The State of Bihar, in the eastern part of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, is amply watered by the Ganga and its tributaries, and there is no denying that the landscape here—particularly during the early monsoons when we visited—is among the loveliest in India. So many views of the land, rich in untapped mineral wealth, are crossed by broadly curving, slow rivers. Roads and fields are fringed with palm trees and a profusion of wild, tropical vegetation. Rural vistas end along the curves and jags of low, green hills under a soaring sky, blue in the sun or darkening with the promise of rain.
This land also claims an illustrious history as the onetime center of the subcontinent's culture and politics. Its name, Bihar, is derived from the Sanskrit vihara (Buddhist monastery), and it was here, 2,500 years ago, that the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment sitting under the Bodhi tree. His Jain contemporary, Mahavira, the quintessential master of non-violence whose teachings reach into modern times in the form of ahinsa (ahimsa) and Gandhi's ideals, also originated from this region.