Monday, November 28, 2011

Sonepur Ka Mela, Bodh Gaya and Nalanda - a study in contrast

We left for Patna on 25/11/2011 to see Sonepur Mela by Himigiri Express at 11.55 PM. We are six people – Gobindo, Ashis-da, Subir-da and Ashit-da and his wife with diverse background - all of us, hardcore traveller and suffer from wanderlust.....a great combination.

We reached Patna around 10.15 am. From Patna we hired/reserved an auto to go Sonepur (Rs 200 – which is little less than normal rate). Alternately one can go to Hajipur (@ Rs 20 per head) and reach Sonepur by taking another auto. There is a direct train to Sonepur station also from Kolkata, but the length of the journey is more – more than 14 hours. Our contact person is Mr. Ajay, System Administrator, (0 9430 828 188); he is with Bihar tourism. We booked 3 Tents on 26/11/2011 – the location of the tent is 2 minutes walk from the Sonepur Mela (near Sonepur Hospital) for 1 day @ Rs 525 per Tent. The location of the tent is very secured and convenient.

When the Mela started in November 10, 2011 (up to 9.12.2011) the rent was Rs 999. As the mela progresses the rent falls. There are some cottages also too at Rs 1100, which were initially around Rs 3000. I thought it is too pricey considering the facilities provided. (Bihar Tourism office is at 26 B Camac Street – few buildings away from Pantaloon,22 Camac Street,Kolkata. There is no infrastructure there, but Mr. Tapan Sinha (9830 04 52 35) gave some valuable information i.e. contact no. of Mr. Ajay.)

The Sonepur Cattle Fair or Sonepur Mela is held on Kartik Poornima (the full moon day) in the month of November in Sonepur, Bihar, on the confluence of river Ganges and River Gandak. It is also known as Harihar Kshetra Mela and it attracts visitors from all over Asia; till date, it is the biggest cattle fair of Asia and stretches on from fifteen days to one month. It has its origins during ancient times. Chandragupta Maurya used to buy elephants and horses across the river Ganges. The Sonepur Cattle Fair once used to attract traders from places as distant as Central Asia. Originally, the venue of the fair was Hajipur and only the performance of the Puja used to take place at the Harihar Nath temple of Sonepur.

However, under the rule of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the venue of the fair got shifted to Sonepur. The temple of Harihar Nath is believed to have been originally built by Lord Rama, on his way to the court of King Janak to win the hand of Mata Sita. It is further said that Raja Man Singh later got the temple repaired. The Harihar Nath temple, as it stands today, was built by Raja Ram Narain, an influential person during the late Mughal period.
Billed as the world’s largest cattle fair, the Sonepur Mela in Bihar draws in farmers from across the country vying for top prizes for their animals. The Sonepur Mela is one of the largest cattle fairs in Asia where cows, sheep, elephants, camels, cats, dogs, pigs, monkeys. But over the years, the fair has become much larger to include several attractions, including motorcycle wall of death shows and dancer girls.
There are plenty of other attractions and entertainments on offer at this pulsating festival; visitors can simply browse through the stalls or regional food and drink specialties. You will find the variety of stalls selling almost everything under the sun from garments to weapons, furniture to toys, utensils and agricultural equipments to jewelry and handicrafts etc. You may also taste varieties of famous local delicacies such as Papdi, Khazoor, Halwa and much more. However it was no way different from any other village fair and loud music.
But when we went there, it is bit late and by that time elephants and camels have left. A huge disappointment for us. So it is better to go within 1st week. We rode the giant wheel and saw some magic shows.

However we saw horse, cow, rabbit, dog, birds. We were told the cost of a good horse is Rs 1 lakh. The jersey cows were sold at Rs 50,000 and ordinary cows were sold at Rs 20,000.We are told that jersey cows give 20 litres of milk per day and local cows give 8 litres per day ( and hence the difference).

When asked about the dancing girls we were told that “nautanki iska jaan hai. Yeh chala jaiga to mela bhi khatam ho jaiga!”
In the evening we went to beside the Gandak River and after spending some time we came back to our tent and left for dinner.


Today we left early in the morning to see the fair and went to the Gandak River and hired a boat (Rs 100) to go the other side and saw a Nepali temple on the other side of the river. There is a crematorium on the other side of the river. After spending some time in the boat, we decided to come back to hotel and left for Patna.


By train

The nearest Railway station is Gaya (16 km). From there you can take a bus or a three wheel taxi to Bodh Gaya. Three-wheel taxi price is extremely variable, depending on time of day, but should be between 80-120 Rs. You should bargain considerably, there is rarely a shortage of service.
The express train from Patna takes about two hours. One can also go to Gaya from Kolkata.

