The birthplace of Buddhism
One of the least visited states of North India, Bihar is in fact an important place in the history of Indian civilization, as the birthplace of Buddhism - for it was here, at Bodh Gaya, that the Buddha gained enlightenment.
Major sites associated with the life and teachings of the Buddha, such as Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Rajgir, and Vaishali, lie in the dry plains of central Bihar and are the main attractions for visitors.
The birthplace of Buddhism in India, Bihar occupies an important place in India's cultural and spiritual history. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, spent much of his life here and attained enlightenment beneath a bodhi tree at making it the most significant Buddhist pilgrimage site in the world.
Following a trail of ancient and modern Buddhist sites, you can visit the many shrines and temples at Rajgir, the extensive ruins of nearby Nalanda, one of the ancient worldÂs first universities, and the great Ashokan pillar at Vaishali.
Whilst Bihar has a reputation in India for extreme poverty, the infrastructure has improved markedly in the past few years, and there are now comfortable hotels, good roads, and a surprisingly wide range of food options.
These improvements have taken place to cater to the groups of pilgrims which travel from Buddhist countries throughout Asia to worship at the many Buddhist sites, leading to a peaceful, pleasant and colourful atmosphere at these places, which are mostly located in quiet rural areas surrounded by attractive farmland.
The capital city, , lies in complete contrast to this, in the centre of the state. It is a busy congested city, on the banks of the River Ganges, with a fascinating jumble of crumbling colonial architecture, including one of the best Archaeological Museums in the country, bustling markets, chaotic traffic jams, and all the other facets of a fast growing Indian city.
Even though the hotel standards are good it is important to keep in mind that most are clearly designed for Asian pilgrimage groups, and none have any real character or individuality. Food is excellent - surprsingly non-veg is available almost everywhere. There is alcohol too, but most bars are in the top hotels and are expensive.
There are not any obvious security issues for travellers, though it is still advisable to avoid driving after dark, and walking around Patna after the markets and shops have closed in the evening would not be a good idea.