I forgot to mention a slight scare that we had on day-1 of our Rajgir tour. On our return journey, the horse pulling our tonga went crazy, slided down from the main road to the side-land and had it not been for my friends, I would have been badly injured (they balanced the tonga at the right moment and shouted me to jump down (I was still sitting alone on the tonga, quite stupidly). We wanted to see Son Bhandar on Day-1 but our tonga-puller told us that the place is beyond the reach of visitors at present and jawans guarding it would shoot if someone disobeys the rule and goes near it. However, on day-2, we hired a different tonga in the morning and embarked on our journey to Venuvan. While chatting, we told this tonga-puller sadly that we regret not seeing Son Bhandar (also called Swarna Bhandar). To our surprise, he told that he could take us there and that there were no restrictions on people going there. We decided at that instant that it would be Son Bhandar first and then Venuvan, if time permits. (We had to return within an hour as we were supposed to leave for Nalanda).
The road to Son Bhandar had sudden crests and troughs and we felt lucky not to have come here the previous day (who knows, our crazy horse may have caused a few broken bones, if it decided to slip again). According to legend, King Jarashandh used the place to store his gold. There is a script written on the stone wall inside the cave (which has an entrance and a window) that is believed to be the password to open the door. This door would lead one to the stored gold (the script has not been deciphered yet). The outlines of the door are clearly visible and a black canon mark atop it is said to have been caused by the British who used canons to break it open but failed.
After seeing this place, we happily proceeded to Venuvan. It was originally a park having clusters of bamboo. King Bimbisara gave it to Lord Buddha for his stay. The park at present has a pond with plenty of fishes, a temple with a statue of Buddha and enclosures where deer and rabbits are kept. As we were getting late, we hurried back, thereby giving up on the idea of getting a closer look of Ajatashatru's stupa enroute.
Once we returned, we checked our packed luggage once more (to make sure we weren’t leaving anything behind) and then left Rajgir. Our next destination was one of the greatest seats of learning in ancient India, Nalanda, about 12 kms away. Almost 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students lived at Nalanda when the place was at its glorious best. Our guide told us that the royals of the ancient era took the entire responsibility of these people so that they could give their full concentration to studies, without bothering about petty things like accommodation and food. Such was the importance of vidya (studies) during that period!!! We spent about 3 hrs visiting the ruins of the University, monastery and student quarters. We also visited the Nalanda Archaeological Museum that’s located just opposite the entrance to the ruins of Nalanda University. However, I feel that a few hours are not enough to see the vast stretch of the place and it’s better to keep a full day for Nalanda, if not more. After our visit to Nalanda was over, we proceeded to Bodhgaya, checked into the hotel, had dinner and went to sleep. Nalanda images courtesy: Phalguni Banerjee