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Bihar’s capital Patna dates back to the sixth century BC, but shows few signs today of its former glory as the centre of the Magadhan and Mauryan empires. A sprawling metropolis hugging the south bank of the Ganges, Patna stretches for around 15km in a shape that has changed little since Ajatasatru (491–459 BC) shifted the Magadhan capital here from Rajgir. The first Mauryan emperor, Chandragupta, established himself in what was then Pataliputra in 321 BC, and pushed the limits of his empire as far as the Indus; his grandson Ashoka (274–237 BC) held sway over even greater domains.
To facilitate Indo-Hellenic trade, the Mauryans built a Royal Highway from Pataliputra to Taxila, Pakistan, which later became the Grand Trunk Road. The city experienced two revivals, first when the first Gupta emperor, Chandra Gupta, made it his capital early in the fourth century AD, and then again when it was rebuilt in the sixteenth century by Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri.
As you explore its bustling streets and iconic landmarks, you'll be transported through time, immersing yourself in a tapestry of ancient history and vibrant local culture. Once a thriving centre of learning and trade during the Mauryan Empire, Patna today stands as a vibrant metropolis, bustling with activity and brimming with hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
From magnificent historical sites to delectable culinary delights, Patna offers a remarkable travel experience. Marvel at the architectural grandeur of the Golghar and the Patna Sahib Gurudwara, which holds immense religious significance for Sikhs.
Take a stroll along the banks of the serene Ganges River, where ghats and temples dot the landscape, offering a glimpse into the city's spiritual fabric.
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Patna is a good base for exploring Nalanda, Rajgir and Vaishali, and Sonepur, north of Patna, is worth visiting for its mela, usually held in November. Here are the best things to do.
If you’re in Bihar between early November and early December, don’t miss the Sonepur Mela, staged 25 km north of Patna, across the Gandhi Bridge, at the confluence of the Gandak and the Ganges. Cattle, elephants, camels, parakeets and other animals are brought for sale, pilgrims combine business with a dip in the Ganges, sadhus congregate, and festivities abound. The event is memorably described by Mark Shand in his quixotic Travels on My Elephant (see page 1221). The Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation in Patna (see page 814) organises tours and maintains a tourist village at Sonepur during the mela.
Set amid paddy fields 55 km north of Patna, the quiet village of Vaishali was the site of the Buddha’s last sermon. Named after King Visala, who is mentioned in the Ramayana, Vaishali is also believed by some historians to have been the first city-state in the world to practise a democratic, republican form of government.
After leaving his family and renouncing the world, Prince Gautama (Buddha) studied here, but eventually rejected his master’s teachings and found his own path to enlightenment. He returned to Vaishali three times and on his last visit announced his final liberation – Mahaparinirvana – and departure from the world, in around 483 BC.
A hundred years later, the second Buddhist Council was held in Vaishali and two stupas erected. A small but well-presented archeological museum provides a glimpse into the ancient Buddhist world.
Eighty kilometres northeast of Bodhgaya, the small market town of Rajgir nestles in rocky hills that witnessed the meditations and teachings of both the Buddha and Mahavira, the founder of Jainism.
The capital of the Magadha kingdom before Pataliputra (Patna), Rajgir was also where King Bimbisara converted to Buddhism.
Rajgir is also regarded as a health resort because of its hot springs, 1 km south of town, which can get unpleasantly crowded, especially as the neighbouring Laxmi Narayan Temple has become a popular destination for Hindus not wishing to miss out on Rajgir’s Buddhist and Jain pilgrimage.
Slap-bang in the middle of town, the 22-acre Buddha Smirti Park stands on the site once occupied by Bankipur Central Jail. The park was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 2010, and its trees include saplings taken from the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya.
The big stupa in the middle houses an urn supposedly containing ashes from the body of Buddha himself, which were unearthed at Vasihali. This being a Buddhist site, there’s also a meditation centre, and a museum illustrating the life of Buddha and the history of Buddhism.
Patna’s most notable monument is the Golghar, also called “the round house”, a huge colonial-era grain store built in 1786 to avoid a repetition of 1770’s terrible famine; thankfully, it never needed to be used.
Overlooking the river and Gandhi Maidan, its two sets of stairs spiralling up to the summit were designed so indentured workers could carry grain up one side, deliver their load through a hole at the top, and descend down the other.
Sightseers now clamber up for mighty views of the river and the city. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, there’s a sound-and-light laser show illustrating the history of Bihar and the Golghar.
Patna’s Gandhi Museum is really more like a book in museum format, consisting largely of text and photos illustrating, in one room, the Mahatma’s life, and in another, the history of the Independence movement in Bihar. One or two of Gandhi’s personal effects are also on display, but are labelled in Hindi only.
The Patna Museum (Jadu Ghar), although faded and run down, has an excellent collection of sculptures. Among its most famous exhibits is a polished sandstone female attendant, or yakshi, holding a fly-whisk, dating back to the third century BC.
There are also Jain images from the Kushana period, a group of Buddhist bodhisattvas from Gandhara (in northwest Pakistan), some freakishly deformed stuffed animals and a gigantic fossilized tree thought to be two hundred million years old.
In Haji Ganj, an old part of town 10km east of Gandhi Maidan, congested lanes lead to Harimandir Sahib, the second holiest of the four great Sikh shrines known as takhts (thrones). Set in an expansive courtyard off the main road, the dazzling white onion-domed marble temple is dedicated to Guru Gobind Singh, born in Patna in 1660.
Visitors can explore the courtyard and even venture inside where devotional music is often playing. Remove your shoes and cover your head before entering.
