A Guide To Nalanda, Bihar: What To See, Do And Eat

As PM Narendra Modi inaugurates Nalanda University's new campus in Rajgir, which is located right next to the ruins, here is a look at what the ancient centre of education has offer to a traveller
The ruins of the ancient Nalanda Mahavira
The ruins of the ancient Nalanda MahaviraShutterstock.com

In a monumental occassion for the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Nalanda University's new campus today, June 19, in Rajgir, Bihar. Hailed as one of the greatest centres of learning since ancient times, Nalanda University holds great significance in India's cavernous history. The University, founded in the 5th century, thrived for 800 years before it was destroyed by the troops of Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji in the 12th century. The new campus is located near the ancient ruins and is comprised of 24 large buildings that will be housing schools of diverse subjects, from Buddhist Studies to Philosophy to Sustainable Development and Management. The campus is also believed to have the largest library in the world. In addition to PM Modi and MEA S Jaishankar, representatives from 17 partner nations were also in attendance to witness the grand inauguration.

While the University stands out for its futuristic vision and an ode to India's glorious past, Nalanda district is a must-visit to understand the significance of this event. Here's our guide to Nalanda, complete with everything you should see and do while there:

Places To Visit In Nalanda

The centerpiece of any visit to Nalanda is the archaeological site of the ancient Nalanda Mahavihara (open from 9 am to 5 pm), or "great monastery." This sprawling complex, which once housed over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers, is a testament to the grandeur and importance of this ancient institution.

As you wander through the ruins, you'll be struck by the sheer scale of the site. The remains of numerous monasteries, classrooms, and libraries dot the landscape, hinting at the vibrant intellectual and spiritual life that once thrived here. Be sure to visit the Dharmaganja, the famed three-story library that was said to house hundreds of thousands of manuscripts. 

Other highlights include the Stupa of Sariputta, a massive stone structure that once contained the relics of one of the Buddha's closest disciples, as well as the numerous votive stupas and sculptures that have been unearthed at the site. To unwind, spend an evening on the banks of Ghoda Katora Lake in Rajgir.

Nalanda's rich Buddhist heritage is evident in the ruins of the ancient university
Nalanda's rich Buddhist heritage is evident in the ruins of the ancient universityShutterstock.com

Nalanda's rich Buddhist heritage is evident not only in the ruins of the ancient university but also in the numerous temples and monasteries that dot the surrounding landscape. One of the must-visit sites is the Xuanzang Memorial Hall (open from 9 am to 5 pm; entry fee: INR 10), a modern structure that honors the renowned Chinese Buddhist monk who spent several years studying at Nalanda in the 7th century.

The hall houses a relic of Xuanzang, as well as exhibits that showcase his life and the cultural exchange between China and India during that time. 

Statue of Buddha in Ghoda Katora Lake
Statue of Buddha in Ghoda Katora LakeShutterstock.com

Just a short distance from the Nalanda ruins, you'll find the Nalanda Multimedia Museum (open from 10 am to 5 pm), which uses cutting-edge technology to bring the history of the ancient university to life. Through interactive displays and multimedia presentations, the museum offers an immersive introduction to Nalanda's past and its enduring significance. 

For a more hands-on experience, consider visiting one of the local monasteries, where you can observe the daily rituals and practices of Buddhist monks. Many monasteries also offer meditation classes and workshops, allowing visitors to deepen their understanding of this ancient spiritual tradition.

Vishwa Shanti Stupa, Rajgir
Vishwa Shanti Stupa, RajgirShutterstock.com

Beyond the historical and spiritual attractions, Nalanda also offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the vibrant local culture. Start your exploration in the town of Rajgir, just a short distance from the Nalanda ruins. This picturesque town is home to a bustling market, where you can browse stalls selling everything from traditional handicrafts to delicious local cuisine. Be sure to try the region's famous lychees, which are in season during the summer months.

For a more serene experience, head to the nearby Venuvana Monastery (open from 6 am to 6 pm), a tranquil Buddhist retreat nestled in the hills. Here, you can join the monks for meditation sessions, or simply wander the peaceful grounds and soak in the spiritual atmosphere.

Must-Eats In Nalanda

No visit to Nalanda would be complete without sampling the local cuisine. Be sure to try classic Bihar dishes like litti chokha, a savory pastry filled with chickpea flour and spices, or the rich, creamy lentil-based dish called dal-pitha. And don't forget to indulge in the region's famous sweets, such as the rosogolla. Many of the top restaurants are clustered in the Bihar Sharif town center, within a short distance of the Nalanda ruins.

How To Reach Nalanda

By Air: The nearest airport to Nalanda is Patna Airport, located about 89 km away. Patna is well-connected to major cities across India. From Patna Airport, you can take a cab or bus to reach Nalanda.

By Train: The nearest railway station to Nalanda is Rajgir, located about 12 km away. Trains from Delhi, Patna, Gaya and other major cities halt at Rajgir station.

Another convenient rail option is to take a train to Gaya Junction, which is about 95 km from Nalanda.

By Road: Nalanda has good road connectivity with nearby cities like Bodh Gaya (110 km), Gaya (95 km) and Patna (90 km). The 93 km Gaya to Nalanda road is currently being four-laned, which will improve road connectivity.

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