Like most Indians, I had grown up with a hackneyed old view of Bihar as a state of chaos, lawlessness and gross mismanagement. And my growing up years did nothing to change this view; even the Bihari labours at my family establishment were a funny lot but managing them reaffirmed my thoughts that Bihar must indeed be a crazy place! So when an opportunity was presented to me with an assignment in Bihar, I grabbed it with both hands. This post is specifically about the 3 days that I spent in Patna.
A Brief History of Patna
Patna is the capital and biggest city of Bihar and lies on the banks of River Ganga. Patna is an ancient city and was once called Pataliputra. It is among the world’s oldest capital cities and lies on the fertile stretch of land causing the title of an imperial metropolis. Its heritage and history can be ascertained with the 2000 year old ruins found in different parts of this ancient megapolis. Changing dynasties over the centuries have meant Patna’s name was changed multiple times; from Kusumpura to Pushpapura, then Pataliputra to Azeemabad and finally Patna.
It is a secular city with a multitude of tourist attractions for all religions – temples for Hindus, Gurudwaras for Sikhs, Mosques for Muslims, Buddhist sights for Buddhists and Jain temples for Jains.
Places & Attractions to Visit in Patna, Bihar
Set in a 13 acre campus and opened fully in 2017 at a cost of approx. 500 crores, Bihar Museum can easily rank among India’s finest museums. The sprawling premises were envisaged as a campus by Japanese architect firm Maki and Associates and Mumbai’s Opolis Architects. The Bihar Museum on Bailey Road stands as a symbol of change that the state is trying to achieve.
The very famous single-piece sculpture from 2nd Century AD; Didarganj Yakshi is exhibited at Bihar Museum. A signboard states that she was found in the Ganga, and for many years, the base of the sculpture was used as a washerman’s stone. The galleries at Bihar Museum cover a vast timeline, with exhibits from 4th Century BC to the 1st Century BC. There are also rich records from some famous dynasties – the Mauryas, Sungas, Guptas and Palas. There are galleries full of ancient sculptures, relics, coins and tools. I just wished that the authorities disallow mobile phones to stop the ‘selfie’ menace; its shocking to see everyone just going on clicking selfies with the ancient statues.
There’s a Bihari Diaspora gallery, where the struggles of Biharis who worked in Mauritius, Suriname, Trinidad, Fiji and Guyana are shown. The beautiful crafts gallery has Madhubani art, Sujani embroidery and Tikuli art on display. The museum also has an amphitheatre, a state-of-the-art auditorium with an interesting short film on the heritage and history of Bihar, a cafeteria by the name of Pot Belly that serves Bihari cuisine and souvenir shops. I was amazed to see the Children’s Museum with one of the exhibits showcasing wildlife sanctuaries of Bihar while there were many more interactive exhibits.
Entry fee for Bihar Museum is Rupees 100. Bihar Museum is closed on Mondays.
Patna Museum was the first place that I visited with regards to attractions of Patna. It is a beautiful old building painted in a pleasing shade of yellow and is located in a compound full of greenery. Patna Museum was established in 1928 during the British rule and is a rich repository of Patna’s & Bihar’s history and heritage. It is regarded as one of the best and oldest museums of India. Patna Museum is spread over 2 floors and has multiple galleries of artefacts.
There are Buddha relics found from the Vaishali excavation, historical artefacts discovered in the archaeological excavations across Bihar, pre-historic sculptures and terracotta objects from ancient times. A separate gallery is dedicated to the display of medieval period miniature paintings from different parts of India while another one is dedicated to coins. Among the interesting things displayed are is a World War I cannon.
I was pleasantly amazed to see an entire gallery dedicated to Pandit Rahul Sanskritayan. A closed room at Patna Museum with a separate entrance fee displays a casket believed to contain the Buddha’s ashes.
Street Art across Patna – Mithila Paintings / Madhubani Paintings
As soon as I reached Patna, the ubiquitous painted walls across Patna piqued my interest. Undertaken as a part of a massive project (Smart City Patna), Madhubani paintings / Mithila paintings have been painted on almost all the walls in Patna and they give a pleasing and aesthetic look to an outsider’s eyes even amidst the chaos of Patna.
