We take an overnight train from Jabalpur to Bhopal where S has managed to get us a great deal at the Noor us Sabah palace, now a WelcomHeritage Hotel. "Noor Us Sabah" meaning "The Light of Dawn" was built in the 1920s' by H.H. Hamid Ullah Khan for his eldest daughter Abida Sultan and through a variety of events has now got the Nawab of Pataudi’s name associated with it.
The hotel is located on the top of a small hillock and from our balcony on the 1st floor the view is amazing!!! The Vindhya ranges, the Upper Lake of Bhopal, the city of Bhopal and of course the peacocks in the gardens! The hotel itself is very grand with its high dome like ceilings and arches, historic photographs all over the place, a library with really old books, a palanquin and a horse carriage strategically placed.
Sanchi for me was...well a bitter sweet experience. So serene, calm and clean...maybe because there were hardly any people there. At a world renowned heritage sight I would have expected more interest! The funny thing is - in all my travels to heritage sites in India, I have found myself thinking – what the hell, the whole of India wants to visit xxx when I am here and the pushing and jostling would irritate the hell out of me...and now when we had a site to our self and I mean that literally, I found it odd!!!
When I see a picture/statue of Buddha or think of Buddhism the first word that comes to my mind is CALM and that is what one felt that day in Sanchi...a gentle breeze on a hot, hot afternoon, lush green landscape and silence all around. Automatically I remember something from my school days -"Buddham Sharnam Gachhami."
Sanchi, the oldest Buddhist sanctuary in existence and a major Buddhist center in India is on a hill overlooking the plains. Stupas are always built on a hill - so that their beneficial influence can radiate in all the four directions. The dome represents the universe. Sanchi is not directly connected with events in the life of Buddha but is more of a reliquary mound built by Emperor Asoka for putting the divided ashes of Buddha in an order to spread Buddhism in India.
The dome is covered by a masonry exterior and has a squareish platform (harmika) on top that in turn encloses a royal parasol (chattra) atop a mast (yasti). The dome is on an elevated platform with stairs leading clockwise from the ground level up to a circular walkway, where the worshipper circumambulates the dome. The whole stupa is enclosed by a railing (vedika) and elaborate gates (torana) are built in front of each of the four cardinal points. There are exquisite carvings on the doorways and railings with sculpted scenes from the life of Buddha and Jataka stories of his previous incarnations. Another oxymoron - austere grandeur is what describes the Stupa best!
We walk around looking at the other smaller Stupas, a monolithic Ashokan pillar, the water system, the temples and what they call a small zoo – really??? A few rabbits, a few birds make a zoo!
Lunch at a restaurant at the base of the hillock and we head back to the hotel for some respite from the scorching sun. Some plan for a swim in the inviting pool and some just head to the spa. I was pretty excited – a college hostel mate is planning to visit me with her daughters later that evening. We met after 20years – friendships from school and college are so amazing. No matter how many decades one is meeting after, it’s so easy to just pick up the threads and continue from there as if all those years had never happened. How time flew I don’t know. And we both felt, it was not enuff and that there was a need for us to meet again the next day.
I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let's face it; friends make life a lot more fun.