A gaunt young man sat down to meditate under a tree 2,500 years ago, determined to know the truth or die. The universe yielded to him that full moon night, giving us a spiritual leader whose influence has lasted 25 centuries... and also Buddhism’s foremost pilgrimage site. This is Bodh Gaya, where Gautama Siddhartha became the Buddha. There is the Animeshlochana temple, Cankamana or the Cloister Walk, the Bodhi Tree itself (or more accurately, a descendent) and monasteries from every nation with a significant Buddhist following. Be there on Buddha Purnima—if you can brave it! Bodh Gaya is 12km from Gaya, the most convenient entry point
The man who interrupted the Mughal reign of northern India, the man who gave us the ‘rupaiah’, started our postal service and improved the legendary Grand Trunk Road... Sher Shah Suri did all this in an illustrious career. His tomb lies in the historic city of Sasaram (the Grand Trunk Road passes through it) and it is well worth a visit. The red sandstone mausoleum stands, quite photogenic, in the middle of an artificial tank. Also, there’s a rather majestic 7th-century fort at nearby Rohtasgarh that Suri used, as well as a temple to the goddess Maa Tara Chandi. Sasaram is about 100km/2.5 hours from Varanasi.
For two weeks every year, starting on the full-moon day in the month of Karthik, Sonepur, otherwise a moderate village at the confluence of the rivers Gandak and Ganga in Bihar, morphs into the largest cattle fair in Asia. It has been held at this place since the time of Emperor Aurangzeb and it’s what the advertisement says: a world class mela. Crowds come, stalls are magically set up, loudspeakers blare, paraphernalia you didn’t know you needed is sold and then, of course, there is an awesome parade of livestock: elephants, Persian horses, bulls, cows, buffaloes, rabbits, fowl and even dogs. Sonepur is 25km/1 hour from Patna.