Introducing Bihar & Jharkhand
As the birthplace of Buddhism, Bihar holds great significance in India’s cultural and spiritual heritage. Siddhartha Gautama – Buddha – spent much of his life here and attained enlightenment underneath a bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, making it the most important pilgrimage site in the world for Buddhists. Following a trail of ancient and modern Buddhist sites, you can visit the extensive ruins of Nalanda, the largest university in the ancient world, the many shrines and temples at nearby Rajgir, and the great Ashokan pillar at Vaishali.
In August 2000, Bihar was split along tribal lines, creating the new state of Jharkhand. Home to numerous waterfalls and lush forests, Jharkhand is notable as the most significant Jain pilgrimage site in north-central India, although the state’s best-kept secret is Betla (Palamau) National Park, where you can take an elephant ride into the forest’s depths in search of an elusive tiger.
Bihar and Jharkhand are perhaps more representative of traditional India than any other northern states. Outside the big cities most signage is in Hindi and men are more likely to be wearing the kurta and dhoti rather than Western-style shirt and trousers.
This has been one of India’s poorest and most troubled regions. Bihar has a reputation for endemic government corruption and ineptitude, kidnappings, extortion, banditry and Naxalite violence. The lot of Biharis has been a sorry one, causing many to escape the state and seek work elsewhere. But it’s improving: a new government is controlling corruption and lawlessness, and new infrastructure developments are being built.
All this keeps it well out of most visitors’ comfort zone, but don’t be put off; this is pioneer travelling territory, barely diluted by tourism and the more intriguing for it.