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Magadha, Bihar

What if you could turn back the pages of your calendar by a few centuries? What if time travel really were possible? What if you could discover an era that left its mark on modern day thought and ideologies? And what if I told you that you could actually do all of this?

Give your usual holiday destinations a skip and visit present-day Bihar, once the home of one of the greatest kingdoms in India, the Magadha Empire.

What’s the brouhaha all about?

Rather, what was the brouhaha all about?

Between ca. 1200 BC and 321 BC, Magadha, in present-day Bihar, was one of the most magnificent Mahājanapadas (the sixteen kingdoms of ancient India in the 6th Century BC) in India, thriving under the Gupta and Maurya dynasties, among others. As is also perhaps well known, the kingdom has also played an important role in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Slightly forgotten by us today, it was once the most flourishing region in the entire country, reflecting the epitome of culture, art and learning. However, taking a step in the right direction, the Indian government has revived Nalanda University, the centre of learning in ancient Magadha.

What to look out for?

This is a place where everything you studied during history period in school will come back to you. Pay a visit to ruins of temples, walk down the remains of the corridors of the seat of learning in Nalanda, see the Bimbisara jail, where the former monarch was imprisoned by his own son. If you’re religious, a trip to Bodh Gaya, where Gautam Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment wouldn’t go amiss either. The list of places to discover, which is far from exhaustive, also includes the Ajatshatru fort, the Sonbhandar caves, and several stupas and monasteries.

What about food cravings?

If you like rich north Indian food that incapacitates you for a few hours, you’ve come to the right place. The first thing you should try in Bihar is the litti chokha. This traditional dish is made of wheat flour and gram flour. Bite into this to feel an unbelievably delectable combination of ghee, spices and lemon juices ooze into your mouth. Also try the dal pitha, which is sort of like a steamed dumpling made of rice flour and filled with a savoury lentil (dal) stuffing. Satisfy your sweet tooth’s craving by ordering some lakthos,pedakiyas, and kala jamuns, to name a few.

How do I get there?

You’ll have to go to Rajgir first, which is well connected to Nalanda, Gaya, etc. There are quite a few trains to Rajgir. If you’re flying, Patna airport is perhaps your best bet.

And what about the budget?

One of the best things about going to Bihar is that it isn’t hard on the pocket at all. If you’re a budget traveller, you can go for a youth hostel. The Youth Hostels Association of India has quite a few of them in Bihar. These can cost you as little as Rs 500/- a night. For those of you who like to have their comfort, there are several hotels here that could cost upwards of a couple of thousand rupees. As for food and getting around, there are restaurants and eateries to fit every budget, and the preferred modes of transport are generally auto rickshaws and taxis, although buses do go here.

Any travel tips?

Make sure you have a good five to six days at hand, so that you don’t have to miss anything. You might want to avoid going there in the summer; the best time to visit is between October and February.

So give the more popular tourist destinations a miss for once, and watch this kingdom/city that once was come to life.

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Mansi Sheth - French, German-English Translator, BITS Private Limited An absent-minded daydreamer and perpetually wanderlust-stricken, Mansi thought her calling was journalism - until she signed up for an online Spanish course on a pure whim at the age of 13. When she isn’t humming a tune, she’s busy looking up unheard-of destinations that she could take off to and sincerely wishes that her life were a musical. The textbook definition of an introvert and a huge animal lover, she often finds herself more at ease around her four-legged friends than among people.