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Sonepur has the distinction of holding one of the world's largest cattle fair (Asia's biggest) during the pious month of Kartik (November) every year. The fair is also known as Harihar Kshetra Mela. It is situated 25 km from Patna. The fair is held at the bank of river Gandak. The fair extends from fortnight to a month and attracts thousands of visitors across the nations. Harihar temple, beside Gandak, is one of holiest temple in the region.
Blessed with the unique amalgamation of religion, history, Gandak river and the cattle fair, Sonepur fair starts on the auspicious day of Kartik Poornima every year, on which thousands of people takes holy dip in the river Gandak and worship in the Harihar temple. The temple is believed to be made by the lord Rama himself, while on way to Janakpur for taking part in the swayambar of Sita. The legend story of fight between elephant and crocodile at the bank of Gandak is associated with the temple.
The origin of fair goes hundreds of years back. It is said that Chandragupta Maurya used to buy elephants and horses from the fair for his army. The traders of, as far as Central Asia, used to come here for purchase/sell of cattle, elephants and horses. Originally held at the junction of Ganga and Gandak at Hazipur, this was moved to Sonepur during Aurangzeb's rule .
Today, the fair is held in sprawling area with the widest possible range of cattle and commodities on sale. The area where elephants are on sale attracts the maximum attraction. Besides elephants, wide breeds of dogs, camels, buffaloes, donkeys, monkeys, ponies, sheep, horses, cows, cats etc. are available for purchase. Wide varieties of birds, poultry and fishes are also on sale. The fair has shops for almost everything used in daily use. Several types of shows and activities are attraction of Sonepur. The theaters at fair are quite famous, though sometimes notorious also. Visitors can buy a variety of handicrafts items, traditional artifacts, souvenirs and bamboo products in the fair. Another major attraction of the fair is Swiss Cottage which mainly attracts foreign visitors. A total of 30 cottages has been set near the fair ground with specially erected thatched rooms having all the facility of a good hotel. It has uninterrupted power supply and well equipped bathrooms with fitted geysers. (Swiss Cottage rates 2013)
The fair is held in such a big area that is not possible to cover in a day, so visitors needs to prioritize the area they want to see. For the local tourists, worshiping in the temple after taking bath in Gandak is recommended before proceeding for the fair. Being a such a big fair, Sonepur fair is on not to be missed list while visiting Patna during October-November.
How to reach :
Sonepur is easily reachable from Patna (~ 25 km) or Muzaffarpur (~ 40 km) by road. Hazipur is the nearest railway station. While coming by road from Patna, one need to cross Mahatma Gandhi Setu (bridge), one of the longest bridge over river in the world. The view from the Setu is amazing. On the other side of bridge, the bananas of Hazipur are very famous. Patna airport is the nearest airport.
The State Tourism department (BSTDC) provides good arrangement for staying. One can enjoy the Swiss cottages stay amid the fair only. However, one can easily leave Patna early morning, spend day at Sonepur and return back in night.
Update (July 2012) : Bihar State Tourism Department will be organizing the famous cattle fair from 2012 onward, to attract more visitor and to give an international look to the fair. Earlier, it was the responsibility of the district level fair committee. There would be now separate enclosure for animal market, a separate enclosure for local entertainment and classical dances. Folk artists from the neighboring states like UP, MP, Odisha and West Bengal will be invited to perform at the month long fair. The famed Swiss Cottage will now be set up the state tourism department. The department will also be organizing free yoga classes and elephant ride for booking cottages.
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