Bihar is a state in eastern India. It lies on the Gangetic plain, with Uttar Pradesh to its west, West Bengal arching to its south and east, and with Nepal to its north. The Bihar plain is divided into two unequal halves by the river Ganga which flows through the middle from west to east.
Bihar can be grouped into four regions based on river boundaries. These four regions have very similar languages - Angika, Bhojpuri, Magadhi and Maithili spoken in respective regions. The languages are collectively known as 'Bihari' and are decedents of the ancient language of Magadhi Prakrit, the language spoken by the Buddha and the language of the ancient kingdom of Magadha.
Bihar lags behind the other Indian states in social and economic development, and is one of the poorest Indian states. The state doesn't have good infrastructure facilities and so tourists may find their stay and travel very inconvenient. Nevertheless the state have many places to explore like Bodh Gaya (considered to be the birth place of Buddhism) and Nalanda (the site of one of the oldest universities of the world). The reason for the economical backwardness of the state is blamed on the state leadership, the central government's policies like the 'freight equalization policy' and its apathy towards Bihar, a lack of Bihari state pride (resulting in no spokesperson for the state) and the policy of Permanent Settlement by the British East India Company, which has left a feudalistic culture still dragging the state back.
Bihar has a youthful and mainly rural population of 85% and the society is mainly agrarian. Northern Bihar is prone to perennial flooding. The state has seen mass migration out of the state in last few decades and these ethnic Biharis living in other states of India are victims of racist hate crimes and prejudice. There was even Naxal insurgence in last few decades, especially in Southern Bihar, but the situation has calmed down in recent years. The state has earned a very poor image outside Bihar due to a poor law and order situation and involvement of crime in politics, which are generally exaggerated. Jharkhand, the mineral-rich tribal belt, used to be part of the state, but in 2001, it was split to form its own state.
Bihar has a glorious past. Bihar was known as Magadha in ancient times. It was a center of power, learning and culture. The Maurya empire as well as one of the world's greatest pacifist religions, Buddhism, arose from Magadha. Bihari empires, like the Maurya and the Gupta, unified large parts of South Asia under a central rule. Pataliputra (modern Patna), the capital of Magadha, was an important center of Indian civilization. Many important non-religious books like Arthashashtra and Kamasutra were composed here 2000 years back. Vaisali, one of the first known republic, existed here since before the birth of Mahavira (c. 599 BC).
The state suffered immensely due to Hunnic and later Muslim invasions, and the old traditions of culture and learning was almost lost by the end of 12th century. The Muhammad Bin Bakhtiar Khilji in 12th century C.E. destroyed many of the viharas (Buddhist sanghas) and the famed universities of Nalanda and Vikramshila. Thousands of Buddhist monks were massacred. Bihar lost its importance in the medieval period though it rose to prominence for a brief period during the rule of Sher Shah Suri in the 15th century. Foreign invaders often used abandoned viharas as military cantonments. The word Bihar have come from the large number of viharas thus employed in the area. Originally Bihar was name of a town, which was headquarter of the Muslim invaders in Magadha, in the medieval period. The headquarter was later on shifted, from Bihar to Patana (current Patna), by Sher Shah Suri and the establishments in those time started calling Magadha by the name Bihar. The town of Bihar still exists is also known as Bihar-Sharif, which is located in Nalanda District, near the famous ruins of the Nalanda University.
The culture and lifestyle of the Biharis haven't changed much over the centuries. Resurgence in the history of Bihar came during the Indian independence struggle against the British rule.
Bihar is connected by train to all major cities of India. Some good trains to reach the capital Patna are:
'''Bodhgaya''' Near the holy city of Gaya, the Buddha attained enlightenment. The tree that had sheltered him came to be known as the Bodhi tree and the place Bodhgaya. Today Bodhgaya, an important place of pilgrimage, has a number of monasteries, some of them established by Buddhists of Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka etc.
'''Patna''' Patna once called Patliputra the capital of Bihar, is among the world's oldest capital cities with unbroken history of many centuries as imperial metropolis of the Mauryas and Guptas imperial dynasties.
'''Nalanda''' A great centre of Buddhist learning, Nalanda came into prominence around the 5th century BC and was a flourishing university town with over ten thousand scholars and an extensive library.
'''Rajgir''' Rajgir,103 kms from Patna, was the ancient capital of Magadha Empire. Lord Buddha often visited the monastery here to meditate and to preach. Rajgir is also a place sacred to the Jains, Since Lord Mahavira spent many years here.
'''Vaishali''' Vaishali was one of the earliest republics in the world (6th century BC).It was here that Buddha preached his last sermon. Vaishali, birthplace of Lord Mahavira is also Sacred to Jains.
Kesaria This Stupa is in fact one of the many memorable stupa remarkable event in the life of Buddha. Kesaria has a lofty brick mound capped by a solid brick tower of considerable size, which it self is the remain of a Buddhist Stupa. The mound is a ruin with a diameter of 68 feet at its base and a total height of 5½ ft. originally it was crowned by a pinnacle which must have stood 80 or 90 ft above the ground. General Cunningham dated this monument to AD 200 to 700, and held that it was built upon the ruins of a much older and larger Stupa. It is the highest Stupa found in the country with a height of about 104” from the base.
'''Pawapuri''' In Pawapuri, or Apapuri, 38 kilometres from Rajgir and 90 kilometres from Patna, all sins end for a devout Jain. Lord Mahavira, the final tirthankar and founder of Jainism, breathed his last at this place.
