Walking on the Buddhist Trail – Sanchi, Sonari, Satdhara

24 Nov

 Sanchi is a small and charming central Indian town. It is so small, that wherever you decide to stay, the Buddhist stupas are walking distance. They are on a low hill and can be seen from the National Highway running through Sanchi, from the trains that pass through Sanchi, even from the pool in our hotel!

The Great Stupa at Sanchi

The most enduring image of Sanchi has to be of the Great Stupa and its toranas (gateways). Begun by emperor Ashoka in the 2nd century BC, it was added to by succeeding dynasties. Till the 13th century, Sanchi was a spiritual centre where Buddhists would come from far and wide. Monasteries, temples and stupas were built here, patronised by the prosperous merchants from nearby Vidisha. Now a lot of them are in ruins, but they are well preserved. The site is a World Heritage Site and is protected by the ASI.

Temple 18 - that's what its called. Quite an uninspiring name for those towering pillars which look uncannily Greek.

Stupas have a terrace where devotees circumabulate. This is the medhi or terrace of stupa 3 (again, that's what its called)

So what were we doing in Sanchi? We were there for a work trip for a book that we were doing with Madhya Pradesh TourismBuddhist Circuit in Central India. Apart from Sanchi, we also had to visit some Buddhist sites around it, which are not part of the regular tourist circuit – Sonari, Satdhara, Andher and Murelkhurd. Getting to these sites is an adventure in itself. Except Satdhara, the others are not connected by motorable road and are well-guarded by jungle, hills are streams.  

 The people of Sanchi are courteous and always willing to help. Even though Parvati and I walked to and from the stupas at odd hours, we never felt uneasy. If you’re the lazy type there are always autos at the base of the hill willing to ferry visitors up and down for a small sum. But for those who have the time and inclination, there are the ancient stone steps leading up the hill. The walk is a good way to meet people: other travellers and locals.

Sanchi Town at dusk from the Stone Steps

Pilgrim-travellers, Monk-guide. This is a group from Sri Lanka with their guide. Lots of pilgrims from Sri Lanka visit Sanchi annually, and most stay at the Mahabodhi Society-run Guest House



Sonari was where we went next. The car would only go as far as Sonari village from where the stupas were a three kilometre walk – over two hills and across one stream. Our guide, Surender Singh Baduria navigated through the shrubbery.

In Sonari Village. A woman and her house.

Phew. The uphill task

Our guide took this picture of the stream on the way. Notice the two river nymphs perched on the rocks.

There were times when the landscape looked completely untouched by any human presence, not even small huts in the distance. Would it have looked just the same 2000 years back when the Buddha’s followers trod over the same hills to reach the stupas? Or would there have been cart tracks, and footprints and frequent human settlements?

  There are two main stupas at sonari and a monastery. The site is on a clearing, which is surrounded by unending forests on every side. The caretaker of the site, Bhagwan Singh, came to greet us with his dog. The only resident on the site, he has lived here for a year now and says he will never leave.

Mr Surender Singh, Bhagwan Singh and Parvati who's taking notes

 Of the four, only Sonari and Satdhara were accessible, so Satdhara was our next destination. Parvati and I were tossed about in the car during the drive (which can only be done in a four-wheel drive). There are some 8 stupas here set in some really breathtaking natural beauty. The stupas overlook a river which flows in the valley below.

Mr Surender Singh showed us some ancient paintings on a rock-face on the mountainside which takes a somewhat steep climb downwards. Parvati wouldn’t come, so I risked my life alone (and barefoot). Here is the proof:

See? The rockface is twice as tall as Surenderji. The photographs of the rock paintings are in the book

The Grand Stupa of Satdhara

Our book is almost out on the stands. The Buddhist Circuit in Central India will appeal not only to Buddhist pilgrims, but to anyone interested in Buddhism, Madhra Pradesh, our built heritage, Sanchi, the excursions from Sanchi (like Gyaraspur and Udaigiri)….

 Here’s the cover, so that you know what to look for when you reach the bookstore:


Posted by on November 24, 2009 in goodearth guides, travel


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27 responses to “Walking on the Buddhist Trail – Sanchi, Sonari, Satdhara

  1. nidhi dhingra

    November 24, 2009 at 7:24 am

    Tanya i love it! Even though i’ve already seen you pics m totally awed by them! I wanna go der now!!

  2. Ritu Topa

    November 24, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Tanya, considering the speed at which we all worked I think we should be very happy with the book and I am sure everyone who reads it too would like the book. It was a insight for me and if I ever get a chance to visit Sanchi would re-live the memories of doing this book.

    • Tanya Matthew

      November 25, 2009 at 5:08 am

      The book is out! And it looks really great. You’ve really done a fabulous job with the design and brought out the best in the pictures.

      Now you should go to Sanchi for a break. I’m sure you’ll love it.

  3. Nupur

    November 24, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Dear Tanya
    Great pics and the lovely commentary transports me back in time when i visited Sanchi , Bhimbedka (in 2007) and wondered (as you do) if anything has changed in the last 2000 yrs!

    I am glad that though the stream is non-existent, the nymphs are real 🙂

  4. Amina

    November 25, 2009 at 4:23 am

    Hey Tan…ur Sanchi trip sounds awesome. Nice write-up and lovely pics. They must have been great places to visit…n u sure sound like u luved ur trip!

