For folks who love ancient history, Madhya Pradesh, India is filled with gems. While exploring Madhya Pradesh, one of our goals was to show the UNESCO sites to the children (they are not really into visiting temples) because they depict the history of a certain period. After spending time in Khajuraho, we headed towards Sanchi, one of the other UNESCO sites in Madhya Pradesh. While searching for things to do in Sanchi, we came across two sites that looked interesting on paper: Heliodorus Pillar and Udaygiri Caves near Vidisha.
During ancient times, Vidisha was a prosperous regional capital for many empires. Most famously, it was once under the reign of Emperor Ashoka. Realizing that the structures here date back to 140 BC, we had to go take a look before checking out the Sanchi Stupa.
It is a monolithic, free-standing column which is also known as the Garuda pillar. The inscriptions date back to 140 BC and local legend says that it was part of an ancient Vasudeva temple. Finding the location of the pillar was not easy. With the help of Google Maps and local guidance, we eventually reached the location. It is located inside a fenced off area but with minimal maintenance. Local folks were chilling inside the compound. The pillar itself is on top of a raised platform. We had heard that pillar continues to have religious significance for the local people. So, we did not climb the platform to take detailed pictures. After spending about 10 minutes exploring the site, we proceed to our next stop.
Between the Heliodorus Pillar location and Sanchi are the Udaygiri rock cut caves which are believed to date back to the reign of King Chandragupta II (4-5 AD). Once you reach there, in order to enter the fenced in area, you need to buy tickets at the ticket booth located in the parking lot across from the site. Each of the caves is numbered (in order of excavation), so, you have a nice walking path that will not lead you astray. But, please be aware, there is a lot of climbing required to see all of the different caves. The walking path and steps will lead you up a hill and then down again. From the top of the hill you can see the surrounding fields and villages which is pretty cool.
While most of the sculptures are hidden inside small caves that you can peek into from outside, there are a few with spectacular sculptures that you can admire up close. One such cave is Cave #5 which has a large sculpture depicting Lord Vishnu in his boar (Varaha) avatar. Interestingly, this is one of the few caves that can be seen from the road as well. So, if you have anyone who is physically not able to climb stairs, you can ask the driver to stop near this cave and you can admire the carvings from outside the fence as well.
While the kids walked up and down quickly (it is a semi-circular path), the adults took a little bit of time as the steps were uneven. In the mid-May heat, it felt like the walk up to the very top was not worth it. However, in retrospect, perhaps it was good that we went up as we had an opportunity to experience some nice views of the surrounding areas.
All-in-all, we spent about 1.5 hours at Udaygiri Caves before heading to the main attraction – the Sanchi Stupa.
Would I recommend visiting these two sites? If you have a couple of hours to spare, then definitely worth visiting.