Patna is one of those places we would never consider as an independent holiday destination. The loss is ours, for the city is one of the oldest continuously inhabited locations on the planet and, if you care to look beyond the webs woven by unplanned growth and lackadaisical administration, you’ll spot architecture dating back to the Mauryan times standing cheek by jowl with gigantic British storehouses.
Out of the world: (top) The glowing ring of a total eclipse; the 93-year-old Patna high court building. Luc Viatour
None of this sound enticing enough? Well, what about a celestial event so rare you’d have to live another century for a recurrence? The total solar eclipse of 22 July will be the longest one for the next 123 years, and will be visible only from a narrow corridor on the earth’s surface, according to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), with “the path of the Moon’s umbral shadow (beginning) in India and (crossing) through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China”. In India, Patna (as also Surat, Indore, Bhopal and a few other cities) will witness a total eclipse and though the duration will be shorter than the maximum eclipse time (6 minute, 39 seconds over the Pacific Ocean), it still makes for the experience of a lifetime.
For the special benefit of eclipse-chasers, Cox and Kings is offering a three-day/two-night package (21-23 July) to Patna that includes accommodation in a three-star hotel, airport/railway station transfers and all meals. The special attractions, though, are heavenly: viewing the eclipse in the early hours of 22 July from the terrace of the Patna Planetarium, discussing the whys and wherefores with eclipse-enthusiasts and astronomers, and witnessing related experiments.
To come back to marvels on earth, go on a sightseeing tour of Patna, beginning with the 18th century Golghar, built to stockpile grain, and including Kumhrar, the site of the ancient city of Pataliputra; the Takht Harmandir Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh; and the Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park.
The package costs Rs8,145 per person on a twin-sharing basis (with a four-star upgrade, the rate goes up to Rs12,355). For student groups, a teacher will be accommodated free of cost for every 15 paying students.
If that sounds like too much time spent chasing what is essentially a 3-minute (give or take a few seconds) phenomenon over India, Cox and Kings has a rather special 3-hour treat lined up. For the first time in India, it is organizing an eclipse flight—a JetLite 737-700—that will take off from Delhi at 4.30am and hover over Gaya for as long as the moon overshadows the sun. Expect perfect technical planning, customized games, activities and announcements. Those in the sun-side seats (21 window seats to the right of the aircraft) will have a ringside view of the eclipse, while those in the earth-side seats (21 window seats to the left of the plane) will be able to photograph the lunar shadow. Sun-side seats cost Rs79,000; earth-side seats cost Rs67,000.To book, call Cox and Kings on 1800-22-1235/1800-20-9040/ 09867565599 or email firstname.lastname@example.org