Golghar, the undisputed architectural landmark of Patna, evokes marvel and a lot of curiosity. This unique domed structure to the west of the Gandhi Maidan was built by Captain John Garstin in 1786, as a granary for the British Army. The engineer was probably inspired by Stupa architecture and surprisingly made no use of pillars to support its 29m of height and 125m diameter. Climbing the spiral staircase around the Golghar, once used for loading and unloading, promises wonderful panoramic views of the city and the Ganges River.
Address: Chajju Bagh, Patna, Bihar, India
Just outside Patna Junction, Mahavir Mandir, also known as Hanuman mandir, is many visitors’ first taste of religious culture in Bihar. It was once a nondescript little structure, and gained popularity with incoming Hindu refugees following the partition of India in the forties. The present structure was erected in 1987 with a distinct modernist take on traditional motifs. Architecture however is not the measure of its greatness as much as the devotion it attracts. Winding queues of faithful on Saturdays and Tuesdays, the worshiping days of Lord Hanuman, are a sight not worth missing.
Address: Near Patna Junction, Patna, Bihar 800001, India. +91 612 322 3293
Reaching Takht Sri Patna Sahib – a Gurdwara or Sikh place of worship, famous for being built on the site of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s birthplace – is an adventure in itself. Navigating through the narrow streets and congested traffic of Patna’s city center, you’ll eventually reach this stately 18th century meditative palace of white marble on the banks of the Ganges, welcoming pilgrims and secular visitors alike. If a couple hours of serenity aren’t enough, visitors are invited to stay the night, as is the custom with Sikh temples, in an adjacent housing complex.
Jalan Museum, or Quila House, is an eclectic private museum and a residential house situated on the banks of the Ganges. Home to five generations of the Jalan family since 1919, it’s a gem of a place, overflowing with objects d’art and antiques acquired by Radha Krishna Jalan. The collection includes elaborate Mughal-period silverware, Sèvres porcelain once belonging to Marie Antoinette, and the wooden bed of Napoleon III. Full of surprises round every turn, it is well worth the time to call 48 hours ahead and make an appointment. Since the house is not a public institution, this is the only way to secure a visit.
Address: Jalan Avenue, Patna, Bihar, India. +91 612 2641121
For an immersion in Bihar’s glorious past, head to the ruins of the ancient university of Nalanda. Monumental red brick walls and stupas proudly stand on the site of what was the longest running university in Indian history. It was established by Buddhist monks in 450C and is thought to have accommodated over 10,000 students and hosted Buddha Siddhartha himself. All that remains today are ruins spread across an area of 14 hectares, ample space to enjoy the tranquil surroundings. At some 80 kilometers from Patna city and easily accessible by bus, there are few better ways to spend an adventurous day trip.
Purposely built in 1917 by the British following an eclectic style incorporating elements from Mughal and Rajput architecture, Patna Museum houses a collection of over 20,000 historical and archaeological artifacts discovered in the vicinity of the city. The grand building is worth a visit in its own right. The real treasures of the collection, however, include a fossil of a tree said to date more than 200 million years, a casket excavated from the Stupa of Vaishali allegedly containing the ashes of Gautama Buddha, and the museum’s most prized artifact: the life-size Didarganj Yakshi statue (300 BCE), one of the world’s finest examples of Mauryan art.
Address: Near Kotwali Thana, Buddha Marg, Patna, Bihar 800001, India. +91 612 223 5731
The steps leading down to the Ganges, close to the small ferry terminal, is a fantastic spot from which to soak in the peaceful rhythms of the river and observe an authentic slice of Indian reality. Couples hang out here occasionally, kids play and bathe and if you look vaguely like a tourist you’ll be offered a short boat ride after negotiating the price. On Saturday and Sunday evenings at around 18.00, crowds flock here to witness Hindu priests draped in saffron robes perform the Aarti ritual, an offering of light and fire to the deities accompanied by songs of praise.
30km west of Patna city center, in the environs of Maner, sits Chhoti Dargah, one of the finest and least known Mughal mausoleums of Eastern India. It is a magnificent three-storey domed structure with four twelve-sided minarets in its flanks. Its walls are adorned with intricate designs and passages from the Koran are inscribed on the ceiling. The mausoleum was erected in 1616 in honor of Sufi Muslim saint Makhdoom Shah Daulat who was buried on the spot some years prior. Summers see the large body of water in front of the building turn into local children’s favorite swimming baths.
Despite being one of the oldest of the ancient Indian religions, Jainism remains shrouded in obscurity to many visitors. Pawapuri, or the sinless city, is a major pilgrimage spot for Jains from all over the country. Here, they believe all sins are absolved. Lord Mahavira, founder of Jainism, breathed his last at this place around 500BCE. A beautiful marble temple, the Jalmandir, was later built at the center of a large water body.
Address: Pavapuri, Bihar 803115, India
First established as a botanical garden in 1969, this most popular of green areas among Patna residents combines vast open spaces containing more than 300 species of trees, herbs, and shrubs, as well as one of the country’s largest zoos. It is an ideal place to gather for picnics, or simply to take a walk through indoor orchid houses and rose gardens. The Zoo is rather extensive and particularly well kept, featuring more than 800 animals from some 100 species, including hippos, tigers, Himalayan bears and rare breeding pairs of Indian Rhinos.
Address: Bailey Road, Raj Bhavan, Rajbansi Nagar, Patna, Bihar 800001, India. +91 612 221 7455
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 8:00 – 16:30
By Andrew Ricca