Bhopal – day 60

Set our alarms early and actually got out of bed this morning, even if we did press the snooze button a couple of times!! Got up and discovered that there was no water for our ‘shower’. However, the sink tap was working so a few jugs later and we were able to have a shower-of-sorts! Walked to the bus station in much quieter streets than yesterday – guess it was still early by Bhopal standards. As we approached a guy called out to us ‘Sanchi’ and stopped a bus just about to leave the stand so that we could jump on. Settled in for an hour and half, both feeling a little bit cold in the drafty bus now we’ve come back up north again. Got dropped off near the entrance and made our way via the path and stone steps up the rounded hill topped with Indians oldest Buddhist structures.  Built in 262 BC by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, who embraced Buddhism, as penance for the horrors he had inflicted on Kalinga. The Great Stupa was built at Sanchi as it was near the birthplace of his wife and used to house religious relics. It was the first Buddhist monument in the region and many other Buddhist religious structures followed. As Hinduism gradually reabsorbed Buddhism, the site decayed and was forgotten, until being rediscovered in 1818 by a British army officer. We went straight to the Great Stupa. As we were so early, the place was really quiet so we got to spend time circling the stupa and admiring the four entrances through the carved toranas (gateways). The four gateways were erected around 35 BC and had all completely fallen down when the sight was rediscovered. The gateways have been carefully reconstructed so that the scenes carved onto the pillars can depict the different episodes from Buddha’s various lives. The carvings are simply breathtaking with the detail they have on them – monkeys, elephants, bodhi trees, angels, demons, hunters and scenes of Buddha’s entry to nirvana to name a few! The sunlight was low enough in the sky to shine a stunning golden glow over the stupa which made it even more mesmerising. Heading away from the Great Stupa towards Stupa 2. This one doesn’t have any gateways but instead it is decorated with ‘medallions’ on the surrounding wall – flowers, animals and people – which rings the stupa. Spent a couple of hours wandering around the rest of the site, visiting the remaining two Stupas, temples, monasteries and the scattered remains of pillars.  We went to the archaeological museum before we left which has some of the earliest Buddha figures carved in red stand stone that can be found anywhere in the world. It also had an interesting photo gallery that showed the difference in the site between when it was rediscovered and present day – the difference is pretty incredible! Flagged down the crowded bus back to Bhopal. Whenever you think that the bus is full, they still manage to get more people on! Arrived back in Bhopal and stopped off to get a fruit juice from a local cafe. We were given a local drink of  ground almonds, milk and sugar to try. It was nice but incredibly sweet. Not sure if I could have drunk a whole glass of the stuff.As we wandered the streets, we saw a man getting ready to tattoo people… Sat on the dirty road… With only one needle! Headed back to the Internet cafe to do some more research for our planned route – seems like it might need to have a few adjustments based on how complicated it is to get trains at this time of year! Headed to the restaurant attached to the hotel. Was a bit disconcerting to have so many people watch us eat, even after we moved tables into the back corner. Chilled out for the rest of the evening watching ‘How to train your dragon 2’ and getting packed for the morning. As we packed, I found the business card for our previous hotel. As Jayne went to throw it away, she saw that the hotel manager had written his personal email address on the back for us…

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