Bihar, which takes its name from the word vihara (monastery), was the early home of Buddhism and the birthplace of one of India's most revered emperors, Asoka. His Buddhist legacy has left its imprint in some of the state's most visited pilgrimage sites, for while it may be on the outskirts of modern Patna, Kumrahar still has fragmentary remains of the early Mauryan capital; in Bodh Gaya and Nalanda, Buddhism's tradition is powerfully visible.
After the creation of the new state of Jharkhand modern Bihar is confined to the densely populated, and desperately poor, Ganges plains. The state has a chequered recent political history. Separated from Bengal in 1912, in 1936 another partition led to the creation of Orissa. After Independence the reorganization of Indian states saw the transfer of territory from Bihar to West Bengal, while the tribal groups had already begun to campaign for a separate state for the tribal areas of the Chota Nagpur Plateau in South Bihar. On 15 November 2000 this dream was finally achieved with the division of Bihar into two: the mineral-rich Chota Nagpur plateau becoming the new state of Jharkhand.
In recent years Bihar in particular has acquired an unfortunate, now almost proverbial, reputation for crime and banditry. Travellers intending to visit or travel through should be aware that this is one of India's poorest regions, and should strictly avoid travelling by night on rural roads. Nevertheless, most travellers who adopt the necessary precautions emerge unscathed.
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