A short way northeast of Harimandir Sahib, the private Qila House (or Jalan Museum) holds a fine collection of art, including Chinese paintings and Mughal filigree work in jade and silver. Among the antiques are porcelain items that once belonged to Marie Antoinette and Napoleon’s four-poster bed.
Midway between Harimandir Sahib and Gandhi Maidan stands Saif Khan’s Mosque, also called “the mosque of stone”. That is indeed what it is made from, but the stone is hidden behind layers of whitewash, with pretty green highlights. The mosque was commissioned in 1621 by the son of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, Parwez Shah, who was governor of Bihar at the time (although it doesn’t actually look very Mughal).
Several neighbourhoods stand out as the best areas to stay in Patna, but most visitors will bed down the vibrant and historic heart of the Old City (Chowk) or the bustling commercial hub of Gandhi Maidan.
Step into the heart of Patna's history by immersing yourself in the Old City. This neighbourhood exudes an old-world charm with its narrow streets, bustling bazaars, and ancient buildings. This is where the most historic hotels are found.
For those seeking a central location with easy access to major attractions, Gandhi Maidan is an excellent area to stay with a number of midrange guesthouses. This neighbourhood is home to the sprawling Gandhi Maidan, a historic park where numerous cultural events and fairs take place.
As the name might suggest, Boring Road is far from dull. In fact, it is one of the liveliest neighbourhoods in Patna, known for its vibrant atmosphere and bustling commercial streets. This area is a shopaholic's paradise, with a wide range of boutiques, malls, and street markets offering everything from traditional handicrafts to modern fashion.
Nestled on the banks of the Ganges River, Pataliputra Colony is an upscale residential area in Patna. It offers a tranquil escape from the city's hustle and bustle and is home to high-end accommodation too.
Located in the southern part of Patna, Rajendra Nagar is a rapidly developing neighbourhood known for its modern infrastructure and residential complexes. It is well-connected to the rest of the city and offers a range of budget and mid-range accommodations..
Browse the best hotels in Patna.
Patna may be known for its rich history and cultural heritage but it also boasts a thriving food and nightlife scene. Here are the best areas to eat and party.
Frazer Road is the bustling restaurant hub in Patna. Offering everything from local favourites like litti-chokha and sattu paratha to international delicacies like Chinese food and pizza, Frazer Road has something for everyone.
For an authentic culinary experience, head to Old City (Chowk), the historic area of the city. This neighbourhood is renowned for its traditional Bihari cuisine. Explore the narrow lanes and discover street food vendors serving mouthwatering dishes like ghugni, samosa, and jalebi, including at the iconic Khajekalan Market.
Boring Road, despite its name, is anything but boring when it comes to its dining and nightlife scene. This vibrant area boasts a wide range of restaurants, cafes, and pubs that cater to diverse tastes.
Bailey Road, also known as Jawaharlal Nehru Marg, is another popular dining destination in Patna. This area is home to several upscale restaurants and fine dining establishments.
Navigating Patna is made convenient with a variety of transportation options. From the extensive network of local buses and auto-rickshaws that crisscross the city to ride-hailing services like Ola and Uber, visitors have ample choices to explore Patna's vibrant streets and reach their desired destinations efficiently.
Affordable and convenient, one of the most popular modes of transportation in Patna is the auto-rickshaw. Make sure to negotiate the fare before starting the journey or ask the driver to go by the meter.
For a more leisurely and eco-friendly option, consider taking a ride on a cycle-rickshaw. These manually-pulled rickshaws are a common sight in Patna and offer a unique way to explore the city at a relaxed pace.
Patna has a well-established public bus system that serves various parts of the city. While the bus routes and schedules can be a bit challenging to navigate for visitors, they provide an opportunity to experience the local way of commuting and are a great option for reaching destinations beyond the city centre.
Taxis are a convenient and comfortable way to get around Patna, especially for longer distances or when travelling with a group or heavy luggage. Prepaid taxis are available at the airport and railway stations. Additionally, ride-hailing services like Uber and Ola operate in Patna.
The monsoon hits Bihar in early June, lasting until September, and the very best time to visit is immediately after that, in October and November. November is also the time of the Sonepur Mela.
Bihar can get quite chilly from December through February, especially at night, although daytime temperatures remain comfortable. From March, temperatures start to rise and the heat then gets progressively stickier and more debilitating until the monsoon breaks it.
Find out more about the best time to visit India.
To fully explore Patna and its major attractions, you’ll only need 2 or 3 days. This is enough time visit the iconic sites like Golghar, Patna Sahib Gurudwara, and the Patna Museum, and savour the flavours of the city.
Additionally, you could take a stroll along the Ganges River and visit the bustling markets to get a taste of Patna's vibrant ambiance.
Patna is well-connected to major cities in India via air, rail, and road networks, providing multiple options to reach the city.
Patna’s airport is 5 km west of town. Flights serve Delhi (10 daily with Air India, IndiGo and Go Air), Kolkata (5 daily with Go Air and IndiGo), Ranchi (3 daily with GoAir and IndiGo) and Lucknow (2 daily with IndiGo).
All mainline train services arrive either at Patliputra or at Patna Junction station, 10km apart, both set in the west of the city.
Patna Junction is the most important railway station in the region and has a foreigners’ reservation window (No. 7) on the upper floor of the booking office.
The best train to Kolkata (Howrah) is the a/c Janshatabdi Express #12024. Overnight services include the Vibhuti Express #12334. The Rajdhani Express #12309 and the Sampark Kranti Express #12393 are the picks of several daily trains to New Delhi.
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