Bihar's straggling capital, Patna, has the air more of a semi-rural provincial town in its more attractive areas, despite its size. However, it is one of India's poorest cities, stretching along the south bank of the Ganga for about 15 km. Divided in two by the large open Maidan, the central city is crowded, dusty and has little of architectural interest. Scant evidence remains of its earlier wealth and political supremacy. Many thousands sleep on the streets and there are few street lights at night. However, around the station food stalls are neatly set out and illuminated, and it can be interesting to take a cycle-rickshaw round by day or night. Many tribal people come into the town, often working on roads or building sites.

At the confluence of the rivers Son, Punpun, Gandak and Ganga, Patna's history can be traced back 2500 years. Ajatasatru, the second Magadha king who ruled from Rajgir, built a small fort at Pataligrama. Later Chandragupta Maurya founded the Mauryan Empire with Pataliputra as its capital. Buddhist histories suggest that it was here that Asoka usurped the throne of his father, Bindusara, murdering all his rivals and starting a reign of terror, before a conversion eight years later. It marked the beginning of perhaps the greatest reforming kingship the world has known. The Greek ambassador Megasthenes was deeply impressed by the efficiency of the Chandragupta administration and the splendour of the city. Ruins can be seen at Kumrahar, Bhiknapahari and Bulandhi Bagh with its 75 m wooden passage. Excavations date the site back to the pre-Mauryan times of 600 BC. In the 16th century the Pathan Sher Shah Suri established the foundations of a new Patna, building a majestic mosque in 1540 which dominates the skyline.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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