Patna is one of those ancient cities of India that was once known by the name of Pataliputra among other names. My research has produced a long list of things to see in the city but I am not sure if I am going to be able to see all of them.
Before I begin the visits it might be in line to describe the manner in which I arrived in Patna. When I left Bihar-Sharif it was still more than an hour before sunset. I should have arrived in Patna by seven, found a room, bathed and had a leisurely dinner before sitting down to plan my visits for today.
Fact is that the bus got stuck at a railway crossing for two hours. Train after train passed by. Whenever a small window presented itself, the gates would be raised. Invariably, jams occured between the gates causing delays to the trains as well. The beauty of this whole thing is that two hours does not mean much to the driver or the conductor. They habitually experience longer delays at this crossing.
So when I arrive at Patna I am left with fewer choices for accommodation. I take a room but it’s not that great. I travel a long way into town hunting for food. When I hit the sack it past midnight.
Not many people know about this. It is also called Martyr’s Memorial but such a name will draw even stranger looks from the people of Patna. It is a forgotten monument. Perhaps no one really knows its there. Perhaps they see it often but don’t really know the name. How often do you drive through a minor road in your neighbourhood without knowing its name all these years?
I get some directions from a few policemen. Apparently there is a State Assembly meeting today and security is tight, some roads are closed and traffic diverted. One policeman tells me that the monument cannot be visited but others think its alright. After many turns and further enquiries I arrive at the monument.
It is actually installed in a circular park that is at the meeting point of many main roads. One of these roads leads through a gate to government buildings including the State Assembly. The monument is to honour those who seven students who attempted to hoist the Indian National Flag in 1942.
In the thick of modern traffic and mid-day heat, the brazen lines and features of the seven gleam valiantly. The composition is beautiful and full of action. The leader shows his vision to the team. As companions fall, others offer support and hope. Success and failure are both embodiment in the stances but the goal is not lost from view and perhaps they may not be lost in pursuit.
‘Do you know the museum?’ I ask a rickshaw wallah.
‘Not jadughar. Museum. Sanghralaya. Where they keep old things worth seeing,’ I explain.
I am not convinced. I don’t want to end up in a circus or a magic show. I pull out my map and tell him the road.
‘It can be reached via Buddha Marg but before getting to Golghar.’
He nods. ‘Yes, that’s the same thing,’ he confirms.
So we are on our way to Jadughar. It turns out that he is right. I have no idea when the museum has this alias, but known only to locals by that name.
‘Do you have a restaurant inside?’ I ask the museum guy before getting my ticket. He looks at his companion and they both stare at me with bewilderment.
They must be thinking, ‘Restaurant in a museum? Ever heard of such a thing? Kahan kahan se log aate hai!’
With this brief response, I go in search of lunch before returning to the museum sometime later. Obviously Indian museums are not like the Musee d’Orsay or the Tate Britain. For that matter, even Hyderabad’s Salar Jung Museum has a decent restaurant.
I am so thrilled by the exhibits here that I end up spending four hours wandering from gallery to gallery. I am most impressed by the unique collection stone sculptures. The glory of the museum is the Mauryan Didarganj Yakshi but there finer pieces in my opinion that deserve just as much attention. There are beautiful Bronze pieces. An excellent collection of Tibetan thankas are nothing like I have seen anywhere else. Terracottas and miniature paintings too occupy me for many minutes.
As I do some sketches of some terracotta objects one of the museum guides chats up with me. He has triple degrees including Indian history and archaeology. He works here full time guiding visitors. He knows to read and interpret ancient Indian scripts and he is currently doing research on Indian epigraphy. Sponsorship comes from the Ministry of Culture. As I take his leave he hands me a nice brochure that briefly points to the museum’s main exhibits.
I take a rickshaw again from the museum to the Golghar. As we pedal noisily past the roads I am almost mesmerized by the pedalling. When we make a turn the monument suddenly comes into view. It’s not a stupa but perhaps it is inspired by its past. The setting sun plays on its curving surface. What really adds interest to the structure is the pair of staircases that curve round it on the outside. Visitors go up by one of them and come back by the other. Human traffic is smooth. Against the white-washed surface of the structure, visitors dressed colourfully weave their bright colours to the monument. In the playground in front, children are playing cricket.
This strange structure has no purpose today except serving as an interest to tourists to the city. It was built by the British in the 18th century to serve as a granary in the aftermath of the famine of 1770.
The views from the top are a mix of the modern congestion of Patna and the green fields that surround it. The Ganges flows quietly nearby. What I had seen of the river earlier, polluted and dirty, is quiet different from the flow of the river as I see it now. It is beautifully blue and placid. The river banks are sandy and wide. They quickly give way to green paddy fields that stretch for miles. Just 100 meters from the edge of Patna city these fields start. Bihar is truly rural in nature and nothing more than this scene proves it.
Golghar was never used as a granary as it was found to be unsuitable for the purpose. But I will remember it for giving me the first beautiful view of the Ganges.
This is supposed to be the site of ancient Pataliputra. I take a cycle rickshaw to a bridge where I need to change to a tempo to get to Agam Kuan. But we are stuck in traffic for what seems like hours. Patna’s traffic is a mess. Everyone is hot-tempered. There is a constant honking from all quarters. No one follows traffic rules and only the presence of traffic wardens and policemen at various points bring some order to the roads.
The most dangerous of Patna’s places is the entrance to the railway station where tempos are bumper to bumper, ferrying passengers to the bus stand or to other parts of the city. If you are not careful you can get sandwiched between two tempos or even run over. You have to endure and ignore a constant barrage of touting. The road is broken and badly pot-holed. The scenes around the railway station are messy. Here you can experience what it means to be among the Indian masses, where progress stands in 21st century India. It is not a place I will remember fondly.
When I arrive at Agam Kuan, I find that it is past its closing time. The ruins of Kumrahar are closed. I do see the falled fragments of a Mauryan pillar lying in a small enclosure. Nothing else here seems interesting, at least from the outside. Perhaps I will come back here later if I pass through Patna in a few days.