Don’t go by the title. I originally hail from a small town in Bihar called Katihar. Patna has just become a new home ever since I got married. After surviving immuring eight months of lock-down in Mumbai, right after our wedding, we immediately headed to Patna for a fresh breeze of much-needed ‘break’, saying ‘Hello’ to the chilly winters of Bihar.
When our plan to stay in Patna got extended for some reasons, we decided to learn driving (car), which was long due in our bucket list of life-skills. Driving through the empty roads of Patna in the morning, I started drawing sketchy road maps and landmarks in my head to navigate without Google Maps. In few weeks, the city started generating more curiosity in my heart to explore its hidden gems and local cuisine. Doing a quick facts-check, I found, Patna is one of the oldest living cities in the world with a heritage spanning across two millennia of stronghold dynasties to the likes of Ajatasatru (491–459 BC), Chandragupta (321–297 BC) and Ashoka (274–237 BC). Honestly, I never thought, I would be writing a blog post on Patna anytime soon, and here I am, excited to tell you its story and some best-kept secrets that only a true Bihari knows.
In the Search of Serenity
The one thing that always allured me about Patna is the river Ganga and its ghats. However, I was highly disappointed when I visited the ghats near Gandhi Setu for the first time, only to find its beauty being spoiled by an under-construction bridge. Thankfully, there is another such ghat near Digha which offers an exquisite view of the vast riverscape, asking only silence in return. My search for serenity in the hullabaloo of city ended here at a tranquil note.
Photography: When I realized that I am carrying a DSLR camera without a battery inside, I challenged myself to capture the essence of this place with my modest phone camera. As a photographer, I realized, more than anything else, it’s the composition that makes all the difference to a photograph. I mostly used leading lines, one-third rule, and scale to compose these images. I did color-correct them too using Adobe Lightroom for mobile to get the mood and feel I wanted to reflect.
In the City
1. Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park: The first time I read the word ‘Sanjay Gandhi Jaivik Udyan‘, it was in my Hindi text book as a kid, with pictures of a hippo in black and white. However, I never got a chance to visit this zoo until this year. What fascinated me a lot as a kid back then, had now become merely a checklist to tick off though, giving a realization that happiness is always contextual and time-sensitive.
The zoo is currently a ‘caged’ home to over 800 animals of about 110 species and more than 300 birds. However, if you are planning to visit this zoo on weekends, be prepared to face a thronging crowd. Given the long queue for the tickets, I suggest you to book tickets online at the zoo’s website here.
Photography: Photography at this zoo may not be a good experience, unless you have a super zoom camera or a lens more than 200 mm (ideally a 150-600 mm lens). Most of the images will have cage in the foreground, blocking the unrestricted view of the animals. If it is Sunday, you may have to also wait for the bustling crowd to subside. Overall, it is definitely not worth paying INR 300 for camera tickets only to photograph animals in cages and a crazy crowd blocking your views.
3. Maner Sharif: In the early age, Maner used to be a centre of knowledge and learning where Panini, an ancient Sanskrit philologist, grammarian, and a revered scholar lived and studied. Maner contains two Islamic tombs, one being Shah Daulat (or Makhdum Daulat), known as Chhoti Dargah, and the other being Sheikh Yahia Maneri (or Makhdum Yahia), popularly known as Badi Dargah. The architectural details of this monument is reminiscent of Mughal emperor Jehangir’s region. It is considered to be the finest monument of the Mughals in Eastern India.
2. Bihar Museum: If history is what gets you intrigued, you should definitely visit Bihar Museum where you can find a collection of anthropological artefacts and prehistoric objects, narrating the story of ancient Pataliputra and Bihar from earliest times to the 18th century. Didarganj Yakshi is considered to be the most beautiful masterpiece at this museum, having represented Indian art in international exhibitions. Discovered in 1917, near the banks of the river Ganga, it was probably made around 2000-3000 years ago during Ashoka’s times. The Yakshi meets the standards of beauty and proportion set out in Sanskrit and Pali treatises. The museum also houses a rare collection of British-period paintings depicting day-to-day life back then, a World War I cannon, an exhibit of local art forms and a tiny Children’s section. However, if you have been to museums in Delhi and Kolkata, you might not find this museum as rich as you would expect it to be.
