The oldest stone structure in India: Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh
Located around 46 km from the state capital of Bhopal in the state of Madhya Pradesh is the peaceful and quiet town of Sanchi. The town is a UNESCO world heritage site and is famous for the great stupa which was built by Emperor Ashoka in the third century BC.
There are multiple ways of getting to Sanchi, the most economical way is to take a government bus from the state capital, Bhopal. The road leading to the town is very beautiful and scenic. Buses to Sanchi leave every 10 to 15 minutes from the bus station in Bhopal. The last bus to Sanchi leaves from Bhopal at around 19:45HRS. Hiring a private taxi from Bhopal is also an option.
The town of Sanchi is very small and the best way to get around the place is on foot since everything is within a one kilometer radius from the town junction where the bus stop is. There is a small entry fee to enter the stupa and museum complex. The stupa is open from sunrise to sundown, while the museum is open from 09:00HRS to 17:00HRS and is closed on Fridays.
The great Buddhist stupa in Sanchi is also the oldest stone structure in India and is famous for outstanding specimen of Buddhist art and architecture, belonging to the period between the third century BC and the twelfth century AD. Stupas are large hemispherical domes, containing a central chamber, in which the relics of the Buddha were placed. The Sanchi stupa is one of the best preserved early stupas in central India. The Sanchi stupa is surrounded by a railing with four carved gateways facing all the four directions.
Sanchi stupa was originally made up of bricks and only during the Shunga period, the Sanchi stupa was enlarged and faced with stones and decorated with railings, staircase and a harmika on the top. Around the main stupa, there is a path for circumambulation. This path is enclosed by a railing with gates at each of the four directions.
The railings and gates of the Sanchi stupa are richly sculptured with different motifs and designs. An interesting characteristic about the Sanchi stupa is that Lord Buddha has been symbolically represented by footprints, wheels, thrones etc rather than by his own image.
The gateways of Sanchi stupas contain ornamented depiction of incidents from the life of the Buddha and his previous incarnations as Bodhisattvas described in the famed Jataka Tales. Lord Buddha has been shown symbolically in the form of tree or through other inanimate figures.
The Sanchi stupa is a fine example of the development of the Buddhist architecture and sculpture beginning from the third century BC to the twelfth century AD. The site of Sanchi was discovered in the year 1818 by General Taylor and an archaeological museum was established in 1919 by Sir John Marshall.
Another must visit place is the Archaeological Museum. The museum has wonderful artifacts there which include historical artefacts from places around. Metal-tools and beautiful sculptures as old as 2000 years make you think about that era. The museum also showcases a picture documentary of the history and revival of Sanchi.
Around the stupa boundaries, there are a few stalls which sell handicrafts most of which are locks, key chains and showpieces made out of marble, stone and wood. All along the road leading to the stupa there are locals selling fresh fruits, a mixed fruit plate is a must have while on your way back from the stupa.
Accommodation options in Sanchi are limited to a couple of budget lodges which are a bit over priced for what they have to offer but are still the only choice for budget travellers. MP tourism has a lodge which is very well maintained but not very light on the pocket for the backpacking crowd.
The MP tourism restaurant is the best place to eat. But it only serves vegetarian food. However, the food is very tasty. Chana masala and missi roti are a must try here. There are a couple of other local dhabas which are located close to the railway station. A must try while in the town is the flavored milk which is sold in nearly all the shops.
The best time to visit Sanchi is during the winter months from October to March when the weather is pleasant and cold. Sanchi is a must visit place for anyone looking for a slice of history. As well as those wishing to have a close look at the place from where India gets her emblem – the four lions and the 24 spoke wheel with the horse and the bull on it.
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