Ask any Bihari what they associate Rajgir with and you’re likely to hear two responses:
Ask any Bihari what they associate Rajgir with and you’re likely to hear two responses:hot springs and the aerial ropeway. But while the hot water springs are indeed invigorating and the rickety chairlift a lot of fun, there is so much more to the popular destination. With 2,500-year-old monuments ensconced amidst forested mountains, hot springs and lakes, the town has something to offer to all kinds of tourists – trekkers, pilgrims, history enthusiasts, casual travellers as well as those who just want to relax and unwind.
Rajgir is situated in a valley surrounded by seven hills. Formerly known as Rajagriha (the royal palace), it was the ancient capital of the powerful Magadhan empire. It was also a major Buddhist centre during the reign of king Bimbisara (543–491 BCE) and his son, King Ajatashatru (491–459 BCE).
Rajgir is easily accessible from Patna (100km) and Gaya (80km) via road and rail. Most of the sights in Rajgir are located within a few kilometres of each other. Tongas (horse-drawn carriages) are the most popular transport in town, although autos and cycle rickshaws are also available. While shared tongas are available at all the tourist sites (₹75–125), you can also hire a tonga for the entire day (₹450–1,000, depending on the distance and time). While tongas are a fun and eco-friendly option, they move at a leisurely pace. Hire a taxi if you are pressed for time.
Rajgir is a popular getaway in Bihar and can get crowded on winter weekends and holidays like New Year and Christmas when day-trippers from all over the state as well as neighbouring Jharkhand pour in, so schedule your trip accordingly.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
During Lorda Buddha’s stay in Rajgir, Bimbisara gifted him the royal park known as Venu Van (literally, ‘bamboo forest’). There is a small pond inside known as Karandak tank.
The forest was a favourite of Lord Buddha, who used to take a bath in the Karandak tank before going to teach his disciples on Giddha Kuta hill. It is said that Bimbisara once spent a night with Lord Buddha here as he got late after taking a bath in the warm springs nearby and the city gates had closed.
Excavations in the forest have uncovered the foundations of a room and the bases of nine brick stupas as well as tablets from the 10th–11th century.
Entry Adults ₹5, children ₹3; Foreigners ₹70 Timings Winter: 6.00am–7.00pm; Summer: 6.00am–6.00pm
The most popular of Rajgir’s many hot springs, Brahma Kund is located at the foot of Vaibhar hill, amidst many temples. The water from the spring is collected in an enclosure, which is accessible by a staircase. There are also faucets with running water where one can bathe. The water – which reaches temperatures of 45°C – is rich in sulphur and reputedly has medicinal properties: it is said that bathing in the spring and drinking its water can help cure joint pains and even arthritis.
Following a ban on the use of plastic, soaps and shampoo within the spring enclosure, the water has become clean and looks inviting enough for a dip.
There is a sign posted outside the spring which says “Non-Hindus not allowed” which has caused much controversy. Following a dispute in the late 1920s, a Colonial court ruled in 1937 that only Hindus were allowed to enter the spring – a decision which still remains in force. It is said that when a Christian officer had to enter the kund for administrative purposes, he had to convert to Hinduism for a day! Although nobody actually verifies your religion before you enter, it is best to be cautious. Foreign tourists are advised not to try bathing here at all.
An aspect that can be problematic while visiting the spring are priests who approach unwary tourists. They perform a puja (prayer) without your consent and then demand money, failing which they invoke not only divine wrath, but also gang up against you. If you do not wish to pay, make it clear beforehand and refuse to engage in conversation with them. If all fails, walk out.
A flight of stairs above the Brahma Kund leads to Pippala cave, a massive stone structure with grottos on all sides. It has been identified as the Pippala stone house, which was frequented by Buddha and later his disciples. It is named after the Pipal tree at the cave’s entrance that is said to have been occasionally visited by the Buddha for meditation after his midday meal.
The structure is popularly known as ‘Jarasandh ki Baithak’ after King Jarasandh who figures in the text of the Mahabharata.
The outer fortification of old Rajagriha – the Cyclopean Wall – is one of the few pre-Mauryan stone structures that have ever been discovered in Bihar. The wall was once 40km long and encircled Rajgir. It is made of massive undressed rocks fitted together with small stone fragments packing the interstices between them.
Although parts of the wall have disappeared, traces are still extant and can be seen less than a kilometre ahead from the chariot marks on the road from Rajgir to Gaya.
Rajgir is as holy for Jains as it is for Buddhists. It is said that Lord Mahavira spent 14 rainy seasons in Rajgir and 11 of his 12 leading disciples attained nirvana here. The 20th Jain tirthankara, Munisuvrata, was born in Rajgir. There are many Jain temples on the peaks of the hills around Rajgir. Most of the temples are easily accessible.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT
At the higher end, there are two options. Indo Hokke Hotel (Tel: 06112-255245; Tariff: ₹6,000–6,500) has a restaurant, Internet and spectacular views from the balconies and an ofru (Japanese-style bath) facility. The Rajgir Residency (Tel: 255404, Cell: 08002026666; Tariff: ₹6,500) has similar facilities except the ofru. The spacious rooms are equipped with tea/ coffee makers. Siddharth Hotel (Cell: 09199017971; Tariff: ₹1,500– 2,900), near the hot springs, has its own restaurant and clean rooms with attached baths. BSTDC’s Ajatshatru Vihar (Tariff: ₹125–150; W bstdc.bih.nic.in) offers dormitory-style accommodation.
Indo Hokke’s Lotus Restaurant serves superb Oriental fare. Though a bit expensive, you won’t mind paying for the good quality authentic food. The restaurant at Rajgir Residency is also a good place to enjoy multi-cuisine fare. Green Restaurant near the hot springs provides vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. It is popular for its elaborate vegetarian thali and is quite crowded. The road opposite the Brahma Kund is lined with small restaurants and dhabas.
When to go November–February Tourist office
Tourist Information Centre, Bihar Tourism, Kund Area, Rajgir, Cell: 09471006728, W bihartourism.gov.in
STD code 06112
Air Nearest airport: Gaya, but there are only seasonal flights. Patna (115km/ 2–3hrs) is more convenient. Taxi costs approx ₹3,000–3,500
Rail Rajgir railway station has direct trains from New Delhi and Varanasi. Gaya is more convenient (78km/ 2hrs). Taxi costs approx ₹2,500–3,000 up to Rajgir. Bakhtiyarpur (55km/ 1hr) is also convenient. Taxi costs approx ₹1,500
Road Rajgir is connected by road to Patna, Nalanda, Gaya, Bihar Sharif, Bakhtiyarpur and Pawapuri Bus A few private buses are available from all these towns