By bus
There is a main road connecting Bodhgaya and Gaya. The Bihar State Tourist Development Corporation runs daily deluxe bus services to and from Bodh Gaya.
Ashitda and his wife left for Kolkata (they halted some time in Patna at their relative’s house) and left for Bodh Gaya by taking the bus from Mithapur Bus station, Patna – which is 2 km south of Patna railway station. We took our lunch at Welcome restaurant beside the bus station.
The bus goes straight to Bodhgaya. It took around 4 hours to reach there. When we reached there, it is already 8.00 pm. Then we took an auto to reach our hotel – Shanti Guest House – 631- 2200 129 or Mobile 909 717 0075 or 9835 81 80 81 behind Kal-chakra ground. The hotel rent is only Rs 400. In fact we were lucky to see the brother of owner of this hotel in the bus itself! It was very good and highly recommendable. Since the tourist season starts with the coming of Dalai Lama to Bodh Gaya in mid December, we are still good 15 days away from that day and therefore hotels were quite cheap. It is in a very nice, peaceful location. According to the owner of the hotel, the rent can even go up to few thousands during the high season! :
We went to Mahabodhi temple complex – the temple is already closed (at 9 pm) and will open again in the morning at 4 am. We instantly fell in love with the place. It is unlike any touristy area in India, more like Khajuraho and not at all crowded.
Bodh Gaya is a village in the state of Bihar. As the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment, Bodh Gaya is the most revered of all Buddhist sacred sites. Bodh Gaya is essentially a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists and all of its main attractions are related to this. The subsidiary tourist industry that has grown up around it (shopping, eating, and accommodation) is not really the main attraction. Perhaps unique to Bodh Gaya are the rather cheesy CDs for sale near the temple entrance that purport to be monks chanting Buddhist texts. You will know whether you want to take this home with you!
Whether you're a Buddhist or not, the main thing to do in Bodh Gaya is just to absorb the vibe of the place where the Buddha attained awakening: the vapour trail of that energy is still in the air!

We had our dinner at Green Fuji. The food was very good and price is very reasonable – it is 2.5 minutes walk from Mahabodhi temple. There are some other restaurants also.
Cafe Om. Excellent pastries, great food too. This is the place where everybody meets everybody.

There are some sleeping options too in Bodhgaya. Some of them with whom we had a talk are:
Deep guest house: 200/ 300 (2007) – now 500 / 600 Ph No. 0631- 2200 463
Bodhgaya Road;
Telephone +91 631 2200463

Kirti Guest House P.O Box No.21,Bodh Gaya 824231,Gaya, Bihar, India
            Tel. 91-631-2200 744 / Mobile 91 9431 223 016 /

Kundan Bazar Guest House, Bhagalpur Village, 824231 [], Single rooms to full-service apartments(Near Old Vietnam Temple), ☎ 9106312200049, Single rooms to full-service apartments, bike rentals, internet cafe, book, gift, and clothing shop, snooker bar, self-service kitchen, laundry facility, tour packages, and more

  • ££ Monastery guest houses offer a cheap option to hotels, though guests are expected to adhere to their house rules. They do not charge fixed nightly rates, but instead accept donations (ask other guests for the going rate). There is a whole string of guesthouses just opposite the park from the Mahabodhi Temple. All pretty much the same well maintained with restaurants on the ground floor.


     We hired a car for Rs 1300 to see Bodhgaya (around Rs 300), Rajgir and Nalanda.

The main temple complex houses the famous Mahabodhi temple/ Mahabodhi stupa and a descendant of the original Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment.

Bodhi Tree - it is believed that this tree is a direct descendant of the one under which the Buddha Sakya-muni attained enlightenment, inside the Mahabodhi complex.
There is also a nice lake in the complex. After spending around 1.5 hours inside the complex we bought some souvenirs within the complex and had some good tea. Then we went to some other attractions.

We saw 80-foot Buddha Statue .

There are also temples or monasteries from many other nations with a Buddhist tradition. Most temples open from 6AM to sunset and close between noon and 2PM. The best thing is you can see temple architectures of various countries! They are all nearby. One can even cover them by walk or by cycle rickshaw (to save time) or by hiring a bicycle.

§ Japanese temple (Indosan Nippon),
§ Thai Monastery
§ Bhutanese Monastery
§ Tibetan Monastery

    We however did not see Bodhgaya Multimedia Museum, located next to the Mahabodhi Temple, due to scarcity of time. It is open all 7 days of the week. Museum provides the historical and Geographical context for the life of Buddha through a set of Multimedia films and 3D Animation movie.
We also did not see Barabar caves, the oldest surviving rock-cut caves in India, mostly dating from the Mauryan period (322–185 BCE), and some with Ashokan inscriptions, located in the Jehanabad District, 24 km north of Gaya.

We then went to Fuji green to have our lunch (we had Momo, then-thuk, fried rice and banana and ordinary pan cake. All of them are very good and it is a real value for money. Then we went to our hotel to check out (12 pm) and left for Nalanda and Rajgir. On the way we got down at Myanmar or Burmese temple.