Ahirauli (Buxur) Situated about 5 kms north-east of Buxur, this village has a temple of Devi Ahilya. According to the local tradition it dates back to the pre historic ages. Legend is that, Ahilya was transformed into stone as a result of curse of her husband, Rishi Gautam and she could be redeemed only when lord Ram Chandra visited her place.
Ram Rekha Ghat (Buxur) According to the legends, lord Ram Chandra and his younger brother Lakshman with their teacher Rishi Vishwamitra had crossed the Ganga here on their way to Janakpur where he later took part in the Sita swayambar (the public ceremony of Sita's Marriage).
Sita Kund (Munger) A village about 6 Kms East of the Munger town contains a hot spring known as the Sita Kund spring, which is so called after the well known episode of Ramayan. Ram, after rescuing his wife Sita from the demon king Ravan, suspected that she could not have maintained her honour intact, and Sita, to prove her chastity, agreed to enter a blazing fire. She came out of the fiery or deal unscathed, and imparted to the pool in which she bathed, the heat she had absorbed from the fire. The hot spring is now enclosed in a masonry reservoir and is visited by large number of pilgrims, specially at the full moon of Magh.
Janki Temple (Sitamarhi) This temple is traditionally considered to be the birth place of Sita or Janki, the daughter of king Janak. This temple, however seems to have been built about 100 years ago.
Valmiki Nagar (West Champaran) This is a village on the Indo Nepal border 42 kms North-West of Bagaha to which it is connected by a metalled road. A barrage has been constructed here on the Gandak river for the purpose of irrigation. Besides an old Shiva temple constructed by the Bettiah Raj, there are also ancient temple of Nara Devi and Gauri Shankar at Valmiki Nagar. There is a Valmiki Ashram, which is said to be the place where Maharshi Valmiki was living. On the occasion of Makar Sankranti every year a fair is held on the bank of River Gandak.
Bari Dargah (Bihar Sharif, Nalanda) This is headquarters of Nalanda district that lays 30 kms South of Bakhtiarpur on NH-31. This is also a railhead on the Bakhtiarpur Rajgir branch line of the Eastern Indian Railway. This town is known as Bihar Sharif, owing to its many Muslim tombs that still retain traces of its former importance as a Muslim pilgrimage. There is a hill called Pir Pahari, about 1 m to the northwest of the town. At its summit is the dargah or mausoleum of the Saint Mallik Ibrahim Bayu, round which are tem smaller tombs. It is a brick structure surmounted by a dome and bears inscriptions showing that the saint died in 1353. Another great dargah is that of Mokhdum Shah Sharif ud-din, also called Makhdum-ul-Mulk, died here in 1379; the inscription over the entrance shows that his tomb was built in 1569. This tomb, which stands on the south bank of the river, is held in great veneration by the local Mohammedans, who assemble here on the 5th day of Sawan to celebrate the anniversary of his death. The Chhoti Dargah is the shrine of Badruddin Badr-I-Alam, famous saint who died here in 1440.
Motihari (East Champaran) Motihari was to the first laboratory of Gandhian experiment in Satyagraha and probably it will not be very incorrect to say that is has been the spring board for India’s independence. Champaran district generated a wave of enthusiasm and inspiration to the people who were thirsting for a selfless and saintly leader. The technique followed by Gandhiji in Champaran was what attained later on the name of Satyagraha.
Kakolat (Nawada) It is a waterfall in Gobindpur police-station, about 21 miles away from Nawada. After going 9¼ miles from Nawada on Ranchi Road, a pucca road known as Gobindpur—Akbarpore Road diverts from there. Just below the fall there is a deep reservoir natural in character. The fall is about 150 to 160 feet, from the ground level. The scene is panoramic due to all-round green forest area, which is very pleasant to the eyes. A legend is prevalent that in Treta Yuga a king named was cursed by a rishi and had to take the shape of a python and lived here. The place was visited by the great Pandavas during their exile and the accursed king got salvation from the damnation. The king after getting rid of the curse proclaimed that one who would bathe in the waterfall will not take the yoni of snake and that is why a large number of people from far and near bathe in the river. A big fair is held on the occasion of bishua or Chait Shankranti.
Bhimbandh (Munger) It is situated at a distance of 56 km from Munger, 20 km from Jamui Railway Station and 200 km from Patna Airport. Bhimbandh Wild Life Sanctuary is located in the south west of Munger District. The forests cover an area or 681.99 sq.km on the hills and undulating tract of Kharagpur Hills.
Bihar has a terrible reputation for crime and banditry (or dacoity, to use the Indian word), with armed bandits recently taking to robbing moving trains, and there were 55 cases of hijackings for ransom (and 2,480 for other reasons!) reported in 2008. The situation is steadily improving though, with crime statistics for the most serious offences dropping the last 3 years in a row and, in absolute numbers, crime against foreigners remains comparably low compared to states popular with international tourists. So while reality may not be quite as grim as the horror stories you'll hear from non-Biharis, it's still advisable to keep a low profile and to avoid overnight travel on the roads. A low-level Naxalite insurgency continues to bubble in the southern parts of the state, but the tourist is unlikely to venture into the affected regions.
Public transportation systems, like trains and buses, are generally over crowded. Trains in India are generally prone to theft, so it's wise to lock your luggage to the seat in the carriage and keep more aware than usual.