According to the locals, most of these paintings have been made by the students learning Mithila Paintings / Madhubani art. I was impressed by the level of creativity used by the students as they have included different messages to make the paintings relevant too rather than just being mere street art.
However, a few locals were unhappy with the fact that these mythological paintings were also being pee’d upon at the bus stations and railway stations.
Kumhrar – Archeological Site
Kumhrar refers to Kumhrar Park which is an archaeological site where one can have a glimpse of the ruins from more than 2000 years ago. Remnants of the ancient city of Pataliputra established by the Mauryan Empire can be seen here. The excavations were conducted at Kumhrar between 1912 & 1915 and were successful in unearthing the ruins of a Mauryan Pillared Hall. The place is now referred to as ‘Eighty Pillared Hall.’
There’s also a Aryogawati – Dhanvantri which used to serve as a hospital. Ruins are visible in the greenery. On the site, there’s a museum / exhibition hall run by ASI with a collection of the finds from the excavation. I was lucky to find the gatekeeper with the key who opened if for me. The collection in the museum showcases copper coins, terracota beads and figurines, seals and earthern utensils.
Agam Kuan is said to be from the times of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (2nd-3rd Century BC). Hence, it is over 2000 years old and is one of the oldest historical sights in the ancient city of Patna. It is touted to be a bottomless well which has now been cordoned off and entry is closed. Agam Kuan is painted in red from the outside in the present times and the crowds of nearby Shitla Devi Temple throng the compound. One can have a glimpse of the well while taking a circular round of Agam Kuan. Devotees can also be seen sitting on the spaces outside the well where some statues have been installed and devotees are paying respects and offerings.
On my last day in Patna, I took a shared auto and was glad that the locals knew exactly how I could reach Agam Kuan. They dropped me on a bridge and asked me if I was happy to cross the small railing there? I was shown the spot and Agam Kuan was accessible by stairs from the place on the flyover. If I had been adamant about reaching the exact spot then it would have taken a lot of time, money and effort to reach Agam Kuan but thanks to the locals I was in the right place with minimal fuss. The stairs and path was lined with sellers showcasing religious paraphernalia owing to the presence of a popular temple in the same compound as Agam Kuan.
There are many legends with regards to Agam Kuan : Some say Agam Kuan is the place where Ashoka tortured convicts by throwing them into the well where a fire was kept burning at the bottom. Another belief suggests that Agam Kuan has nine small wells hidden after each other and a treasure at its base! Another interesting story is spoken about Agam Kuan that numerous efforts to find the depth of Agam Kuan have been unsuccessful.
Shitla Devi Temple or Maa Shitla Mandir
Located in the same compound as the Agam Kuan well, Shitla Devi temple is a popular temple with the locals of Patna and is quite revered as well. The sculpture of Shitla Mata (She is the goddess of smallpox) is carved in black stone and is installed in the temple in the multi-storey building. Shitla Devi Temple was made famous in the mid 1990s by the wife of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Rabri Devi who prayed here regularly during testing times for her family.
I was quite unprepared for such commotion near Agam Kuan knowing that it is a historical site from the Mauryan era. There was a swarm of devotees and pilgrims near Agam Kuan and shops selling religious offerings. Ladies thronged the Shitla Devi Temple and according to a shop-owner it was an auspicious day and hence the extra crowds of pilgrims on that day!
Gol Ghar (Or Golghar)
Golghar is a large granary built in 1786 and located near Gandhi Maidan close to River Ganga. It is visible from afar and can truly be called an architectural marvel. Golghar has a height of 29m and is a gigantic round structure that was built for storage of grains for the prevention of famine that afflicted the region during those years. Alarmed by the infamous famine of 1770, captain John Garstin built this huge granary for the British army to serve as a food storage.
It looks like a Buddhist stupa from afar and only when I got closer to Golghar did I realise the enormity of this round structure! There are winding stairs around Golghar that lead to the top of the round dome and the top is said to afford great views of Patna city and Ganga river, especially during sunset. Alas, I was unable to experience the same as climbing the Golghar has been disallowed at the present time. Entry to the monument is only Rupees 5!
