On April 24th I was in Patna, the capital of Bihar. Like most places in Bihar the city was spread out and rambling but there seemed to be no centre.
After the hills of Nepal, the summer of the plains was in full swing. All my energy seemed to go into warding off the heat. I spent the morning in a walk to Patna City, it was about five miles in all, mostly along main roads, but interesting all the same, the real India as much as anything. I found a good cup of chai in a roadside place, a cucumber for refreshment as was the custom in this season, one of the best lassis ever in the lassi shop in the city. I searched for a place to climb up onto the banks of the Ganges and when I found a spot I sat for a while but it was hardly inspiring, for I was near the new bridge they were building and beside a coal depot. I met a student and went to sit with him in the Sikh temple which commemorates the birth of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru. Not much was happening there. I bought him a meal in a small restaurant and we went back to his place for the heat of the afternoon.
The next morning I went out to Kumrahar, part of the excavations of Pataliputra, but there was almost nothing to see, the pillars of a Mauryan hall, fine but much broken, and the foundations of another building. I took a bus out on the By-Pass Road, past the squalor and diesel fumes of modern industrial India, making a contrast to the pretty park the Archaeological Survey of India had done up there. I sat there observing what I could see, the trees and birds, a group of middle-class kids, the gangs of workmen and gardeners. But I was disappointed not to have come away with a better understanding of Pataliputra which was for hundreds of years the centre of powerful empires and particularly of Chandragupta and Ashoka, both of whom I admire. I know that there have been further excavations in the years since, but I suspect the majority of the ancient capital lies under the modern city.
I took the night train to Agra but the Taj Mahal and the vibrant city area there couldn't raise my consciousness over the heat. A few days later I was in New Delhi, my money invested in a ticket home. I ate in the little Muslim cafes around Connaught Square and took mango shakes in Pahar Ganj while waiting for my ticket to be confirmed.
|The Sikh Temple in Patna: Picture by Neelsb, CC|