  5. Tanya Matthew

    November 25, 2009 at 5:24 am

    @ nidhi
    nidzi, thanks a tonne! You should go there with your family. I think even they will like it.

    @ Nupur
    Hey! The stream isn’t not existant…. this pic shows more of the rocks… but there’s another shot which is in the book which shows more water. Will show you when I meet you next.

    Thanks for reading…. I want you to see the book. When you coming back next? Should I mail it to your family, or do I have to send it all the way to canada.

  6. rjmatthew

    November 25, 2009 at 6:49 am

    A nice read and I liked the captions of the photographs (the photos were good too).
    The Greek looking pillars are fascinating. Maybe the Greeks collaborated with these architects and stuff. Maybe there’s hidden meanings to all this.
    Anyway good stuff Tanya,

  7. Bernadette

    November 25, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Dear River Nymph,

    I love the post, the pictures and the write up. Great job Tani! I love the one with you perched on the rocks! The place looks so peaceful and inviting. Should go there somtime… 🙂

  8. Sukanya Wignaraja

    November 25, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Dear River Nymph/Tanya

    What a delightful piece! I have never been to Sanchi but it is now surely on my list of places to visit.


    • Tanya Matthew

      November 25, 2009 at 9:13 am

      Dear Sukanya
      Thanks for the comment! very encouraging.

  9. Sumit Ray

    November 25, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Very nice. I would have actually liked to read more. My only suggestion is that the photographs overcrowd the writeup…I kept having to scroll over them, and losing my train of thought.
    Does the book have contributions by you? Where does one get them? I only see Lonely Planet and Rough Guide in stores…

    • Tanya Matthew

      November 25, 2009 at 9:09 am

      I don’t think it would’ve reached the book stores by now. You get our books in Bahrisons, Midlands (in aurobindo place), etc. You get them also in Variety in CP.

      It was supposed to be a photo essay… with text, photo and caption all contributing to it. Parvati’ll probably put up her post soon, so you’ll have more to read about the same trip, but different perspective.

      thanks for reading!

  10. ANISH

    November 25, 2009 at 9:32 am

    WOW!! TANI DIDI GOOD PICS,THEY LOOK SO SO real lik viewin directly,hmmm i lov them

  11. vasantha perima

    November 25, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Dear Tanya,
    You made my day! The pictures and the write up, both are awesome. I felt I was there with you throughout. Thanks Thansi. Where do I get the book in Bangalore?


  12. Abeer

    November 26, 2009 at 5:04 am

    Thanks for bringing back memories – been a long time since I went there. Also looks like Sanchi is well preserved and still less commercialised than some of our other well known attractions? Definitely picking up a copy of the book when I visit – good work Tanya!

  13. Tanya Matthew

    November 26, 2009 at 5:20 am

    @inj, official goodearth blog comment guy.

    I don’t know nyan… hidden meaning and all. You mean alien interference?

    Thank youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu….

    @Aneesh! I’m so happy you read the blog. you should consider visiting sanchi. i think you might like it

    Thanks so much perima. I’ll send you a copy of the book.

    Yes, its not at all commercialised. That’s what makes it so beautiful. And its really well preserved, not over preserved. But there are these inhouse geese which patrol the grounds during the day.

  14. rjmatthew

    November 26, 2009 at 5:31 am

    The Official Goodearth blog comment guy was here

  15. arjun

    November 26, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    tanya the pcitures are awesome! u know too!! the stupa,greek pillars,the uphill walkway and those random rocks! except the village, woman and her house were a real turn off.hehe.
    write up, though sooooo much to read was very easy to 🙂
    enough to say uve been there when u no but i really want to walk that up now.thanks to u i know places like these even exist
    look fwd to more such..

    • Tanya Matthew

      November 27, 2009 at 5:51 am

      thanks Mr Badruka…
      typical that you dno’t like the village photo!! 😛

  16. Nive

    November 29, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Great article Tanya! And I loved the pictures 🙂

  17. tanya

    November 30, 2009 at 5:14 am

    thanks nive….
    When you coming here?

  18. Savita

    December 1, 2009 at 6:17 am

    inspiring. will go! sounds like a meandering, non-touristy place. nice pics, well-written.

  19. tanya

    December 1, 2009 at 10:11 am

    ya savvy. you must go, and swim in that pool. There’s also a sauna and jacuzzi 🙂

  20. lalitha

    December 12, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    The pix are great. I love the composition and the’s really impressive. Hope i’ll get the book in bangalore. We have a Goodearth store here..let me try.

  21. maitreyi

    December 24, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Neat! I want to go there…

  22. durga jyothi

    March 26, 2010 at 11:38 am

    good pics. love the commentary. great job. keep in touch.

  23. Anuj Sharma

    July 8, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Hii…I went to sonari during was awfully hot so we couldn’t make it to the monastery(Coz my friends balked at the idea of treading 3-4km in Baking sun)
    Yesterday i Again asked them…this time though i referred ur webpage & it worked wonders as ur page convinced them at once..we had a great time.
    Thank you for Sharing ur experience…Such places ought not to be esoteric.
    The Govt should take earnest Steps to reinstate its lost glory.


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