Takht Shri Harmandir Patna Sahib
Patna’s crazy traffic meant that I took more than an hour and a half to reach Takht Shri Harmandir Sahib Gurudwara. I had originally planned to reach here by sunset so that I could see the Gurudwara in both daylight and in the night. Since the time taken was so much, it was already lit up by the time I walked the stairs of this surreal place.
The streets were full of chaos outside while the Gurudwara provides an oasis of calm. It was grandly lit up with changing colours and pilgrims sat outside on the marble flooring for mediation and offering their respects. An official at Takht Shri Harmandir Sahib remarked that this Gurudwara was the second most important Gurudwara for the Sikhs after the one in Amritsar and that I was indeed blessed to be here. He also said that I must eat at the Langar (public kitchen) that was open to people from all communities.
Takht Shri Harmandir Sahib was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to commemorate the birth place of the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji is one of the 5 Takhat or the Holy Seats of the authority for the Sikhs. The Gurudwara was reconstructed in 1839 and again in 1954 after an earthquake damaged it. Several relics from the life of Guru Gobind Singh Ji (born here on 22 December 1666) are preserved at this Gurudwara.
There was a prayer going on at the Gurudwara when I was there (around 730pm) which was also being heard on the loudspeakers in the compound. After marvelling at the Gurudwara with the stunning changing colours of light, I decided to go inside and pay my regards. There was a huge crowd inside; the ceiling was immaculate and looked very pretty. After spending some moments inside, I came outside, purchased some prasad, filled water from the filter in the compound and sat to enjoy the moments of peace and calm in the spiritual environment.
Other notable Gurudwaras in Patna are : Gurudwara Pahila Bari at Gurudwara Gai Ghat, Gurudwara Bal Lila Maini Sangat, Gurudwara Guru ka Bagh, Gurudwara Shri Handi Sahib Danapur.
Sikh Museum at Takht Shri Harmandir Sahib Gurudwara
While collecting my footwear, my eyes had spotted a signboard indicating Sikh Museum and as I tried to find the entrance to it one of the guards remarked that it closes at 8 and I had only a few minutes to see the Sikh Museum. I ran to the second floor where the museum was located and the lady at the museum said that I can take 5 extra minutes to see it (I had told her I am not a local and made a small request to let me see the museum).
The Sikh Museum is spread over a large room and is full of paintings, stories and anecdotes from the life of the Sikh Gurus. It is a museum that caters to the rich heritage, culture and history of Sikhism and is a must visit for visitors curious to know more about Sikh religion.
Raj-Era Buildings in Patna made during British rule
Heritage is scattered across Patna and an important part of India’s history (The British rule) can be seen through the buildings in Patna. Patna was an important city for the British and they constructed many structures that have since been called Raj-Era structures. Old Secretariat, Raj Bhavan, Bihar Assembly, General Post Office, Patthar ki Masjid, Quila House (Jalan Museum), Anjuman Islamia Hall, Sikandar Manzil, Rizwan Castle, Mariyam Manzil, Sultan Palace, Sadaqat Ashram, Dr. Sachidanand House, Christ Church, Patna Collegiate House, Patna College, Patna Science College, Tekari House, Bari Patan Devi, Badshah Manzil, Wheeler Senate Hall are among the notables ones.
Patna High Court, Patna
I was walking on the street after the visit to Bihar Museum and marvelled at the Madhubani / Mithila street art when my eyes suddenly spotted a huge building set amidst green lawns. I clicked a few pictures of the Patna High Court and was told by the guards that visitors are not allowed inside.
Patna High Court was built in 1916 and is a stunning structure in white.
Patna Women’s College
There were many signboards instructing visitors to not enter the Patna Women’s College and strict security was apparently touted inside the gates. I walked hesitantly to the gate and shouted ‘hello, hello’… Since there was nobody at the gates and the gorgeous Church-like building of Patna Women’s College was visible through an opening in the gate, I clicked a photograph and hurriedly continued my walk lest someone trouble me.
