do in Patna. From parks to museums and historical landmarks, you could spend a few leisurely days taking it all in. We didn’t have the time, especially since we decided to travel during the Dusshera festival. Here are some of the places we managed to visit before the festive crowds blocked all the streets.
Time spent: 1 hour
The rows of shops selling ‘khaja’ will lead you to the entrance of the museum. It houses artefacts found in and around Patna. Founded in 1917, Patna Museum has some interesting pieces on display. The 8th-century ornate door jamb at the entrance is just a sampler of things to come. A fossil of a 200-year old petrified tree trunk is another fascinating piece.
The main attraction at the Patna is a small casket said to hold the Buddha’s ashes. This room is locked and can only be viewed under the watchful eye of an armed guard.
Although a few prized pieces have been transferred to the new Bihar Museum, Patna Museum is still a worthwhile visit. The art gallery with various artists’ representations of Mahatma Gandhi is impressive as well.
It is well-maintained, although the inner galleries got extremely hot and humid since there were no fans or coolers. I couldn’t spend as much time as I wanted to there.
The ticket price is Rs 15, but a Rs 100 ticket will get you access to the room that houses the Buddha’s relics—the only room with air conditioning. You’ll need to keep your belongings in the locker at the ticket counter. You can only carry your wallet, water bottle, phone, or camera (with the valid ticket) in your hands or pockets. No bags allowed.
Time spent: 2 to 3 hours
This is a must-see landmark in the city. Newly built to world-class standards, it has some remarkable pieces and installations. It is also fully air-conditioned and offers a nice respite from the heat outside.
The Children’s Gallery offers a few activities for kids, so take them along as well. The rest of the museum is divided into galleries by theme. There are plenty of photo-ops throughout, so take your time. The building itself is impressive, and architecture buffs might want to spend time admiring that as well.
The crowning glory of the Bihar Museum is the 2300-year-old Didarganj Yakshi—a sandstone statue carved from a single piece of stone and finished with a smooth Mauryan polish. The woman looks stunning, and the work is so well preserved it is truly something to marvel at.
The entry fee is Rs 50 for kids and Rs 100 for adults. It is open from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm, and is closed on Mondays and public holidays.
Buddha Smriti Park
Time spent: At least 1 hour
Also known as the Buddha Memorial Park, it is a calm oasis in the middle of chaos, near the railway station. The Buddha Smriti Park sprawls over 22 acres of greenery, where you can sit under the shade of a tree and watch the antics of squirrels and enjoy the sounds of the birds.
The Buddha Smriti Museum takes you on the Buddha’s journey via paintings, artefacts, and engaging art installations. It also has a small meditation cave where you can spend some time ruminating.
The 200-feet-high Pataliputra Karuna Stupa at the centre is magnificent. At the centre, the memorial includes the remains of the Buddha donated by different countries enclosed inside the Stupa’s glass structure. You can sit around the memorial to meditate. Be mindful of not talking or making noise as this is a meditation zone.
Ticket prices vary for what you want to visit. Entry to the Park and museum is Rs 25, and for the Stupa it’s Rs 50. It is closed on Mondays and public holidays. The timings are from 9 am to 7 pm. Cameras are not allowed here, but you can take your mobile phone. You can take pictures in the garden areas but not inside the structures.
Gandhi Ghat Promenade
Time spent: at least 30 minutes
The riverfront stretches for about 17 km. The best seats are usually taken but walking on this stretch offers some good views of the new (almost completed) Mahatma Gandhi Setu (bridge) that spans 5.75 km.
If you’re brave enough to venture into the water, then some small boats and ferries ply in these waters. Or you can just sit on the steps of the banks and get your feet wet while sipping some hot lemon tea.
It is best to get off your vehicle on the main road and walk the rest of the narrow path leading up to the promenade. If you are ok with large crowds, then stay till 7 pm for the aarti (prayer ritual with lamps) on the weekends.
Many other spots such as the Gandhi Maidan, Golghar and other nearby parks are great for kids or an evening stroll. Many religious or historical sites are worthy of day trips from the city as well.
For the Foodies
Patna has some unique dishes that you might not find so easily in other cities. Khaja (sweet and savoury varieties) is a popular snack you might find across India. Do try other items such as thekua and anarsa (both sweet). For the chaat lover, Patna chaat is a special treat.
Then of course, the most famous dish in Bihari cuisine, litti chokha, is available in most restaurants and street-side vendors. But if you can get someone to make it at home, over some goitha (cow dung cakes), then there’s nothing like it!
For authentic Bihari food, don’t miss the Potbelly restaurant located inside the Bihar Museum. Do note that it is closed on the days the museum is closed. Also, it is pinned incorrectly on Google Maps, which takes you to Patna Museum instead.
Harilal sweets is THE place for all your sweet cravings, with their branches spread across the city. Try the parwal mithai, chum chums, and ras malai here. They also have full meal options.
We loved the food at Aasman on Frazer Road. The grilled seafood platter was superb. They have an extensive menu, and the ambience is cool and relaxed. The service was excellent as well.
Note that Bihar is a dry state, and no alcohol is allowed within its borders. They take this rule seriously, so don’t even try.
Travel within the city
Cabs with Ola and are readily available from anywhere in the city. For shorter distances, try the cycle rickshaws. There are also electric auto rikshaws, but you need to settle on a price before you get on to avoid arguments at the end.
You’ll find colourful Madhubani murals painted all over the walls of the city. It surely livens up the place. Although, Madhubani artists are of the opinion that over selling the art form has led to its diminishing interest.
Best Time to Visit Patna
November to March is when winter sets in, and it is easier to go sightseeing in the day. The sun sets earlier than the west coast here, around 5:30 pm, so it’s best to wind up your day before dark.
What needs to improve
Sanitation is an issue like most other Indian cities, but the infrastructure needs a lot of improvement. Houses have been built without allotting adequate space for roads. Apart from a few main intersections, it is difficult to commute within the city.
The maintenance of landmarks should be a priority. The city has some great tourist spots, but things like the AC not working or no clear information on timings, etc, make it a lousy experience.
Airport stalls overcharge for food and drinks. A Mars bar is for Rs 900 and dosa for Rs 350. Eat before you enter or pack something.
I did not feel unsafe, but then I was travelling with my family. Single women or even groups of women without a male escort need to be on their guard. Like any other city, take care of your belongings, especially your mobile phones, even when inside a vehicle.
Face masks are recommended but optional. No where were we explicitly asked to keep ours on.