Indian state of Bihar enjoys the mainstream media limelight for myriad issues attached to the region. Yet, touring is definitely not something that captivates a wanderer's mind when 'Bihar' is the keyword. Yea, let's accept that tourism was never Bihar's forte, not even today, despite the frail effort from Bihar Tourism to glorify its scattered gems. But it is our country. We're no guests. We need no invitation, no permission or, guidance to explore our own motherland. To hell with futile optimism of development and better tourism infrastructure! Hoping for a better tomorrow is the lie. Today is the only truth you got. Take out your map, do some web digging, lace up your boots and you're ready for the journey. Incredible India is waiting for you to unravel her mystery at every nook and corner. I found Bihar quite backpacker friendly and so would you. Visiting the Barabar Caves was a part of my motorcycling itinerary to Bodh Gaya this January.
|It was bumpy, dusty and warm. Voila! I was riding through the rural Bihar.|
If you ever visited Bodh Gaya and assumed that you have seen quite a bit of Bihar, then it's high time for you to understand- you're yet to explore the real Bihar. In Bodh Gaya there are well maintained, properly labeled roads, adequate transports, plenty of shops and thousands of happy multicolored faces to give you a comforting tourist vibe. Buddy, that picture comes noway closer to the interiors of Bihar, or most other Indian states in that matter. I had taken that motorcycle ride not only to connect another dot on the Buddhist Circuit, but also to get proper glimpses of the neighboring state whose tourism seldom comes in picture despite its abundant sites of tourist interest!
|Although this isn't a series of thousand stairs, elder people might still find the ascent tiring.|
Do not ask me how but it is true that Indians have been cutting through rocks, sculpting exquisite pieces of art and architecture since last 2,300 years or more. Still standing Ellora Caves, Ajanta Caves, Badami cave Temples, caves at Mahabalipuram etc are living testament of unparalleled Indian craftsmanship in rock-cut architecture. More than 1,500 rock-cut structures have been discovered in India till date and the Barabar Caves in Bihar is the oldest of them all. Located on a hillock, roughly 43 kilometers away from Bodh Gaya, these caves carry inscriptions which date back to third century BC. Yes, here we're talking of caves hailing from Mauryan Era!
|As soon as you take the last leap you'll be greeted by a mammoth whale-shaped, fenced, stony structure at your left- the Barabar Caves.|
I took the SH-4 till Khizersarai and the road didn't give much opportunities to complain either. In the middle of a busy market place at Khizersarai, you have to take a left diversion to get in to Barabar-Panari-Diha Road which will take you to the Barabar Hill through the dried riverbed of Falgu. The last eight kilometers of the journey was through meandering broken roads, pebbled paths, sand beds and dried agricultural lands. It was bumpy, dusty and warm. Voila! I was riding through the rural Bihar. My mobile Internet too had given up its reach. I was smart enough to save the map earlier for 'off line' use. The voice navigation accurately guided me till the foothill of Barabar Caves. Two local guys directed me towards the entrance.
|Inside the Sudama Cave. Look how smooth the wall polish is even after 2,200-2,300 years!|
A long semi-broken, railed, concrete stairway originates adjacent to a temple, which will take you up to the level of Barabar Caves. Although this isn't a series of thousand steep stairs, elder people might still find the ascent cumbersome. So, the solution is make hay while the sun shines! As soon as you take the last leap you'll be greeted by a mammoth whale-shaped, fenced stony structure at your left- the Barabar Caves. Four caves (Sudama Cave, Lomas Rishi Cave, Karna Chaupar Cave and Visva Zopri Cave) carved in toughest monolithic granite during the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka's reign to provide shelter to ascetics from the Ajeevika sect, are collectively called Barabar Caves.
|It is only the arch of the doorway of Lomas Rishi Cave which bears designs carved on stone.|
Unlike majority of Indian rock-cut architectures, Barabar caves have minimalistic design. Perhaps it is only the arch of the doorway of Lomas Rishi Cave that bears stone carved designs you might be familiar with. Rest of the Barabar caves do not boast of much ornamentation and comprise two dark granite barrel-vaulted chambers each, with extraordinarily polished walls. Even in broad daylight, interior of these caves are so dark that your mobile phone flashlight may surrender and your eyes would require good time to accommodate. Your reflection on the polished inner wall of the cave from the little light source near its entrance is sure to make you wonder about the exceptional prowess and skill of masons of the Mauryan kingdom!
|I climbed on to the top of the caves to get a panoramic view of the vast plain underlying the Barabar Hill.|
There are iron gates to block entry to each of these caves and a caretaker cum guide keeps them locked until an enthusiastic tourist drops in. He gave me a guided tour to Barabar Caves, elaborating the history and explaining the architecture associated with these caves. If you stand inside the internal chamber of Lomas Rishi or Sudama Cave and chant 'Om', the reverberation of your 'Om' will momentarily transpose you to a different world of serenity. The acoustic inside Barabar caves responsible for that prolonged echo effect amazed me. The coolness inside made me oblivious of the humidity. I came out of Barabar Caves after a brief survey and let the caretaker leave so that I could photograph the colossal rocky whale at my own sweet pace.
|And this is the wide vista as seen from the top of the Barabar Caves.|
I climbed on to the top of the caves to get a panoramic view of the vast plain underlying the Barabar Hill. There was another set of caves called Nagarjuna Caves, located 1.5-2 kilometers away from Barabar Caves. My lunch was long due and it was almost evening. Primarily hunger, and secondarily safety concerns pulled me back from heading to Nagarjuna Caves. The only eatery at the base of the Barabar Hill didn't have much options and food was bland if not stale. There's a local police station opposite to the food place, probably to make you feel safe. With heaviness of my fatigued butts and happiness of visiting the oldest rock-cut architecture of India, I left Barabar Caves. Mesmerizing view of the sinking sun over the arid Falgu kept me engrossed for a good part of my return ride to Bodh Gaya. For any traveler visiting Bodh Gaya or Patna, visit to the Barabar Caves can be a worthy day trip for him. Winter would be the ideal season to explore that barren terrain. Soon I'll be blogging about other places of tourist interest near Bodh Gaya. Stay tuned and meanwhile, keep clicking photos on the go.