Patna Women’s College was established in 1940 and is one of the oldest women’s colleges in India.
Gandhi Museum, Patna
Gandhi museum in Patna is located near Gandhi Maidan and is dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. It is set in ample green space and was established in 1967 to showcase exhibits depicting life and achievements of Mahatma Gandhi. It was by sheer luck that I found out about Gandhi museum as the guy who gave me a ride to Gandhi Maidan told me about the existence of this museum and that it was a must see!
Gandhi Museum is a treasure trove of knowledge as it informs the visitor about Mahatma Gandhi’s movement in Bihar and the satyagraha in Champaran. There are other artefacts and letters associated with Gandhi and also a charkha used by Mahatma Gandhi preserved in this museum.
Kargil Chowk is a war memorial located near Gandhi Maidan and established in the year 2000. It is dedicated to the soldiers of Bihar, who sacrificed their lives in the 1999 Kargil War. The soldiers from Bihar & Jharkhand have their names engraved on the memorial also known as ‘Shaheed-e-Kargil Smriti Park’. Every year on 26th July, Kargil Victory Day is celebrated here by paying homage to the martyrs.
It is located on a very crowded road and can be easily forgotten in the bustle of Patna but totally worthwhile to spare a few moments and see this beautiful monument paying respect to the brave hearts.
Patna Zoo – Sanjay Gandhi Jaivik Udhyan
Also called Sanjay Gandhi Botanical & Zoological Garden, Patna Zoo was established in 1973 and is located near Bailey Road. There are a myriad variety of plants and animals inside the zoo and it is a popular picnic spot for families with kids in Patna. Facilities like toy train ride and boating are available. Patna Zoo is extremely popular among kids for the Royal Bengal Tigers on the site.
Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library
This eminent library is located close to Patna University and was established in the early 20th Century. Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library has a distinguished collection of rare Arabic & Persian manuscripts. Among its prized collection are priceless books that were saved from the plunder of the Moorish University of Cordoba in Spain. The library is a one man collection and the most important book here is a Qoran inscribed in a book that is only 25mm wide!
My experience at the Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library wasn’t so great. I was told I can’t enter the manuscripts room and the main officer in charge also told me not to click any photos of even the exterior of the building. It all sounded very fishy to me as to why would they not even show me the exhibits of the rare manuscripts and the treasures that the library is so famous for.
After a less than satisfactory visit to Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library, I wondered whether I should try and walk around the Patna University area and have a glimpse of the many historically important buildings in Patna that are mostly located in this area. And I kept walking to reach the bright yellow building of Darbhanga House. Darbhanga House is a palatial structure situated right on banks of Ganga river. It was built for the personal use of the Maharaj of Darbhanga.
Darbhanga house is situated on the bank of the Ganges and is presently serving as a college for economics, history, hindi and sanskrit classes under Patna University. There was quite a sizeable crowd courtesy of the Kali temple in the same compound as the Darbhanga House. I was skeptical if the guard at the entrance will allow me to enter but he was happy to let me in; some students told me I wasn’t allowed but upon knowing that I had purposely come to see this monument they guided me around Darbhanga House and showed me the rear side of this humongous structure that is on the bank of the Ganges.
Locals informed me that the place is called Kali Ghat. I could see a big bridge over the river Ganga and someone told me that the only way to get a full photograph of Darbhanga House is to go on the ghat. However it was too hot and I feared a guard or professor would soon be out to interrogate me on what I was doing in the college and hence thought it prudent to be on my way.
Padri ki Haveli
Made famous as the place where Mother Teresa got her training, Padri ki Haveli is also called St. Mary’s Church and is the oldest church in Patna. Roman Catholics had originally built a small church in the same place in 1713. The current structure looks Gothic and was redesigned by a Venetian architect and built in 1772. Padri ki Haveli Church is located in the old city part of Patna and is quite well known.
I boarded a shared e-rickshaw and the guy dropped me right in front of Padri ki Haveli. The high columns of the church give the Church a regal and imposing feel. I was lucky to meet the priest who opened the church doors for me. He also informed that Sunday mass is a grand event here and I must come if I was in Patna on a Sunday.
Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan (UMSAS)
I had stumbled upon the name of this craft and art school and institution all the while wondering if it would be worth going to this far off place located in the Pataliputra Industrial Area. Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan is an institute established in 1956 and is also a Arts & Crafts Museum in Patna, Bihar. It was created with the aim of safeguarding and promoting the dwindling crafts of Bihar.
Currently, it is also being run as a arts and crafts school offering six month courses in Madhubani painting, bamboo & cane craft, pottery, papier mâché, weaving, tikuli painting, leather, wood carving, appliqué work and block printing. It is spread in six acres of land and there is a library, museum, studios and workshops in the campus itself. Patna Haat – A cluster of shops selling regional products is also set up from time to time at Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan.
Apart from the 3 rooms showcasing different varieties of crafts and art from across Bihar, there is also a shop where one can buy terracotta products and other craft work prepared by the students. The shop is still in a nascent stage and there are also talks of making this an online system where one can buy Bihar’s handicrafts from across India over the internet.
Buddha Smriti Park
Buddha Smriti Park is located close to Patna Railway Junction and is a modern monument spread across a wide area. The Park is a recommended picnic spot for local Patna-ites and has sprawling lawns and fountains along with Buddhist statues. A 200 feet tall Stupa is the centre of attraction at Buddha Smriti Park.
There are relics from Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Sri Lanka preserved in a glass case in the stupa. Apart from the above, there’s also a museum, meditation centre and library for the visitors. Bodhi Tree saplings from the original Bodhi tree from Anuradhapuram have been planted at Buddha Smriti Park. Best time to visit Buddha Smriti Park is in the evening during sunset time when the weather is pleasant. This park was inaugurated by the 14th Dalai Lama.
Must Try Food in Patna
Batata Puri in Patna City
I must thank an instagram friend for recommending Patna’s special Batata Puri. I am not a fan of trying chat unless its really tasty and would have never tried it otherwise! Batata Puri in Patna is made on crisp puris and topped with potato, coriander chutney, curd and sweet chutney and sprinkled with salt and other accompaniments.
The whole plate only costs Rupees 25 and I’d highly recommend trying it in Patna!
Litti Chokha near Maurya Lok Shopping Complex, Dak Bungalow Road
Litti Chokha is Patna’s signature snack and is a staple of Bihari cuisine. Litti chokha consists of Litti – grilled and ground chickpea stuffed dough balls served with chokha – a gravy curry of mashed tomatoes, brinjals and potatoes. It costs approx. 20 Rupees for a plate of litti chokha that consists of 2 littis served with unlimited quantities of chokha. Usually served with cucumber and onions on the side. Among the most recommended Litti Chokha Stalls in Patna are :
D K Litti Chokha, R K Litti Chokha, Manoj Litti Bhandar near Maurya Lok Shopping Complex on Dak Bungalow Road.
My most memorable Litti Chokha in Patna was at a stall near Gandhi Maidan in the lanes close to Harilal’s Restaurant. It just felt more authentic and was definitely tastier. A random conversation at the litti chokha stall enlightened me that hardy locals can devour 20 Littis when they are hungry! I loved the dish and am surprised that the relatively simpler dall-baati-choorma dish from Rajasthan has been made so famous while Litti Chokha is in the same ilk and still doesn’t command a fan following! I wish a change is in the offing and Litti Chokha becomes more well known across our country.
Bihari Rai’s Litti Chokha near Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park was made famous when the Bollywood star Amir Khan ate at his stall when he was in Patna!
Champaran Ahuna Mutton at Old Champaran Meat House
Champaran Ahuna Mutton is a specialty of Champaran district of Bihar. The distinct flavour of this mutton dish comes from it being cooked in an earthen pot, over slow flames of the coal. The mutton is mixed with spices, and left to cook slowly in its own juice in an earthen vessel on a coal-fire. The most authentic place to try it is at a restaurant called Old Champaran Meat House, which is close to Patna Museum. A meal for one should cost around 100-150 Rupees at this hugely popular restaurant.
