Once the capital of the Mauryan and Gupta Empires, Patna is an interesting amalgamation of several empires and religions, including Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism. It is also the birthplace of the 10th guru of the Sikh religion, and an ancient city where some of the greatest emperors of the subcontinent lived. Today, Patna is one of the fastest growing cities in the country and is an important place to understand the many different cultures that have influenced the city.
The sprawling Patna Museum is one of the most important places to visit, to get a quick crash course in the many empires and cultures that the region was home to. Housed in a building as majestic as its contents, there is a superb collection of Mauryan and Gupta stone sculptures, Buddhist statues, Tibetan cloth paintings and more. Don’t miss the sacred casket believed to hold some of Buddha’s ashes and the 16m long fossilised tree that are both part of the collection. Also on the museum circuit is the small but informative National Gandhi Museum which contains an interesting pictorial history of the Mahatma’s life and some of his belongings. End your museum tour with the Khuda Baksh Oriental Library and Museum. Founded in 1900, this important library contains a fantastic collection of Arabic and Persian manuscripts, paintings and the sword of Nadir Shah. The library also contains the only books to survive the sacking of the Moorish University of Cordoba in Spain. If you’re looking to commune with nature, head to Buddha Smriti Park, a huge green space in the middle of the city inaugurated by HH The Dalai Lama in 2010.
Home to several empires, Patna, or Pataliputra as it was known earlier, has interesting ruins strewn in and around the city. Kumhrar, site of the ancient city has very little left of its previous glory, except for a Mauryan Hall, which was once supported by 80 sandstone pillars, of which only one remains intact. For a dome with a view, climb the bulbous 230-year-old British era granary, Golghar, built by the army to avoid a repeat of the 1770 famine. The Padri ki Haveli or the St Mary’s Church is the oldest church in Bihar built by the Catholic community when they arrived in the state in the early 1700s. To take a step back even earlier in time, the Har Mandir Takht, one of the four sacred shrines of the Sikh religion, stands at the birthplace of the 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh. The original temple was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab and contains belongs of the Guru and other holy texts. For a different time in history, make your way to the Sher Shah Suri Masjid, built in the Afghani style of architecture by the ruler in 1545 to commemorate his reign.
While in Patna make sure you sample the street food, including the puri jalebi, Bihari style Chinese and litti choka (chickpea and wheat flour dough balls, served with boiled potatoes, tomato and eggplant mash), Patna’s favourite snack.
This stalwart of the Patna culinary scene has completed a decade and still remains a favourite all round dining experience. Serving classic North Indian dishes, they mix it up with a varied Asian menu including a few Pakistani dishes.
This vegetarian favourite is the place to go if you are looking for some honest to goodness south Indian fare. Of course, they also do the regular north Indian and Chinese stuff.
This always-crowded little restaurant serves up some of the best biryani in town, including a Kolkata-style preparation, a Patna favourite.
If you are craving something more fancy, head down to Spice Court at Hotel Maurya for some excellent Indian, pan-Asian and Continental cuisine with an excellent bar menu and dessert selection.
If you are looking for a place to kick back with a drink and take in Patna from above, make your way up to this 18th floor-revolving restaurant that like its counterparts across north India brings you food of the Punjab in a rustic ambience. 360-degree views of the city including Gandhi Stadium and the Ganga are a bonus.
The in-house restaurant at The Panache matches the overall quality of the premium hotel it is located in. This is the place you want to entertain in if you are aiming to impress.
Hotel Maurya, Fraser Road: Centrally located within walking distance from Gandhi Maidan, Patna’s best hotel is the place to go for those seeking luxury in Bihar’s capital. The large garden, pool and well-stocked bar complement the posh rooms.
The Panache, South Gandhi Maidan: A new and contemporary hotel considered to be amongst Patna’s best, The Panache boasts of a central location with great rooms, excellent food and great service.
The Samarpan Nesh Inn, Kidwaipuri: A solid mid-range option in Patna, what this hotel lacks in location, it makes up for in the quality of hospitality, rooms and service, with all the modern amenities that come with a newer hotel.
The New Republic Hotel, Bakarganj: Located in a bustling market area in a lane off Gandhi Maidan, the New Republic Hotel offers modern rooms with good amenities at a mid-range price. The location is perfect to explore Patna by foot.
Hotel Chanakya, Karbighiya: The Chanakya, conveniently located between the airport and city centre and close to the train station is ideal for business and leisure travellers alike looking for a comfortable refined stay and quality service. The in-house restaurant, Takshila, is a Patna favourite.
Most well-known for the famous Madhubani paintings, a visit to Patna is incomplete without buying one of these treasures. If you can’t make it to the town of Madhubani, to see the paintings on the village walls, head to Ajanta a little boutique store on Fraser Road for an excellent collection of paintings on different mediums. You can also check out the emporiums at Mauyra Lok, for their Madhubani style of work on handicrafts, lamps, wall hangings, etc. For a more street experience, head to the famous Hathua Market, one of the oldest street markets in the city that sell everything from colourful footwear to kitschy souvenirs.
Bihar is an important confluence of historic and religious events, which makes Patna the perfect place to base oneself to visit these sites. Head north of the Ganga through small villages to the ruins of Vaishali, one of the earliest republics dating back to 6 BC, where the Buddha preached his last sermon. It is also the birthplace of Lord Mahavir and important to the Jain community. 105km south of Patna is the important historical town of Rajgir, which holds the 40m Vishwa Shanti Stupa, or Peace Stupa built by the Japanese Buddhist order that stands atop the Ratnagiri Hill. From Rajgir you can also visit the well-maintained and serene ruins of the 5th century Nalanda University, which gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2016. Don’t miss the Xuan Zang Memorial Hall built by the Chinese in honour of the famous traveller who walked to India and studied and taught at Nalanda.
The best time to visit Patna is during their most important festival, the Chhath Puja, held every year after Diwali. Head to the ghats on the Ganga to witness thousands giving homage to the Sun. For another truly unique experience, head to Sonepur in November, across the river from Patna, where the largest cattle and animal fair in Asia is held. To rejuvenate yourself after a hectic day of sightseeing head to the hot springs outside Rajgir. Be warned, temperatures can reach upto 45C and are best visited in cooler climes.
For love of the written word, take a trip to the George Orwell Museum, dedicated to the author of 1984 fame, in the tiny town of Motihari, en route to Nepal. From Motihari take a short bus ride to the largest stupa in the world, the enormous 104ft Kesariya Stupa, built on the site where Buddha gave away his begging bowl. There are a number of terraces with Buddha statues many that have been disfigured over time. For that much needed peace and meditation, spend a few days in Bodh Gaya, and be spoilt for choice from the number of serene temples built by Buddhist countries. The most hallowed spot is the Bodhi tree inside the famous Mahabodhi Temple complex. The best time to visit is from December to January when Tibetan pilgrims and HH Dalai Lama come from Dharamsala.
|Shaheed Pir Ali Khan Marg, Near Sheikhpura, Patna, Bihar 800014||PAT|