Rajgir & Nalanda: Excursion trip of rich history

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Rajgir- Nalanda was today’s agenda. With a bright sunny morning with a clear sky. After a mesmerising visit to the Mahabodhi temple, it was time for breakfast, and my hunger pangs started admonishing me. I reverted to the hotel to enjoy my lavish complimentary breakfast before heading toward Rajgir. Regarding Rajgir, it is a small hill grit town covered with lush green trees and home to centuries-old history. 

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Drive to Rajgir

From Bodhgaya, it’s a two-hour drive, as Rajgir is at a distance of 71 km. Only the winter wind greeted us as we drove along the green paddy field. Our driver was an enthusiast who gave a background about the initiation of the city’s name. He started with the name Rajgir oriented from Rājagṛiha, meaning “home of the royal” or ” the royal house”, or the word Rajgir might have its source in its plain literal meaning, “royal mountain”. It was also the ancient capital of the land of Magadha until the 5th century; later, the capital was moved to Patliputra.

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Ruins of Ajatsatru Palace

Hence this state eventually evolved, being a portion of the Mauryan Empire for its association. With Haryana dynasty was ruled by Kings like Bimbisara (558–491 BC) and Ajatashatru (492–460 BC). The picturesque Rajgir is also known as Panchpahari as five holy hills hem it in. My driver was an exciting historian, as he had his versions of history, which he shared about Rajgir & Nalanda along the way. Another interesting fact, this city also finds itself mentioned in India’s most remarkable literary epic, the Mahabharata, through its king Jarasandha. The portion in Mahabharata is called Girivraja. It recites the story of its king, Jarasandha, for his battle with the Pandavas. And their allies Krishna. Jarasandha, who hailed from this place, was defeated 17 times by Krishna.

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Ruins of Jarasansha palace

However, in the 18th battle, Krishna left the battlefield without a fight. For this reason, he is also called ‘Ranachorh’ (one who has left the area) in the epic. Considerably, I wanted to check the places to see if we could still find evidence. And there, I found a site marked by ASI as chariot route marks. Thus, I started my trip from that point. A strange phenomenon, as I discovered two parallel furrows cut deep into the rock about 30 feet on the ground. The local belief was that Lord Krishna entered Rajgir during the Mahabharata time. The chariot burnt into the stone because of his speed & power. I do not know if it’s possible, as physics does not confirm the logic.

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Chariot wheel Mark

Another exciting thing that caught my attention. The several shell inscriptions with the undeciphered character engraved on the rock around the chariot marks. The inscriptions date from the 1st to 5th centuries. I stood stunned, literally ogling at them and thinking Indian history is magic.

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
ASI market place

A wrestling match between Bhima (one of the Pandavas) and Jarasandha, the then king of Magadha, is narrated in the Mahabharata. ASI marks Jarasandha’s Akhara (where martial arts are practised) for a vacation. That was way ahead of chariot marks. Though entirely in ruins now, it’s a vast area. Rather interestingly, Jarasandha was considered unconquerable since his body could rejoin any dismembered limbs. According to the legend, Bhim ruptured Jarasandha into two halves and threw them opposite each other so they could not join. Woohoo! What power. 

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Jarasandha Akhara

Also another favourite architecture is the 2500-year-old and 40 km long walls encircling the ancient Rajgir, called the Cyclopean Wall. A kind of stonework is found in Mycenaean architecture, where massive limestone boulders are used to build this wall, roughly fitted together with minimal clearance between adjacent stones with clay or no mortar. Xuanzang(a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim) states that the Cyclopean Wall divides the town into Old and New Rajgir. The origin date is unknown, although ceramics date back to about 1000 BC and have been found in the city. Probably a pre-Mauryan structure, and I saw the traces of the wall, particularly at the exit of Rajgir.

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
cyclopean wall

Furthermore, Rajgir closely connects with Buddhism since Lord Buddha spent a few years here and delivered sermons. He even evangelised emperor Bimbisar at the Griddha Kuta hill. On Griddha Kuta hill, the two stone-cut caves were the favourite retreats of the Buddha. He said-” All things appear and disappear, but he who awakens shall be awake forever.”

