The Great Stupa of Sanchi is probably one of the most identified Buddhist monuments of India. It was commissioned by Emperor Ashoka. Later rulers added to the beautification of the stupa and built other structures around it. Today, the ruins, marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sit pretty in the middle of a green, landscaped field. The festival of the Chethiyagiri Vihara is held in November.
Located about 50km from Bhopal, and slightly off the road to Sanchi, the dam on the Halali river, is a popular picnic spot. You can make a small detour to visit this dam and the adjoining water sports complex run by Madhya Pradesh Tourism.
The lime mortar used to hold together the bricks used for the foundation of a Vishnu temple is said to be the first example of using cement in India. Roam among the ruins and you will be amazed by the architectural display. Ruled by various Indian dynasties, Vidisha or Besnagar was the capital and a successful trading centre way back in the 6th century BC. Another remarkable monument here is the Heliodorous Pillar or the Khamba Baba; apparently, dating back to 140 BC, the monolithic Garuda pillar was built by a Greek envoy Heliodorous from Taxila. Visit the museum here to know more about the area’s architectural heritage. Vidisha is 10km away from Sanchi.
The rock cut caves, dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries, display the architectural finesse that existed during the Gupta period. Cave number 1 with its pillars in the ‘vase and foliage pattern, cave number 5 with its carving of Varaha avatar holding up Prithvi, cave number 9 with its large cella, 8-feet high pillars, and portico, the sculpture of a reclining Vishnu, the designed entrances to various caves, etc. are some of the popular attractions. It is 4km from Vidisha.
The Athakhambe (eight pillars) and the Choukhambe (four pillars), the remains of two temples dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries reflect the subtle expression of India’s medieval art. The other monuments of importance are the Bajra Math and the Mala Devi Temple. Gyaraspur is located about 40km away from Sanchi.
From Vidisha, drive ahead to Udaypur (90km from Sanchi) to see the art and architecture that flourished under the Parmar rulers of the 11th century, especially portrayed by the Neelkantheshwara Temple. Built of red sandstone, the temple appears majestic with its designed spires and carved medallions. Other notable monuments include Bijamandal, Sahi Masjid, Pisnari-ka-Mandir, etc.
For details of accommodation, car hire, etc. contact Madhya Pradesh Tourism offices across India. Madhya Pradesh Tourism Hotels and Resorts runs tourist accommodations in Sanchi (MPT Gateway Retrreat) and a few other places on this circuit.