Rajgir, a quiet village in Bihar, was once the site of Rajagrih – The capital of the most powerful empire in India during the time of Buddha. Apart from being an important Buddhist area, Rajgir also kinder the past for Jain and Hindus. But the most famous place in Rajgir is Nalanda, where the ruins of the once great ancient University of Nalanda reminds us of the fall of the mighty. And this is the place were I’m gonna take you.
So much for the history, let’s get back to the trip. Like I said in the previous post, this day began with an unexpected turn of events. You know, people of South India are generally prejudiced about Bihar. I must admit, I too had a few preconceived notions about this place. When it comes to trains, I guess I’m right! We considered ourselves lucky to get a Tatkal ticket some 6 hours before the train departure. But it was only when we boarded the train that we realized that, those tickets were available only because no one takes tickets! At 1 am in the morning, we were stranded in a train, with allotted berths, in a jam-packed sleeper compartment. After some argument with the people, we here able to get a seat to at least sit, let alone lie down. Thank God, it was just a 4 hour trip. As my friend put it, “We were like sardines in a can”. Somehow we made it to Rajgir in the morning, and we were still in one piece.
The first thing was to find a hotel room and found one near the railway station. The room rent was just Rs.300 (He initially asked Rs.600, though. We’re good at bargaining) and it was pretty decent. After the usual Poori-sabji breakfast with jilebi, we set out to explore Rajgir. Being one of the most important tourist site in Bihar, Rajgir is a well maintained town. The major means of transport is the horse-carriage or the tongas. And the tonga fares are fair. The first stop was the Venu van which was a small forest garden and had been the favourite resort of Lord Buddha during his stay in Rajgriha. Next we walked to the Japanese Temple which is also a famous buddhist site in Rajgir. The temple as such is simple, but has some exhibits related to Japan and Buddhism.
After a little Buddhist visit, it was time for a Jain site visit. The Veerayatan. It was a non-profit Jain Organisation started by Acharya Shri Chandanaji and as for a tourist, Veerayatan boasts museum, meticulously portraying the life of Lord Mahavir. The museum is a must visit place and the exhibits are extremely beautiful and intricate. We had to honour of meeting Acharya Shri Chandanaji during our visit to the museum.
Another tonga took us to the Rope-way. It took us up by 400m to the Shanti Stupa. Like all major Hill stations in Eastern India, Rajgir
also hosts a Japanese Shanti Stupa located atop a hill. The interesting part is the view from the top of the hill. The remains of the ancient Cyclopean wall, that once encircled the ancient city of Rajagriha, can been seen from the Stupa. The single-person rope-way is one of the most important tourist attraction in Rajgir and it is worth the 60 bucks.
The next destination was the historic site of Bimbisara jail. I’d call it an epic troll! No pun intended but we weren’t expecting a ground with a 2 foot wall as the remains of a jail. Next was the Sonabhandar cave which is believed to hold the treasury of King Bimbisara. The legend has it that, the treasure opens to the person who can read the inscription on the cave wall. Guess, no one read it so far. Near the Cave is the Maniyar Math which is believed to be the Mani-Naga shrine mentioned in Mahabharata.
Next destination was the Ruins of the Ancient Nalanda University. Located some 20km from Rajgir, the ruins are a World Heritage site. Started in 5th century AD, the Nalanda University was as good as any of the best universities in the world at present. Spread over a sprawling 14 hectares, the Red bricked university attracted scholars and students from all aver the known world during its glorious days. Having met its decline during the Muslim invasion, all that is left of Nalanda are these ruins. It is believed that the great Nalanda library, which contained all manuscripts of ancient knowledge, burned continuously for 3 months after the invaders set fire to it. The planning and the engineering of the University is mind-blowing. The ruins of the monasteries where the monks stayed, the temples of learning, reflects the engineering ingenuity of ancient Indians. The present ruins were rebuilt by Archaeological survey of India and hence looks new. The entire complex and the associated museum are well maintained and I’d urge you to visit that place.
It was already dark (5 pm) by the time we completed the Nalanda tour. We had our dinner from a Bihar tourism hotel. Since we couldn’t find any tonga or any means of transport, we walked about 3km through the pitch black darkness with the freezing winds blowing on us. From the main road, we boarded a local bus and went back to Rajgir. After a 2 hour rest in the hotel room, we vacated the rooms and went to the
railway station. We had a train to Varanasi. All we prayed for was that, the events of previous nights journey did not repeat. Guess, the Gods heard our prayer. I slipped to a deep sleep on the upper sleeper berth of Budhapoornima express.
Train Departed! Last Stop : Varanasi