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On the Buddha’s Trail

Bihar has multiple places of interest for travellers—history, religion, nature, culture, or just plain fun—whatever your interest, you’ll find something to do. We wanted to explore part of the Buddha trail near Patna, starting from Rajgir and going up to Bodh Gaya. We had about three days to cover as much as we could, so we had to skip many places we would’ve gone had we had some more time.

How to get there:

We hired a cab from Patna city. Ola or Uber outstation cabs are also available and might be more reliable than local tour operators.

Our route was Patna – Pawapuri – Nalanda – Rajgir – Bodh Gaya – Patna.

We started early in the morning from Patna to beat the traffic. However, that doesn’t mean that the roads were empty. Trucks occupied most of the roads, plying or parked, and we were behind one most of the time.

The driver had a hand on the horn constantly. Any thoughts I had of trying to catch a nap or listening to some music went out the window along with the continuous honking and shouting at other drivers. The roads were not maintained at all. We bounced for about 2 hours till we got to our first destination.

Pawapuri Jal Mandir

Located about two hours by road from Patna, this gorgeous little temple in the middle of a small pond is dedicated to Lord Mahavira and is an important pilgrimage site for Jains. It is said he attained Nirvana here at the Pawapuri Jal Mandir. The pond around the shrine was land. People started taking soil from around the holy site to build their houses because they considered it auspicious.

Over time, this vast pit collected water and turned into a pond. Now you’ll find a variety of birds and waterfowl that make this place their home. A ramp takes you to the pristine white marble temple. 

The priest gave us a brief history of the place, and we spent some time taking in the tranquillity. The white marble floor felt cool under our feet. There is another temple under construction right opposite the Jal Mandir and will soon become a crowded tourist spot.

There is a restaurant for breakfast opposite the temple, but it was closed when we went. Another restaurant on the main road, before the turn for the temple, served some delicious omelette and puri chole along with piping hot lemon tea for breakfast. 

Nalanda University’s Ruins

In less than an hour, we reached the ancient Nalanda University. Throughout our History lessons, I had heard so much about this place of learning that was incomparable with any other in the world. Now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is maintained beautifully by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

The history behind this landmark is fascinating. I marvelled at the thought that went into making this an ideal place of learning with ample spaces to mingle, meditate, and collaborate. The excavated ruins that we see now are just a small fragment of the whole university that still lies beneath a bustling town.

The entry fee is Rs 40 for Indian Nationals. Registered guides are available at the counter, and I would highly recommend using their services to show you around in detail. It takes about an hour at a leisurely pace to complete the tour.

The Nalanda Museum on the opposite side of the road houses some of the artefacts and sculptures excavated at the site. The entry fee is Rs 5 and shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to explore.

A little further down the road is a small temple with a 9-foot Buddha statue carved out of a single black basalt rock that the locals have claimed as the Telia Buddha. They pray to this ‘Black Buddha’ for strength.

Rajgir

We had decided to stay at Rajgir, which was the mid-way point of our route. There are also a lot more places to visit here, so it made sense to spend time exploring this town.

We stayed at the Gargee Gautam Vihar Resort. The cottages are spacious, and the food is delicious. They even catered to our picky 6-year-old and customised his meals.

We wanted to visit a long list of places here, but the lack of proper information on timings dampened our plans. For example, the entry for the Ghora Katora lake closes by 3:30 pm, and you need to be back at the entrance by 5 pm. Since it’s a forest road, only registered e-rickshaws can take you to the lake, which takes about 40 minutes each way. 

We didn’t have this information available from online research, so we wasted the second half of the day coming to the entrance but not doing anything.

Pandu Pokhar

Pandu Pokhar is an excellent place to visit, especially if you’re travelling with kids. Spread over 22 acres, this park offers adventure activities from zip-lining to paddle boating, indoor games, or just enjoying a walk. It is open from about 8 am to 8 pm (although it gets pretty dark after 6 pm). You can purchase a ticket depending on what you plan to do – just walking, boating, or all activities offered inside. You can also stay here in their camps or pitch a tent. It is well maintained, but food choices were limited when we visited. A couple of food vendors sold snacks, but most of them had started closing shop since we went after sunset.

We could’ve easily spent the day here if we had the time, trying out all the activities and the children’s playground. We only had time for the boating experience because of a long queue.

Rajgir Nature Safari

Again we were misled. News articles showed a zoo safari inaugurated, and we had hyped up our son to see some animals. We had gone to the gates the previous evening to find out the timings beforehand to avoid missing out. The ticket counter opens by 10 am, but the queue builds up by 9 am. Only 800 tickets are handed out every day, so it’s better to go early in peak season.

While you wait in line, have a quick look at the Son Bhandar Caves right next to the entry point. Also, be careful with your belongings, especially if you have food items, lest you get accosted by the gang of monkeys that rule this area.

Air-conditioned buses take you through a forested area. Why weren’t we stopping for any animal sightings, we wondered. It turns out the zoo safari is elsewhere, inaugurated but not yet opened. The Rajgir Nature Safari is more of an adventure activity park.

The first stop was the glass bridge. This glass ramp suspension bridge overlooks the vast forests and hills around it. Not for those scared of heights! 

When we got to the ticket counter, we were informed that kids under 10 years of age are not allowed on the bridge. If you’ve come with a larger group, you’ll need to take turns to go on while the others look after the child. If you’re a couple with a child, you’ll have to go on your own while your spouse waits with the baby.