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
My Favourites caves On vulture hill

Hence, I started towards the Griddha Kuta hill, where the Vishwa Shanti Stupa is also situated. So from Jarasandha’s Akhara, it took a 10 min drive to reach the Griddha Kuta hill base. However, you can use the winding staircase or take the aerial ropeway to get to the hilltop. I preferred the ropeway; it’s Rs 60 per person. This 2,200-foot-long ropeway, which the Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation (BSTDC) and as the symbol of Indo-Japanese friendship, was presented to the State by Fujii Guruji.


I was on the hilltop looking at the world’s highest peace pagoda, conceptualised by renowned Buddhist monk Nipponzan Myohoji and built atop the Ratnagiri Hill by Japanese monk Fujii Guruji. Taking a good look at the Stupa it’s made of marble that comprises four golden statues of Lord Buddha, each presenting his life periods: birth, enlightenment, preaching and death. Along the side of the Stupa is a temple called the “Nipponzan Myohoji”.

Shanti Stupa

 It is believed Lord Budhha delivered his famous Atanatiya Sutra here. Also, one of the caves, name-Saptaparni Cave, is where the first Buddhist Council was held under Maha Kassapa’s leadership. The entire spot is so tranquil. You can feel a positive vibe in the air. The whole city can be viewed from the hilltop, and a few monks can be seen meditating. After spending some quiet time, I headed towards my next spot.

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Monk meditating

The Jivekarma- used to be Lord Buddha’s favourite residence in Rajgir. It is the tush of the Royal Physician’s dispensary, where Buddha was taken to have his wound dressed. Beautifully decorated green lawn.


Though I passed over this place and moved to the Venuvan Vihar monastery, it is another residence of Buddha here, gifted by emperor Bimbisar. A beautiful serene monastery with a giant Buddha statue just outside the sanctuary. Aside from this, the teachings were Lord Buddha was penned down. 

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.

There are various other places to visit in Rajgir, like the Karanda Tank – which Buddha used to bathe, or the Ajatsatru fort, mostly in ruins, including the Bimbisar Jail. You can likewise visit the Pandu Pokhara or Ghorakatora Lake for boating or take a walk in the gardens where nature’s peace flow in soothing mind & soul. 

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
GhoraKatora lake

Rajgir attracts Buddhist pilgrimage and others for its hot water springs that have medicinal properties. Situated at the foothill of Vaibhava Hill, a staircase leads to these bathing chambers. The water adds up through the sprouts from Saptdhara- the seven streams whose origin is behind Saptarni caves. The hottest Kund is Bramhakund, with a temp of 45 degrees. Damn! High working temperature.

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Brahamkund- Hot water spring

Talking to locals, I saw this area as notable in Jainism since it’s the birthplace of the 20th Jain Tirthankar Munisuvrata. On the 24th Tirthankara, Lord Mahavira did spend fourteen years of his life at Rajgir and Nalanda. Still mainly known for Jain Tirthankar Munisuvrata as an ancient temple dedicated to him (about 1200 years old) and stands tall here, along with other 26yrs Jain temples in the vicinity. Veerayatan is another famous temple converted into a museum nowadays. As I was running out of time, I could not see. But I propose spending an overnight in Rajgir to cover these places.

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Jain temple

My last visit spot was the Swan Bhandar caves, but I halted at Maniyar Math since it lies on the way. It’s fundamentally well-covered and designed as a Jain temple. It is devoted to a monk named Salibhadra, who left his luxurious life to become an ascetic. It is alleged that many precious jewels and gemstones are buried here but cannot be tracked. According to the archaeologist, this old well was built by Magadh king Ajatshatru in 494 BC.

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Maniyar math

Further forward is the Swan Bhandar caves-two artificial caves which belonged to the Jains. These caves are dated to the 3rd or 4th century CE, per the dedicatory inscription. The cellar was constructed by a Jain Muni (“wise man”) named Vairadeva. This is the largest cave that uses the Gupta script of the 4th century CE, although some historians suggest the caves could extend back to the Maurya empire period from 319 to 180 BCE. 

