In 2016, we were travelling to Assam by train. It was a very-very long train journey (Kamakhya Express duration 55 hours!!). We crossed many states including Bihar. We all were amazed by the beauty of this state. It was green almost everywhere we could see through our window. Even in the harsh summer of late-March, its agricultural fields were full of crops. Located in Indo-Gangetic Plain, the state is blessed with most fertile soil of our country. The land appeared so beautiful that we decided to arrange a nature camp next year to explore her natural beauty. After an extensive research and planning, here we were in Bihar in the month of June, 2017.
Bihar – Land of Enlightenment
Bihar is visited by most of the tourists for its Temples – Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples are in plenty. The most famous is in Bodh Gaya. This is the place where Lord Buddha was ‘Enlightened’ under a ‘Peepal’ tree – ‘Bodhi Vriksh’. This is why scientific name of ‘Peepal’ is Ficus religiosa – due to its importance in religions. Our first stop was Bodh-Gaya. It is always suggestible to take a guide who is approved by ASI (Archeological Survey of India) at such historical places. Of-course, you can explore on your own but hiring a certified guide will always provide additional information. Our guide shared many interesting facts about this place. The most interesting one was that Gaya also has sacred Hindu temple. ‘Vishnu Paad’ (Vishnu’s Feet) temple in Gaya is visited by many devotees.
Lomas Rishi – Asia’s first man-made cave
Very few people must be aware about first man-made cave in Asia. Do you know where it is?? No, it is not in Gaya. It is located at about 2 hrs drive from Gaya in Barabar hills. This was our second stop of the day – Barabar caves. This is Asia’s first man-made cave also known as Lomas Rishi cave. Not much of the carving can be seen inside but what got our attention was the extremely smooth and reflective surfaced inner wall of the cave. At places it appears as if you are looking in the mirror. It has two chambers. Insides being very dark is ideal for ‘Dhyana’ or meditation. Since we were on a nature camp, we could not resist ourselves from looking for some lesser fauna in the cave. We spotted some rock geckos here. We heard few Lapwings on while climbing on the way to caves and some Kestrels flying in sky.
Our next stop was the world famous Nalanda University ruins. It is only after when you visit such places you gain more knowledge about our rich heritage and above all we realize the kind of knowledge that our ancestors had in-terms of architecture, nature, teaching methods, preserving knowledge and off-course respecting knowledge. Our guide said there were about 2000 students studying at a time in this university and each student was given a separate room to stay. The library of Nalanda was once so rich and full of documents that when Gazani attacked the university and burnt is library, it was burning for 2 months! The black fire marks are still visible on walls of Nalanda. Although the place is ruined now, it speaks a lot about its glorious past. Again here, while our guide was explaining, a monitor lizard, Rufous woodpecker and hoopoe still got our attention. It seemed to be a good place for birding.
Now it was a time to stop our exploration for the day. We stared our day at 9 am (which was supposed to start at 7 am but, one of drivers came late by two hours). After having a ‘chai’ we moved to our night halt located another historical place – Rajgir which is about 30 mins drive from Nalanda. We reached Rajgir at 7 pm. After having dinner we took a small stroll nearby and had an ice-cream. I didn’t even imagine that I would be roaming somewhere in Bihar enjoying my ice-cream as late as 9.30 in night!
Rajgir was the first Kingdom of Magadha Dynasty. It is originated from ‘Raj Griha’ (King’s home). The capital was later shifted to Patliputra (today’s Patna). One can visit Gridh Kuta, it also has ‘shanti stupa’ and lots of historical structures. There are cab cars available. Rajgir also has a sanctuary which is spread over 35.8 Sq.Kms. Ghoda Katora site is a part of the same. It’s a 7 kms dust road that takes you to the lake inside. There are horse cart available. We could see some birds and on our way back we got to see Nilgai, Sambar deer and Hanuman Langurs. Then we moved towards Nakti and Nagi Dam Bird Sanctuary (NNDBS). The Forest Department of Bihar (RFO & WL warden NNDBS) helped us a lot during this visit. RFO briefed us about the sanctuary, its bio diversity and current situation. The area is hardly visited by outside tourists as this area was once infected by some illegal activities but now Bihar Government and forest department is trying hard to improve the situation and they have succeeded well. Their efforts are highly appreciable. We were taken on a boat ride. Saw some interesting birds there such as Eurasian openbill, painted storks, common pochards, fulvus whistling ducks etc. Satisfied with our visit we went to Semultala our place for night halt.
Next day morning we took a stroll in nearby area. There was a small forested area. As we walked inside the forest we observed that soil contains Mica. We were amazed to see that. Then we remembered that we were in Bihar that too near to Jharkhand. The area is rich in Ore of Mica. India stands on first position in production of Mica. Bihar, Jharkhand and Rajasthan are main areas where Ore of Mica is available. While we were wondering and wandering in the forest we came across a local lady. She was gathering leaves for making ‘Pattal’ (Leaf plates). She appeared hardworking and confident. W had a word with her. She demonstrated how she makes these plates. We came to know that they get Rs. 30/- for a pack of 100 leaf plates! But she seemed happy and busy so we didn’t trouble her much with our questions. After wishing her good-luck, we kept our exploration going on. The forest was beautiful with all the strata of vegetation and relatively thick. That day we left for most awaited destination of the camp – Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary. June being a good season for Dolphin sightings, we were pretty excited to visit this place.
Dolphin Sightings in Bihar!
We reached late by 2 am to our place for night stay. Luckily, we got some good food at local food joint. Then it was time for trying our luck for a Dolphin sighting. Our local resource was a researcher from Vikramshila Biodiversity Research & Education Centre. He had vast knowledge about Ganga, her people, all her biodiversity; and the problems the sanctuary is facing. The forest department too helped us a lot for this visit as well. Next day early morning, we took another round of this sanctuary. Both times we got to see totally different aspects of The Ganga. We saw lots of birds including river lapwing, little tern, cotton pygmy goose, blue tailed bee-eater etc. Walking on the sandy deposits of the river was fantastic experience. We learned a lot from that visit.
The sanctuary was designated in 1991 for the protection of the Gangetic River Dolphin (the national aquatic animal of India). These are locally called as ‘Soons’ and are categorized as ‘Endangered’ by on 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There are several threats for it’s (and ultimately our) survival. Threats such as – Multiple dams and barriers disrupting free movement of the dolphins, Pollution by fertilizers, pesticides and industrial and domestic effluents, which are responsible for the death of many fish and are likely to have a negative effect on dolphin population. Also, its hunting and poaching are majorly affecting its existence. As a matter of fact we saw the river getting polluted by domestic sewage being directly released n the river. Local NGOs and Government is trying to change this situation but it is impossible without people’s participation. On this note we ended our visit to the sanctuary.
Patna and Vaishali- city of ruins
It was time to get back to Patna for our return journey. We also visited to other important historical places such as Vikramshila university ruins (where we saw Flameback woodpecker and Common Hoopoe), Ruins of Vaishali (for lion emblem) and Remains of old Patliputra in Patna city itself.
We ended our OikoEssence tour to Bihar. But, the thought kept coming to my mind – till today the Dolphins have survived but their number has drastically reduced and it applies to the rest of the plant and animal species as well. The nature will surely take its own course and ultimately it will bounce back on us. I really don’t know when we will learn from our mistakes OR whether will we ever learn from our mistakes or not?
Gauri Gurav is a botanist and naturalist based out of Mumbai. Having worked at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF India), Gauri has expertise in bio-diversity (birds and plants species) and has extensive field experience in organizing nature camps. Currently, she runs her own venture Oikoessence – http://oikoessence.blogspot.in/