iFeature | Solo Travel Diaries from Bihar

This post was originally penned for TravelYaari here

Sometime mid-January, I’d posted a question to a travel group on Facebook.
“Anyone who has travelled extensively around Bihar in the house?” To which one of the responses I received was, “Oh God! Never.”

This was the first time I was stepping into Bihar. At the outset, I’ll admit that while I didn’t feel brave enough to venture on my own, I was definitely intrigued by it. Thanks to all the history textbooks, I’d had a walk through the lives of some of the greatest minds (think Chanakya, Buddha, Mahavir) and been transported through battles and uprisings (think Patliputra and 1857).
But was my intrigue misplaced?

After quitting my job I’d taken up a fellowship for which I’ve been traveling through India and meeting NGOs with the aim of taking technology to the grassroots. That’s the short story of how I found myself in Bihar. I went to places as far and wide as Madhubani in the north to Kishanganj in the east while hovering around Patna and sometimes Muzaffarpur when I was in Bihar. So towards the end of my month long stay, I decided to do the Nalanda – Rajgir – Bodh Gaya circuit.

Going the local transport way

Surprise #1
One thing you observe as you travel by local transport through Bihar is that women do travel by themselves. I found myself seated next to one on the bus ride from Patna to Bihar Sharif en route to Nalanda. All thanks to her I was duly informed when I needed to alight from the bus at Bihar Sharif. This 2.5 hour tar road bus journey along mustard fields in budding yellow bloom on either side is a very Bollywood-esque route. However, teeming at it seams, Bihar Sharif was one noisy centre. It was easy hopping into a shared auto-rickshaw from there though to take me to the infamous archaeological site of the Nalanda University.

Getting Bollywood-esque

However seasoned a traveller one may be, as an outsider you would expect to be ‘taken for a ride’. So I was caught off guard when after I got off near Nalanda, the driver without any prodding from me directed me on how I need to get on a horse-tonga and pay no more than Rs. 10/- ! The tonga ride ferrying about eight people at a time in itself was quite something because with that I completed the experience of using every mode of road transport!

No horsing around

Nalanda and Rajgir
I’d urge anyone visiting Nalanda to first visit the ruins and then probably consider going to the museum that’s across the street. At the site of the ruins, take a second to observe the trees around you. You’ll realise that their girth can create the effect of transporting you back to a different era.

And when you are able to snap yourself out of it, you’ll find that you’re standing right in the midst of a canvas painted in rust red. Be assured to recognise Temple No 3 from all the pictures you’ve seen about it till date – from textbooks to postcards. And you’ll also realise that just like at Khajuraho that there’s more to Nalanda than just that one temple. There’s no better guide than your feet.

The canvas of rust

Postcard perfect

Rajgir makes for an apt stopover when heading towards Bodh Gaya from Nalanda. It has been the capital of ancient day Magadh and was the venue of the first Buddhist Council. But even if you aren’t a history buff, Rajgir has something for the nature lovers. And if you’re seeking a quiet commune with nature, do head over to Venuvan.

Communing with nature

As above so below
Surprise #2
The road-trip to Bodh Gaya is just as beautiful especially if you take a bus before 9 AM. And at 8 AM I wasn’t boarding the bus as a lone female for the first time either. I realised that all of the seats towards the front of the bus seem to have been occupied and had to make do with sitting somewhere at the back. The conductor got around to issuing tickets after the bus began to move and seeing me there asked me to move to the front. I learnt then that the two seats right behind the driver are reserved for women – so much so that the seat next to me was left vacant when there weren’t other women even though some other men had to keep standing. A similar thing happened when I took a bus back to Patna from Gaya.

Going where your feet take you

Maha Bodhi Temple

Bodh Gaya
The Maha Bodhi temple is a wonder to behold. Sadly though, because I abided by the rules and left all electronic devices behind, I don’t have any photographs from the inside. So if the temple is a wonder, then the Bodhi Tree truly does awaken something within you. Time comes to a halt as you find a spot for yourself near the Tree in spite of the constant flow of people around. But you can feel the wind brush wisps of hair across your face and the dried leaves tap you on your head and then your shoulder. There is a temple belonging to every Buddhist nation consecrated to Buddha in Bodh Gaya.

On the bus ride back it struck me odd that how contrary to what every single soul told me, traveling by local transport within Bihar on my own had been no different from everywhere else I have travelled. Or maybe like a Twitter friend had suggested – it’s speaking the ‘hum’ walli Hindi had worked like magic. And so in Bihar I continue to be intrigued.

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