When it comes to tourism, while Bihar may still be "off the beaten track", the Bihar government has been putting significant effort into drawing visitors to the state. The main focus has been on promoting Bihar's many religious sites. They've been grouped into "circuits" for each religion. Bihar is still relatively undeveloped, which also makes it an excellent place for rural tourism. Discover the important Bihar tourist attractions in this article.
Want to know what to buy in Bihar? Have a look at this guide to shopping in India by region to discover the handicrafts that Bihar is famous for.
1. Sonepur Fair
2. Buddhist Circuit
Bihar is where the Buddha began his journey to enlightenment and it's possible to follow in his sacred footsteps. The most important Buddhist pilgrimage place (both in Bihar and India) is Bodhgaya, where the Buddha became enlightened. The magnificent Maha Bodhi Temple marks the spot.
Other places of significance are West Champaran, where the Buddha left his father's kingdom; East Champaran, where the Buddha stayed at a hermitage and met his first spiritual teacher; Rajgir, where you can take a cable car up the hill to Vishwashanti Stupa; and Vaishali, also one of Buddha's favorite places. Other places of relevance to Buddhism in Bihar are Nalanda and Bhagalpur with their Buddhist university ruins and museums containing Buddhist artifacts, and the rock-cut caves built by Buddhist monks at Jehanabad.
The Mahaparinirvan Express Buddhist Train includes visits to Bodhgaya, Rajgir and Nalanda.
3. Hindu Circuit
Just 13 kilometers from Buddhist Bodhgaya, Gaya is a major center for Hindu pilgrims. The main attraction there is the Vishnupad Temple, with its huge footprint of Lord Vishnu imprinted on rock. Pilgrims come to Gaya to perform the holy "Pinda Dan" ritual for their deceased elders. It's believed to liberate their souls, as well as provide salvation and release from rebirth. According to mythology, Lord Ram visited Gaya with his wife Sita to perform the "Pinda Dan".
The Ramayana, an epic that tells the tale of Ram (the seventh incarnation of Vishnu), originated in the Bihar region and many places there have been linked with events narrated in it. These are all laid out in Bihar Tourism's Ramayana Circuit.
4. Jain Circuit
Bihar is also an especially sacred destination for followers of the Jain religion as the 12th Tirthankara Vasupujya and 24th Tirthankara Mahavira were both born there, in Champapur (Bhagalpur district) and Kundalpur (Vaishali district) respectively. The holiest site for Jain devotees is Pawapuri, where Mahavira is believed to have attained nirvana. Not to be missed there is the magnificent white marble Jal Mandir, which floats out on a lotus lake. A temple atop Mandar Hill in Baunsi village (in Banka district) commemorates the spot where Vasupujya attained nirvana. The view is breathtaking. Rajgir and Nalanda are also both places of significance for Jains, and there are many temples in these districts. Mahavira, in particular, spent fourteen years of his life at Rajgir and Nalanda.
5. Sikh Circuit
Patna was the birthplace of the 10th Guru of the Sikh religion, Guru Gobind Singh. The famous gurudwara Takhat Shri Harimandirji Patna Sahib is located there. It's regarded as one of the Five Takhts (five places of worship) that are of great significance for Sikhs, and it can be visited as part of the Panj Takht Darshan.
There are four more gurudwaras in the vicinity of Patna Sahib, as well as a number of other gurudwaras scattered across Bihar.
6. Sufi Circuit
In ancient times, Bihar used to be the center of power before Mughal rulers shifted it to Delhi. Many Sufi saints came to the region, and attracted pilgrims with their liberal mindsets and humanistic preaching. You'll find numerous sacred tombs of Muslim rulers in Bihar. Amongst the most elaborately constructed ones are Emperor Sher Shah Suri's mausoleum, built in the center of a large artificial lake at Sasaram (around 160 kilometers south west of Patna), and the tomb of Shah Daulat (known as the Choti Dargah) on the banks of the River Ganges in Maner (around 29 kilometers east of Patna).
Other sacred places include Syed Muhammad of Amjhar Sarif's tomb in Aurangabad, and the tomb of the first woman Sufi saint of India Hazrat Bibi Kamal in Jehanabad (it's famous for healing acute diseases and the mentally challenged).