Photography: At museums, I prefer documentary style of photography, which would not require a high end DSLR camera. I used Samsung Galaxy M30 to click some post worthy pictures. The technique I used here was, reducing the exposure a bit on the phone to get more balanced (neither too white nor too black) pictures, and refining them a little bit on Adobe Lightroom Mobile. Needless to say, you have to keep your hands super steady to get sharp pictures in low light ambience of the museum.
Not Very Far
The best weekend getaway from Patna is definitely Rajgir in my view, followed by Gaya. I would not recommend Gaya (or Bodh Gaya) to people with no religious inclination, as the city is full of either temples or monasteries. Surprisingly, Rajgir has much more to offer, be it, geothermal spring, ropeway, peace pagoda, Ghora Katora, Jarasandh’s Akhara, Son Bhandar cave, Veerayatan Jain Museum and now a glass bridge. If you are planning to visit Rajgir, you can also check the dates for Rajgir Mahotsav, a three-days festival of dance and music organized by state tourism department. You can also visit the ruins of Nalanda University on your way to Rajgir.
Photography: Gaya is full of temples and monasteries which means that all you can cover is their architectural beauty and nothing else. Rajgir, on the other hand, offers a very scenic view of the mountains from the hill top once you take a ropeway to the Viswa Shanti Stupa. You can also get some interesting shots of the 70 feet Buddha statue erected in the middle of Ghora Katora lake, from the boat. Wide angle lens (ideally 16-35mm) is a must to cover both Gaya and Rajgir.
Another interesting place that you can make a stopover on your way back from Gaya to Rajgir is Gehlaur, the village of Dasrath Manjhi (1929-2007), more popularly known as ‘Mountain Man’. When his wife died due to injury caused by falling from a mountain, he decided to carve a path of 110 m long (360 ft), 9.1 m (30 ft) wide and 7.7 m (25 ft) deep through a ridge of hills using only a hammer and chisel. After 22 years of gruelling hard work and perseverance, Dashrath Manjhi shortened travel between the Atri and Wazirganj blocks of Gaya town from 55 km to 15 km. Later in 2015, a movie was also made based on his life, titled Manjhi– The Mountain Man, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Dashrath Manjhi and Radhika Apte as Dashrath’s wife.
For the Hungry Soul
If you are in Bihar, there are certain local food that must give a try. I have arranged them in order of my most favourite to least.
1. Kadhi-Badi: You may be familiar with Delhi’s popular Kadhi-Chaval where the Kadhi is a loner, bright yellow in complexion, made with curd, and ready to mingle with the rice. However, in Bihar Kadhi-Badi is a married couple, with a much thicker consistency and always accompanied by deep-fried gram flour dumplings (Badi), cooked in a sour curd-based curry. So far, the best I have had, it was made by my mother.
2. Litti-Chokha: Litti-Chokha is yet another married couple, but with fitness goals in mind. This is the most healthy food you will ever get in local shops at Patna. Healthy, because the dough balls are made with wheat flour (not refined flour/maida) with spiced sattu (roasted gram flour) in it as filling, roasted on traditional charcoal-based oven/stove. The roasted ones can also be dipped in ghee (clarified butter) for an enhanced taste. Litti is traditionally accompanied by Chokha which is a mash(ed) up song created by the band of grilled brinjal and tomato, boiled potato, finely cut raw onion and coriander leaves. Litti can also be accompanied by spicy mutton gravy. You can find Neha’s recipe for Litti here.
3. Makhana: If you ask me, my favourite evening snack is Makhana roasted in a spoon-full of ghee, with salt and black pepper sprinkled. Rich in proteins and fibres and low in fat, Makhana is a superfood with bounty or proven health benefits. It is also used to make Kheer which is a staple food for people observing fast in Bihar. Recipe is here.
4. Chuda/Muri-Ghughni: It is a form of Chhole made with Bengal black gram accompanied with either fried Chuda (flaked rice) or Muri/Murmure (puffed rice).
