I had half a day off in Bhopal and debated - Sanchi or Bhimbetka? Sanchi won. Bhimbetka is for another trip, MP being a project state, I have to visit Bhopal frequently. And so Surendra, the driver from MP tourism and I went to Sanchi-Vidisha-Udaigiri.
First stop Sanchi. Chilly but not freezing. Green and beautiful. I made it. Afterall! The great Stupa, the four gateways. Ashoka the Great. 3rd century BC. Devi, Anuradha, Mahendra; Sungas; Here was an Ashoka Pillar with bits of the original smooth chunar sandstone still intact still carrying the famous edict of Ashoka warning against schism in the Buddhist community. (I can't ofcourse read it). The shaft of the pillar intact. The middle broken into two lying under a covered dias and the four lion heads in the archeological musuem, next door. Thanks to a blogger - I forget who - since I had read up so many before the trip - said not to miss the archeological survey of India Museum. Beautifully and painstakingly restored - a photographic record of the restoration is in the museum, Sanchi is a pleasant visit. And ofcourse the curious serenity I find around Buddhist places of worship or temples is here as well.
Outside in the parking were bored drivers, guides jostling each other to grab a foreign tourist party, vendors - wondering no doubt, what could be of so much interest that one thinks nothing of spending huge amounts to travel to Sanchi from great distances, on taxis, on guidebooks, on cameras, on guides and yet haggle about parking fees (I did), shoo away beggars.
Bija Mandal jayengi? Surendra sounded incredibly bored. Aapko pata hai naa, I ask? Haan, Vidisha main, he says. So, onto Vidisha which was once a super prosperous town, mentioned in Kalidasa's Meghdoot. Home town of Devi, Ashoka the great's wife. Really? Impossibly narrow, dirty crowded little town, could be anywhere in India. Garbage demarcating lanes, cross roads. Cows, pigs, dogs. And the seemingly random use of colours - green door here, yellow window there, a woman in a bright pink sari - colours foreigners would find eye catching and dutifully photograph. We went round and round while the roads became narrower and crowded. Finally, even my enthusiasm palled. Chalo. Surendra's relief was short lived. To Heliodorus' pillar, I said.
The pillar, standing sentinel from so long ago, now, in the middle of absolutely no where. No one around. A stray dog and me (embarrassingly touristy in jeans, windcheater, camera, mineral water bottle now containing local tap water filled at my hotel in Bhopal and guide book). The pillar stands in a fenced area with trees. There is a board of the archeological society of India. Surendra must have wondered at my choice of place. And might he be right? A pillar. Except that there is a thrill to think what it might have been around 110 BCE when a Greek ambassador of the Indo-Greek king Antialcidas to the court of the Sunga king Bhagabhadra had it erected. According to some records, he had converted to hinduism (?) since it was dedicated to Vishnu. Having seen the pillars which took about 2-3 minutes, there was well, nothing much to do. And yet, having come here all the way, I could hardly make a hasty exit, could I? So I loitered around for another 5 minutes or so, frequently consulting the MP Tourism brochure before leaving for the last stop (while Surendra kept in turns looking at the pillar and at me, in puzzled amazement).
Udaigiri. Ancient rock cut temples on a dark hill from the Gupta period. The lone caretaker was quite happy to see me, the lone tourist and showed me around. No signs / tablets or whatever they are called - detailing history and information would have been helpful. The climb was painful. The descent excruciating. Thankgod for Surendra. He helped me down, step by painful and vertigo inducing step. Did he wonder what the hell was I doing there? He must have.
There were the obligatory "Sonu loves Pinky" graffitti in hard to reach places. God. Why do people deface these places so? And how do they reach those places and carve out these messages?Panting, gasping (me) and relieved Surendra left Udaigiri for our return back to Bhopal. Just a while back, in Sanchi, what a thrill it was to see slabs inscribed in pali / parakrit? Or was it just plain graffitti? Should I then be so upset with "Sonu love Pinky" modern variety. Who knows? A couple of millenia later, will a future archeological society be constructing guard rails and guided tours on "Sonu Loves Pinky"?! Maybe?!
As I made my way back to Bhopal, I think I got my answer as to who won. Not Sanchi, nor Bhimbetka. But Time - that mighty leveller. Man might make short term gains like in Sanchi but sooner or later, will have to bow done to time!
I found neat info on Sanchi here.
PS - The cam I took from my colleague was out of memory and I couldn't figure out how to erase all the old pictures. I could take only 4. Can you imagine my angst at deciding which 4 to take? And anyhow, am still waiting for my colleague to mail me those pix. In the meanwile, some neat Sanchi pix at Aaravind GJ's.