Swan Bhandar caves

The main cave is rectangular, with a pointed ceiling, with a trapezoidal entrance. The stone of Swan Bhandar is complex, and the interior is mirror polished. At that point, it was a famous myth among the locals that the caves were used to store the gold of King Jarasandha or Bimbisar, not sure, & the script on the walls was the code to unlock it. Exactly like the movie Mummy. After passing some time & clicking a few pictures, we headed towards Nalanda.

Jain architecture

It was past 1 pm, time for lunch. We halted at a roadside Dhaba & ate “Litti Choka”- the staple food of Bihar. It was delicious, but I had to drink ample water post that. Talking about Nalanda, many theories exist about the etymology of the figure itself. 

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Entrance to Nalanda

If I Agree with the Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim, XuanzangNalanda’sda’s name is derived from an al, Illam dā, which means no end in gifts or charity without intermission. On the other hand, Yijing, another Chinese pilgrim, counters the name from Nāga Nanda, meaning snake, in a local tank. However, Hiranand Sastri, an archaeologist who directed the ruins’ excavation, found an abundance of nālas (lotus stalks) in the area, believing that Nalanda would then represent the giver of lotus stalks. Therefore there is no confirmation of the orientation of the name. Though now, it’s under the UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Ruins of Nalanda

Nalanda was an ancient Mahavihara- a Pali term for monastic complexes or monasteries. This event served as the famed learning centre during the ancient Kingdom of Magadha. It has been the most critical learning centre in the creation from the 5th CE till 1200 CE. 

Buddha miniatures

Nalanda has been significantly destroyed. However, it was rebuilt only twice. Probably, the systematic excavations commenced in 1915. This led to the revelation of six brick temples and eleven monasteries neatly arranged on the grounds of 30 acres. A trove of sculptures, coins, stamps, and inscriptions has also been discovered in ruins. Pilgrim travellers Faxian Xuanzang and Yijing Buddhist monks mentioned a detailed stay in Nalanda. Well! This even I have read in my history syllabus.

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
The layout of rooms for the monk

The Gupta era resulted in evolution and prosperity. It is because of the liberal cultural traditions inherited until the 9th century CE. But in the subsequent centuries, Nalanda leads a gradual diminution. It led to the dull decay of Buddhism in India. During the reign of Palas, the traditional Mahayana and Hinayana forms of Buddhism were imbued. This included Tantric practices involving secret rituals and magic. 

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.

Besides, Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji attacked Bihar, looted & destroyed the whole area. Islamic culture is another reason for the decline of Buddhism. The last throne-holder of Nalanda was Shakyashri Bhadra of Kashmir. He fled to Tibet in 1204 at the invitation of the Tibetan translator Tropu Lotsawa. Hence this is the reason how & why the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is regarded as a continuation of the Nalanda tradition.

BodhGaya II: Rajgir to Nalanda excursion.
Ruins of Nalanda

Nalanda was a forgotten tale until Francis Buchanan-Hamilton surveyed the site in 1811–1812. Later, Alexander Cunningham, along with its newly formed Archaeological Survey of India, conducted an official survey in 1861–1862. Finally, the systematic excavation of the ruins by the ASI started in 1915 and ended in 1937. The second round of excavation and restoration took place between 1974 and 1982. Now we see the ruins of a planned layout of a lost centre of knowledge. 


It was time to leave, as my train was nearing. Hence we drove towards the Gaya railway station. I just witnessed a detailed & rich history of an era of Rajgir & Nalanda. It reminded me of Georg Cantor’s statement -“My beautiful proof lies all in ruins.”

How to reach

By Air: 

The nearest airport is Gaya Airport, 57 km away from Rajgir. Patna is another airport approximately 100 kilometres away from Rajgir. A cab can be hired outside the airport.

By Rail. 

Rajgir is the nearest railhead, which is well connected with Patna, Kolkata & Delhi by regular train service. A taxi can be hired outside the station, or even local buses can opt. 

By Road: 

The roads are well connected with Rajgir. Bus(standard as well as deluxe buses) of Bihar State Tourism Corporation ply to the destination. Even a new line of luxury air-conditioned Volvo buses has been introduced to connect Bodhgaya with nearby towns and cities. You can self-drive or take cab services from various operators. 



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