5. Jhaal-Muri: Jhaal-Muri is Bihari-Bengali cousin of Mumbai’ popular Bhel Puri, but unique in terms of its crispy crunchy taste, with a hint of mustard oil. Story goes that Jhaal-Muri was sold by Bihari Migrants on the street of Kolkata during World War II to the soldiers. Recipe is here.
6. Sattu Drink: This is a staple quick breakfast drink for many Biharis in summer, when they are rushing for work or school. Fun fact is, it is also dubbed as poor man’s Horlicks for its immense health benefits. Recipe is here.
7. Sweets: I am not a big fan of sweet dishes. However, you can definitely try Tilkoot (readily available around Makar Sankranti), Anarsa (deep-fried but too good), Rasia (Kheer made with thick creamy milk and jaggery), Thekua (prepared during Bihar’s popular local festival, Chatth puja), Khaja (deep-fried flaky sweet with wafer-like layers of flour), Gulgule (Pue), and Laung Lata. You may also like Besan ke Laddoo offered to Lord Hanuman as ‘Naivaidhyam‘ near Patna’s famous Hanuman Mandir.
What is it that you have only had in Bihar? Please let us know in the comments.
My experiences with outside food in Patna was limited to few online orders and occasional dine-in over weekends. Here is my rating to some of the restaurants I tried in and around Patliputra Colony and Bailey Road.
Biryani By Kilo
Dab’s Food World
For the Connoisseur of Art
If you are in Patna, you must look for shops where you can see and probably buy Madhubani paintings, a rural art form depicting mythological stories in vibrant peppy colours. The story goes that Madhubani paintings ages back to Ramayana times, when King Janak, father of Sita, commissioned artists to paint the proceedings of his daughter’s wedding to Lord Rama. This rural art form borrows its name from a place in Mithila region called, Madhubani. Thanks to the initiatives of Patna Municipal Corporation, you can also get a glimpse of this state heritage on the walls of the city with social messages. This art form being unique to Mithila region of Bihar, also enjoys the status of Geographical Indicator.
Other Forms of Local Art: Apart from Madhubani paintings, you can also look out for few other forms of local art, like, Sujani embroidery, handicrafts made of special kind of grass called, Sikki, Appliqué works and Manjusha (or Angika) art. You can find more details about these art forms from Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan which is continuously working to promote and preserve these art forms of Bihar. The Institution also offers six months’ courses for these art forms.
Where to Shop: Bihar Emporium at Maurya Lok Shopping Complex and Khadi Mall near Gandhi Maidan (East) are two authentic sources (run by government) where you can buy these paintings and handicrafts made of Madhubani art. You may also consider boutiques like Petals and Srijan at Boring Road. If you do not prefer to head out, you can shop online here and here.
Festivals in Patna
Makar Sankranti is celebrated on 14 January every year with different names in different regions of India; Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Uttarayan in Gujarat, Bihu in Assam, Lohri in Punjab, and Makara Sankranti in many other states of India. It marks the transition of the Sun into Makara Rashi (Capricorn) on its celestial path. While in Patna, I could catch some festivity in the morning, despite it being a work day.
Chatth Puja comes much later in the year right after Diwali. It is also called Mahaparva of Bihar. The best way to enjoy this festival is to take a boat ride along the bank of river Ganga, watching people celebrate.
Bihar also has certain other local festivals like Sattuani Parv, Madhushravani, Teej, Jitiya, Vat Savitri Puja, etc.
My Best Seven
|Best local food to try||Litti-Chokha|
|Best place to have street food||Maurya Lok|
|Best place to live||Patliputra Colony|
|Best weekend getaway||Rajgir|
|Best Biryani on the offering||Biryani By Kilo|
|Best thing to buy||Madhubani Painting|
|Best time to visit||March-April & Sep-Oct|
Do you think, I have missed out anything that I should write about Patna? Please let me know your valuable comments. If you liked the post, please share it with your Bihari friends and relatives and follow me on Instagram @vivekverma0909