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Most travelers visit Patna, the capital of Bihar, on their way to or from Nepal or while they are on the Buddhist pilgrim circuit. Despite the city’s off-beat attractions and rowdy markets, many find its essence captured in the name of one of its major streets – Boring Road. All this is in spite of Patna’s illustrious past – Patna was, in a way, the first capital of India. The Mauryan Empire was seated here, and the Guptas too made it their capital. But Pataliputra, as it was called in antiquity, was abandoned after the decline of the Guptas and only refounded, as Patna, in 1541 by Sher Shah Suri, rival of the Mughals. Patna became a regional center for the Mughals and the British, under whose rule it grew into the city it is today.

Sights

Although archaeologists have unearthed bits of Patna’s past, most of the city’s history remains concealed beneath its flaking concrete and dirt. A few places of historical interest, scattered around the city, await the dedicated sightseer. In the twisting lanes of Old Patna is Har Mandir, a Sikh Gurudwara marking the birthplace of the 10th and last Sikh guru, Gobind Singh (born 1666). The second-most important throne of the Sikh religion (after the Golden Temple of Amritsar), Har Mandir is set in an echoing blue enclave reached through a tunnel of shops. Visitors must remove shoes and cover their heads to enter (scarves are provided). The present building was constructed after a 1954 earthquake destroyed the original temple. Inside, young men chant the interminable verses of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. Upstairs, a museum honoring Gobind Singh holds a few relics and lots of pictures.

The Ganga merges with several tributaries just west of Patna, so it is extremely wide here. At 7 km, Mahatma Gandhi Bridge, built in 1983, is one of the longest bridges in the world. Buses to Vaishali and Raxaul cross it as they leave town.

One of Patna’s most bizarre but popular landmarks is the Golghar, an egg-shaped grain storage bin near Gandhi Maidan. Built by the British in 1786 to avert famine, it was actually never needed. Two staircases spiral 29 m above the street – a quick climb. The blue corners of the city and the brown Ganga can be seen from the top.

The prize piece in the Patna Museum, located on Buddha Marg is a fortress like building guarded by cannons, is a voluptuous stone Mauryan Yakshi from the 3rd century BC, which stands in the middle of the first floor halls, showing of the famous maurya polish. Many less interesting sculptures surround the Yakshi, but upstairs in glass cases there are good terra-cotta figures and heads, especially from the Mauryan era. There’s also a substantial collection of thankas and other Tibetan artifacts collected by Rahul Sankrityayana in the 1930s. A few Buddhists claim that bureaucrats have lost some of the (supposed) ashes of the Buddha in the museum’s dusty store rooms.

The Khuda Baksh Oriental Library, located on Ashok Raj Path, houses a vast collection of Islamic literature and relics, mostly of esoteric interest. In the lobby, display cases show off beautiful, illuminated manuscripts hundreds of years old, weapons used by such illustrious figures as Aurangzeb, 19th century astronomical and astrological equipment, and some very delicate wooden models of ships and mosques crafted by the library’s assistant librarian. Mohammed Bakhsh, a lawyer from Bihar, started the collection. It was his resourceful and somewhat unscrupulous son, Khuda Bakhsh, however, who begged, borrowed and stole from as far west as Egypt to make the library what it is today.

Map of Patna

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