Having visited Rajgir in November, this time when I came to Patna, we decided to tick off yet another historical destination in Bihar, Gaya, from our travel bucket list. Gaya is not only a place of historical significance dating back to 6th century BC and the times of Ramayana and Mahabharata, but also a place that holds immense religious significance among Hindus and Buddhists.
The story goes that Gaya got its peculiar name from the holy demon Gayasur. It is also said that Lord Rama along with Sita and Lakshman visited Gaya for offering Pind-Daan (funeral rites) to their father Dasharath. The tradition continued, and today we see a swarm of Hindus thronging Vishnupad temple to perform Pind-Daan to the departed souls of their ancestors, for peace and salvation.
We chose a longer weekend for this two days’ trip, as we intended to stay in Gaya overnight and take a different route on our way back to Patna, through Rajgir. Although Bodh Gaya is hardly 110 kilo meters from Patna, it did take us around 4.5 hours (with a short stopover for breakfast) to drive through narrow village roads.
Unlike Rajgir trip, this time we preferred to stay in hotel more and visit the temples and monasteries only in the evening. As most of the monasteries in Bodh Gaya were closed for public due to Covid-19 pandemic, we could only get a bystander glimpse of their beautiful architecture, without any photograph.
Thankfully, we could at least visit the famous Mahabodhi Temple, which was open for public. This ancient temple which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, marks the point where Lord Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.
The first temple was built by Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century B.C., and the present temple dates from the 5th or 6th centuries. It is one of the earliest Buddhist temples, still standing in India, from the late Gupta period.
The temple premise is quite huge where you can spot many Buddhists in their traditional attire and guides explaining where and how Lord Buddha had spent his weeks here.
As we were tempted to buy some knick-knacks and artefacts, we ended up visiting a more popular market called, Tibetan Refugee Market, in the hope to get some collectible. This market, being much smaller than expected, greeted us with an utter disappointment, as it only had woolen clothes on display.
The next day, we had a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel, followed by a trip to the main city of Gaya to visit Vishnupad Temple and Mangla-Gauri temple. While the construction date of Vishnupad Temple is unknown, people believe this temple to be in existence from the times of Rama and Sita. The present day structure was rebuilt by the ruler of Indore, Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar, in 1787. Mangla-Gauri temple, which is relatively much smaller, dates back to the 15th century and is one of the eighteen maha shaktipeeth.
As we were already late, we decided to head back to Patna, via Rajgir. On our way to Rajgir, we found a hidden gem, Gehlaur, the village of Dashrath Manjhi (1929–2007), also known as Mountain Man. When his wife died falling from a mountain, he decided to carve a path 110 meters long (360 feet), through a ridge of hills. It took him 22 years to complete this work, which shortened the travel between the Atri and Wazirganj blocks of Gaya from 55 km to 15 km. In his memories, the Government has now erected a huge gate to mark the entrance and exit of this path.
In 2015, Nawazuddin Siddiqui enacted the role of Dashrath Manjhi in the biopic, Manjhi – The Mountain Man which made Manjhi’s epic story of perseverance even more popular.
When we reached Rajgir this time, we did not miss Jarasandh’s Akhara and Son Bhandar Caves. However, we did miss Veerayatan Museum which was closed due to Covid-19 pandemic and the ruins of Nalanda University on our way back, as it was already dark.