Maner ka Laddoo at Maner Sweets
I wondered for a few days if I should head to Maner village (30 kms from Patna) to see the Dargah of a Sufi Saint in Maner and also try the famous Maner Laddoo. On my first day in Patna, as I walked around the Maurya Lok Complex after trying Litti Chokha at 4 different stalls in the vicinity the sight of Maner Sweets intrigued me. I walked inside and tried a Maner ka Laddoo in desi ghee and boy was it delicious!
I ended up going to Maner Sweets for the Maner ka Laddoo everyday for the rest of my time in Patna and even got back half a kilo as a souvenir at home! So, you may also not need to head to Maner village for the taste of Maner ka Laddoo and instead have it in the relative comfort of Patna!
Khaja at Sangeeta Sweets
Khaja is a sweet prepared with maida, sugar and fried in oil / ghee and looks rectangular in shape. On the way to Nalanda from Rajgir, a village by the name of Silao is famous for its Khaja sweets but I could not try it there since it was very dusty and I wasn’t sure of the khaja being fried in desi ghee.
Sangeeta Sweets is located near Patna Museum and is a recommended place to try the Khaja sweet. Apparently, the master sweet makers at this shop are from Silao village.
Food Trail In Kadam Kuan Area, Patna
R K Lassi
I was lucky to be told of this famous lassi in Kadam Kuan by the ola bike guy who dropped me to the hotel which happened to be in Kadam Kuan. The lassi is freshly made and costs only 25 Rupees.
Paan Shop near R K Lassi
There’s a paan shop near R K Lassi. 2 adjacent paan shops with one especially popular. Even the old timers of Patna come to eat pan (paan) at this shop with no name. Try the meetha paan here.
Fried Litti (Morning) in a lane (Rajesh)
I had woken up one morning and started strolling around the area near the hotel in Kadam Kuan; upon asking some locals about a breakfast place they guided me to this epic find of fried litti. Littis were being fried in a huge pan in a lane, while a crowd of buyers and hungry breakfast-eaters had assembled and plates were being dished out at a great speed. I was initially skeptical about the hygiene of the place but when I noticed the eaters (who had bisleri water bottles in their hands), I asked for a plate as well!
And the fried litti served with gram and tamarind chutney was so yummy and crispy that I had to ask for a second helping! Only 15 Rupees for 6 tiny fried littis.
Tripti Misthan Bhandar
Tripti Misthan Bhandar was recommended to me by a local foodie uncle whom I had befriended at the lassi shop and he suggested that I must try the Bengali sweets at Tripti Misthan Bhandar. And surely, he was quite astute in his observation – among the sweets that I tried, Belgrami was my absolute favourite.
Dauji Misthan Bhandar
I had seen the crowds at Dauji Misthan Bhandar from the rickshaw and after dropping my bags in the room instantly rushed to Dauji to find that the samosas were sold out and only one plate of the tikki chat was remaining! I got lucky to have eaten the most delicious aloo tikki in Patna at Dauji Misthan Bhandar in Kadam Kuan.
Shopping in Patna
New Sonali Handloom
The gentleman at this shop is highly knowledgable and knows in and out about the arts and crafts of Bihar. It is located near Maurya Lok Complex and can be a good place to buy Madhubani Paintings, Tikuli art and Bhagalpur silk sarees among other things while in Patna.
The Patna Museum Shop
The staff at The Patna Museum Shop deserves a special mention for being very kind and helpful and answering all my questions regarding arts and crafts of Patna. Their products were also very nice but I found them a bit expensive.
When I went around asking the locals for the right place to buy local souvenirs from Bihar in Patna, they all guided me to the Bihar Emporium located in Maurya Lok Complex. Bihar Emporium also had a signboard of Tribes India and it was not worthy of being a Government Emporium. The staff were not at all keen to show me the products and it was only through my insistence that I was able to figure the basics of Madhubani paintings, Bhagalpuri silk sarees of Bihar and different fabrics and products.
As soon as I noticed the 5x prices of a Rajasthani Bed cover at Bihar Emporium, I had my answer and rushed out of the door as soon as I could!
I hope this post serves as a Travel Guide to Patna.