A short walk from here is the suspension bridge. It’s a short walk for Rs 10, and kids are allowed on it. Stay in the middle of the path to avoid it from shaking. Most people preferred to walk holding the ropes, which caused the bridge to sway even more.

About 3 kilometres from here is the main activity centre with more adventure sports. There is no information on how to get there. The people at the ticket counters were not helpful. We saw people walking, but we chose to return to the main gate by the same bus. 

Once again, our plans to visit the Ghora Katora were squashed because the visiting CM’s motorcade halted all traffic for about an hour. 

We stopped for lunch at Jungle Restaurant and quickly realised it was a terrible choice. Avoid this place at all costs.

Ratnagiri Hill Ropeway to the Vishwa Shanti Stupa

We realised on our trip that many of the attractions were publicised in the media and inaugurated, but they were not ready to be opened. Of course, there was no clear information relaying that to the public. 

We had assumed the new cable cars would be operational, so it would be safer to take our son on it. However, only the old ropeway is functional currently. It is an open seat with a metal railing. You can take a kid on your lap but make sure they’re not fidgety or that you can hold on to them firmly. You have to get on and off the chair while it is in motion. A helper will help you at both ends. It looks scary, but it’s not too bad. Our son enjoyed it. Make sure your shoes, phones etc., are secure so they don’t fall in the foliage below.

The ropeway takes you to the Vishwa Shanti Stupa. Groups of langurs greeted us. They’re much bigger than the monkeys you usually see at tourist spots and can quickly snatch things from you. The Stupa offers a stunning view of the plains below and is one of the best sunset points here. The evening light hits the Stupa beautifully, encompassing its golden statues and making them glow brilliantly.

Bodh Gaya

We left for Body Gaya after breakfast on the third day of our trip. It takes just over two hours to reach from Rajgir. The first half of the journey is through small villages. Mud houses fully equipped with satellite dishes line the way, and the roads, albeit single lanes, are well maintained and traffic-free.

Look out for the Dashrath Manjhi Gate in Gehlour Village, memorialising the man who single-handedly carved a path between the mountains so that the villagers could access hospitals faster. Once you get to bigger towns, the roads are more congested and noisy. 

We reached Bodh Gaya right around lunchtime. Most of the smaller monasteries and many restaurants were closed or shut down due to a lack of tourists, especially from abroad. Bodh Gaya has its own International Airport for tourists from Thailand and Japan. Because of the travel restrictions, the roads are in a state of disrepair, and the popular eateries are closed. 

We went to the first restaurant that came up on Google – City Cafe. It showed a robust menu online but barely had anything that we wanted to order. The food that came was good enough, though. There were no clean bathrooms we could find anywhere.

Private vehicles are not allowed within the vicinity. You need to walk (a lot) or hire an e-rickshaw to take you around the temple and monastery compound.

Mahabodhi Temple

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mahabodhi Temple is one of the four important Buddhist pilgrimage sites. This is where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. The temple now adorns a 289-kg gold crown, gleaming brightly in the afternoon sun, gifted by the King of Thailand. 

Once you enter the temple complex, you’ll find registered guides. They take you around and explain the significance of the place, which we found very helpful. He showed us the spots where Gautam Buddha is said to have meditated on his quest for enlightenment and recounted the history behind the temple structures.

A descendent of the original tree still flourishes here. You are not allowed to pluck its leaves, but you are free to take as many leaves that fall. We met a young Buddhist monk, hardly 10 years old, who had left his home to become a monk. Our guide also introduced us to his father, who had converted to monkhood a few years ago. You can choose to donate some money in the donation box for the monks since they live on alms; however, it is not demanded or required.

The temple sanctum with the Buddha statue is relatively small, but you can sit in the corner for a while if you wish to meditate. We preferred the shade of the Bodhi tree. It is a peaceful place where you can sit under the shade of the great tree and meditate for a while.

Since the bombings in the temple in 2013, all electronic devices are banned inside the main temple complex. There are safe deposit boxes outside the gate where you can pay to keep your phones and charging cables. Regular cameras are allowed if you’ve bought a ticket for using them. Footwear is also not allowed inside and needs to be deposited at the shoe counter. Wearing socks will protect your feet from the hot stone paths.

Other Sites of Interest 

The Great Buddha Statue:

This 80-feet statue of Buddha seated on a pedestal is quite impressive as it towers over everyone. It is constructed with sandstone and red granite.

Monasteries of various countries:

These were mostly closed since the travel restrictions were still in place. The Indosan Nippon Japanese temple was open, and we could sit inside its beautifully painted walls and ceilings. Like the Thai and Royal Bhutan monasteries, the others were closed, but we could get a glimpse of these elegant temples from the gate.

We headed back for a four-hour drive to Patna city through festive crowds. Check out some things to do in Patna.

Best time to Visit:

Late October to March would be great weather, but it would also attract a much larger crowd. We found places like the Bodhi tree to be more peaceful, although hot and humid, in non-peak season. Prices for guides and transport were also lower than peak season rates.

Travel Essentials

  • Mosquito repellant: You’ll need this if you happen to be outdoors in the evenings. We found this to be the most effective one we’ve used so far and safe for kids to use as well.
  • Water bottle: Carry an insulated water bottle you can refill with cold water from the filtered water tanks placed around most tourist landmarks.
  • Sunscreen: I love the SPA 50+ one from The Body Shop. It is not sticky like most and blends easily into your skin.
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Walking shoes with socks

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. 

2 Comments

  1. The trail on the Rajgir safari looks just wow! 😦 I’m surprised your little one was brave enough to step in without any fear. Gorgeous sight from there! Such lovely pics and a wonderful trip!

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