Get out
§ Rajgir – The site of Gridha-kuta (Vulture's Peak), where the Buddha stayed and gave teachings on the Mahayana (the second turning of the wheel), and Venu-vana, the first Buddhist monastery. Rajgir is also an area known for its hot springs, which are open to the public. Buses depart from Bodhgaya.
§ Nalanda – This Buddhist University was established in 450 AD. Currently, there are extensive ruins, but no inhabitants. Nalanda Museum is open 10AM-5PM daily except Friday.
$$ If you are coming from Bihar Sharif via Bakh-tiyarpur, then avail shared jeeps plying between Rajgir and Bihar Sharif (make a stop at the turnoff for Nalanda – which is in between these two). Rickshaws and other vehicles are available from there to the main gate of Nalanda; a distance of 2km. PWD operates a guest house near the gate.
§ Deo – Visit this place for a glimpse of Famous Sun Temple.
§ Patna - 130 km by Road, Deluxe Buses for Patna Available from BSTDC : Bodhgaya Hotel (7AM, 2PM daily), you can also go By Train from Gaya Junction

Nalanda is in the Bihar state of India and marks the site of the once famous Buddhist University also known as the Nalanda University. Nalanda was a Buddhist university established in 450 AD, and was the longest running university in Indian history and at its zenith accommodated over 10,000 students and over 2,000 faculties. However, it was destroyed by Bakh-tiyar Khilji, Turkish Muslim invaders in 1193, when the students and teachers were massacred and the massive university library was burnt down, and currently all that remains are extensive ruins that are spread over an area of 14 hectares. Though there was a small stupa constructed by Emperor Ashoke, there was no University there. But it was an important place for Buddhist for that.
Three kings of different era were instrumental in making this University – Guptas of famous Gupta dynasty, Harshavardana and Devpala of Pala dynasty. Hiuen Tsang travelled visited Nalanda first in 637 and then again in 642, spending a total of around two years at the monastery.
By train

The nearest important station is Bihar Sharif (about 15 km) - which is connected to Patna and several other important towns and cities of eastern India.
By car
Shared jeeps plying the route between Rajgir (15km) and Bihar Sharif (35km) make a stop at the turn off for Nalanda. Rickshaws and other vehicles are available from here to the main gate, a distance of 2KM.
By bus
Bus facilities are available from Patna, Gaya, Bihar Sharif and Rajgir.
It took around 3.5 hours to reach Nalanda by our auto. The road and landscape was indeed picturesque. We initially skipped Rajgir (which was on the way) to come back later. However we had some exquisite Khaja at Rajgir. Rajgir is very famous for Khaja. We bought some for our home. Gobindo did not allow me to make the payment for Khaja!
The Great Stupa. The remains of the stupa have terraces and smaller stupas.
We met a very good guide in Nalanda (probably the best I have seen ever). We were there for around 1 hour. We were told at its prime it used a cover an area of around 9 Km. We were late for the museum , as a result could not see the museum.
Nalanda Archaeological Museum. The museum houses a significant collection of Pala and Mauryan statues. 10AM-5PM daily, closed Fridays.
There is nice Garden Restaurant run in the Nalanda Multimedia Museum. However we did not go there.
Then we planned to go to Rajgir to see the hot spring. But it was already late- so we had to skip the idea to go to hotspring.There are many horse carts in Rajgir. There is a railway station near the main bus stand of Rajgir.
Rajgir was a favourite place of Buddha and Mahavir and its original name was Rajgirha. It was the capital of Maurya. Bimbisara was the first one to be converted to Buddhism and transferred the capital from Rajgir to Pataliputra (or Patna of today). Pataliputra was probably the largest city in the world in those days.
Many visitors to Nalanda prefer to stay in Rajgir as there is a greater choice of accommodation

Get out

Bodh Gaya (89km) and Rajgir (15km)

We were informed that train to Bihar Sharif is running late. So we decided to go to Rajgir to catch the bus to Bihar Sharif for a 1 hour journey. From Bihar Sharif (a major junction) we took another bus to Bakh-tiyarpur. Initially we were scared that the train is running very late. But actually it was around 1.15 minutes late. We had our dinner (Ganga Restaurant) at Bakh-tiyarpur railway station. The food was very cheap and good – though quite spicy. There are very few options near the railway station, though.


Unknown said...

Such a beautiful and informative blog! Patna is one of the most beautiful city. There are several destinations for sightseeing. You can visit at all these places by car rentals or taxi services in Patna. You can also book cabs for your local and outstation visit.

Ankita Singh said...
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India travels said...
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Anonymous said...

Don't bring your own cell phone from home. Put in a voicemail telling folks to contact you through your trip IoT SIM Card if there's an emergency and leave it at home. If you want to be sure you have received important calls, you may contact your cell provider's landline and listen to your voicemail there.

Chronological order