Located in the centre of seven hills and a rugged piece of land, Rajgir holds a rich history that dates back to 1000 BC. Rajgir is the first capital of Magadha Kingdom and was known as Rajagriha. This small village close to Bihar and Jharkhand’s border is now a highly revered site being important to the followers of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Old Scriptures suggest that founders of both religion, Buddha and Mahavira had spent a major part of their time around this place. Today, the uneven lands of Rajgir and Nalanda are enriched with umpteen archaeological sites. Travellers coming to Bodh Gaya always mix Rajgir and Nalanda as an extension to their trip. As individual travel destinations, both places are really good and worth visiting.
How to reach Rajgir
Rajgir is accessible from Patna and Ranchi by trains, buses and by air. The nearest airport is in Bodh Gaya but not many flights land there. Taking a train from Patna or Ranchi is the best idea. From Patna, you can either catch a train for Gaya and then continue your journey to Rajgir by bus or private taxi or catch one of the few trains stopping at Rajgir station and then catch a local tonga for sightseeing. Reaching Rajgir by road is easy and many direct buses ply from Patna on a daily basis. A morning bus will drop you in Rajgir by afternoon.
The best way to reach Rajgir is by train because the buses take a lot of time.
How to reach Nalanda
Nalanda is easily accessible from Rajgir. You can catch a bus from Rajgir bus stand. Regular buses are available at every half an hour. The bus will drop you at Nalanda bus stand from where you’ll need to catch a tonga (horse cart) to reach the archaeological site of Nalanda University.
The cost of renting a Tonga in Rajgir and Nalanda depend on places you want to explore. In Rajgir, tongas charge between INR 300 to INR 500 to show you all the places. They also wait for an hour near the ropeway stop. At Nalanda, Tongas charge INR 40 per person but it takes time for them to get filled up.
Patna Ranchi Jan Shatabdi Express timings are the best to explore Rajgir. The train stops at Bodh Gaya at 8 AM from where you’ll easily find a bus. Alternatively, you can also reach Rajgir from Koderma, all you need to do is to find a bus for Bihar Sharif. There are regular buses between Koderma and Bihar Sharif. If not Koderma then you’ll find a local bus from Jhumri telaiya to Navada or Bihar Sharif but the journey will be longer than usual.
How to explore Rajgir
The ropeway and the world peace pagoda are the most popular tourist attractions in Rajgir. You’ll have to reach the ropeway junction and then buy tickets for this scary yet adventurous ropeway ride. This chair car takes almost 20 minute to reach the other side of the hill where world peace pagoda is located. Walk to the pagoda, explore the hustle bustle around and then pay a visit to nearby monasteries. The view point at the top will show you an amazing sight of the farmlands near Rajgir.
The tickets to rope way cost JNR 80 for both sides. Adventurous and more religious ones often trek to the pagoda. Lord Buddha meditated on the top of the hill so it is highly revered among the Buddhists.
History of Rajgir is older than arrival of Buddhism. Stories in Mahabharata suggest that this was the place where Bheema defeated Jarasandh in wrestling. A point where Lord Krishna’s chariot got stuck still carries the mark of the wheels that was made due to struggle.
Rajgir has two hot sulphur springs. It is normally believed that one must take a bath in the springs before paying a visit to the hill. The baths are separate for men and women. You can laze in the warm comfort of the water for hours. The bath is usually open between 7 AM and 5 PM.
The mysterious son bhandar caves
From here, you should visit Son Bhandar Caves. The legend of Sonbhandar caves in Rajgir says that somewhere underground there is tons of gold and other precious jewels hidden and can only be opened by chanting certain mantras engraved on the walls. This set of two artificial cave structures are located in the foothills on the Vaibhar Hills and date back to 3rd or 4th century BC. It is said that there is a passage inside the cave leading to the treasure. As per an inscription written in Gupta language on a rock at the entrance, these caves were constructed by a Jain muni named Vairadeva.
Back in the British Raj, an Archaeological Surveyor, Cunningham, conducted a detailed historical research, and concluded that these caves are related to Buddhism. Once British officials tried to blow the walls of the cave with strong explosives but failed. This incident intensified the mystery around these caves.
Later in the evening, you can go on a walk around the town and visit the smaller monasteries. The beautiful Japanese Monastery is constructed in the traditional style and a bell continuously rings inside the temple. Bimbisara’s Jail is another highlight where Ajatshatru had imprisoned his father.
How to explore Nalanda
Once you are done with Rajgir, you can proceed to Nalanda. There are regular buses at every 15-20 minutes that drop you in Nalanda market from where you’ll need to catch a tonga.
The tonga will drop you at the location of archaeological site. Take a ticket and go inside the complex and you will find yourself time travelling through an ancient marvel that is considered the prime of Magadh civilization at some point.
Lord Buddha visited Nalanda several times during his stay in Rajgir. The Mahavihara or the great university was founded and patronized by the Gupta kings during 5th and 6th centuries AD The Buddhist University had two thousand teachers and ten thousand students from all over the world. The library building spanned till nine stories. Buddhist scriptures, Vedas, logic, grammar and medicine where taught here. Hieun Tsang, a Chinese traveller who visited Nalanda in 7th century has documented the grandeur and the purity of this teaching seat. This residential university was built in Kushan style with well baked red bricks.
Nalanda University’s architecture was very well planned and amenities like drains, wells, equipped kitchens, cells, walkways and beautiful gardens were present. The massive block of Temple-3 also known as the greatest highlight of the place sheds some light on how magnificent the architecture might have been.
The University is said to have been at its pinnacle when the complex was put on fire in 1193, reportedly by an army led by Bakhtiyar Khilji.
On your way to Nalanda, don’t forget to take a stop at Silao, a small village that is famous for its sweet dish khaja. Khaja are square patties dipped into sugar syrup.
Nalanda’s ruins are an example of the hardwork and brilliance of ASI. The team that unearthed and restored the whole archaeological complex deserves appreciation. They are also inspecting nearby areas where they’ll start digging in near future. This development will unearth new stories from the past.
Post your exploration of archaeological complex, visit the temple of black Buddha and then return to Rajgir.
From here, you can either return to Bodh Gaya and proceed to Varanasi or Patna or you can extend your trip to Pavapuri and Bihar Shareef and explore these lesser known destinations.