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Pankaj Kumar IAS, Secretary, Department of Tourism, Bihar, takes us through an extra sensory journey to experience the vibrant spirit of Bihar

Bihar, the land of Buddha and the birth place of Jainism, is perhaps one of the most understated states of India today. Home to the recently declared UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda Univeristy), the state recently concluded celebrations of the 350th birth anniversary, or ‘Prakash Parv’ of Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaj, at Takht Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji, which was attended by Sikhs and believers of all religions from across the world, including the Honourable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi. With a convention centre named after Samrat Ashoka that can host up to 5,000 guests, Valmiki National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, cascading waterfalls and museums, Bihar is a traveller’s paradise. In other words, Bihar presents itself as a great tourism potential in terms of culture, MICE and places to visit.

In conversation with Today’s Traveller, Shri Pankaj Kumar IAS, Secretary, Department of Tourism, Bihar, speaks at length about this prospective tourism potential, undiscovered Patna and how he plans to take tourism forward this year, all the way to 2018. According to Shri Kumar, the state is putting its best foot forward in showcasing Bihar as a linguistic and culturally rich state.

Shri Kumar explains, “This is the intellectual birthplace of many religions and other movements and we want to refresh and revive the old traditions for the people of the state and our tourists. We are focussing on religious tourism as it is our backbone.” The state houses several circuits that include the Buddhist Circuit, the Jain Circuit, the Sikh Circuit and the Gandhi Circuit, to name a few. These include locations such as Vaishali, which is famous for being one of the earliest republics in the world. It was here that Buddha preached; it is also the birthplace of Lord Mahavira and is sacred to the Jains.

Rajgir, which is 19km from Nalanda, was the ancient capital of the Magadha Empire and is a reverred spot for both Buddhists and Jains, alike. Perhaps one of the most sought after tourist destinations of Bihar, Bodhgaya is an important place of pilgrimage and has a number of monasteries, some of them established by the Buddhists of Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, etc. The Pitripaksha Festival of Gaya is one of the most sacred events of Hindu religion and records massive tourist footfall. Nalanda Univeristy and the Vikramshila University are two of the most prominent centres of Buddhist learnings since the Pala Empire came into prominence around the 5th century BC and was a flourishing university town with over ten thousand scholars and an extensive library. Today, it is a centre for culture and regional diversity.

Shri Kumar shares, “We have been entrusted with the job of putting our best foot forward, and we will ensure that people from the world over who want to visit Bihar will experience the real flavour and see it as the land of enlightenment. Special events are being held across the state for promoting these thought processes.” Every year, the state holds national and international cultural programmes under the direct leadership of the state government, and apart from these, regional festivals are also held across the state. Bihar has recently concluded celebrations of the 350th birth anniversary, or ‘Prakash Parv,’ of Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaj, the 10th and last guru of Sikhism, at Takht Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji, from December 31, 2016 to January 05, 2017. Celebrations will carry on for the entire year of 2017, the event was attended by Sikh devotees and people from all over the world. The state of Bihar is also celebrating the centennial anniversary of the Champaran Movement, which was the first Satyagraha movement inspired by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1917. The movement started in Champaran, a district in the state of Bihar.

As you move away from the religious spots, get ready to marvel at the beautiful cascading natural waterfalls like Kakolat, Nawada, Manjhar Kund at Sasaram. The Valmiki National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is a destination that is never over populated serves as a perfect corporate getaway or simply a weekend leisure trip for those in search of peace and tranquility. The Valmiki Tiger Reserve (VTR) is home to the tiger, rhinoceros, black bear, leopard, wild dog, wild buffalo, wild boar and several species of deer and antelopes. Apart from this hyena, leopard, wild cat, fishing cat, langur, monkey and flying squirrel can also be sighted at the Reserve. The VTR is complete with latest modern facilities for the convenience of visitors and tourists.

Shri Kumar further elaborates, “The Bihar Government is under the process of reviving and reinvesting in the Gandhi Circuit and the Buddhist Circuit and blow new life in to it.” Unknown to many, the state of Bihar houses two state-of-the-art convention centres – the International Convention Centre at Rajgir and the recently functional Samrat Ashok Convention Center in Patna, with a joint capacity of over 7,000 people. The Samrat Ashok Convention Center in Patna, named after the ancient Indian emperor, Ashoka, is dedicated to all those who want to seek their Buddhist roots. The convention halls are equipped with modern technology and the latest amenities, for accommodation, guests will not be left disappointed as there are several luxury and deluxe hotels around the centres that provide excellent hospitality and modern facilities for all budgets. Bihar serves as an excellent MICE destination for all corporates no matter what the size of the event.

Apart from the convention centres Bihar also houses one of the oldest museums, called the Patna Museum, which was established in 1917. Bihar also boasts the Patliputra Karuna Stupa, a museum that is located in the Buddha Smriti Park. The famous Gandhi Maidan, previously known as the Patna Lawns, is a historic ground at Patna, near the banks of the Ganges River. One of the oldest granary, Golghar and Bihar International Museum are other important landmarks of Patna. Today, the state has taken major strides to be an infrastructurally sound state. The National Highways (NH) 82/ 83 connects major parts of Buddhist sites in Bihar. There are several projects underway that would make Bihar a great network of roads. The Bodhgaya – Bihar Shariff via Rajgir is one such 4-lane project underway.

Shri Kumar concludes, “We are trying to identify the missing infrastructure, potential gaps and develop it for tourists to have a wholesome experience. We are currently focussing majorly on Religious Tourism and Convention Tourism as they share a hand-in-glove relationship.”

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