Sanchi Stupa (also known as the Great Stupa) is one of those particularly wonderful attractions in India that make a visit to the country so worthwhile. As with the Sun Temple and the temples of Khajuraho, the Great Stupa at Sanchi dates back to antiquity, and yet it remains a stunning piece of unmatched architecture that is the destination for pilgrims from across the country. Consequently, the Great Stupa is the main reason vacationers visit the town of Stupa, but that is not to say Stupa is a one-trick pony. Rather, there is an array of Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi, and you'll find enough to see here to warrant days of happy exploration.
In local terms, the Great Stupa at Sanchi is referred to simply as Stupa Number One. And as soon as you arrive at the town of Sanchi, it is easy to see why. This Sanchi Stupa looms above the place, providing a breathtaking backdrop to everything you do here. The Stupa itself is a great hemispherical dome that was once a burial ground for the local community. Today it's a closed shop, however; bodies are not longer laid to rest here, and the massive monument instead functions only in terms of its symbolic qualities.
The Sanchi Stupa dates back thousands of years. Its construction was begun under the guidance of Ashoka Maurya back in the third century BC, though it was not completed in the form that we now see until some 700 years later, around the fourth century AD. After its completion, Sanchi continued to grow as a site of religious zeal, and many more Buddhist monuments were erected. Currently, there are 50 such monuments: Aside from the Great Stupa, the four gateways that lead up to the mound are definitely worth close attention, as they feature an array of carvings that tell of the various stages of Buddha's life. Visitors also tend to take in the two smaller Stupas that can be found next to the Great Stupa at Sanchi itself.
To learn more about the Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi, it's worth visiting the Archaeological Survey of India's Museum, which features a few helpful exhibits, including a display of tools apparently used by monks in the building of the temple. Tour guides are also sporadically available. If you choose to hire one of them, make sure they are official, government-recognized guides; otherwise you'll end up paying more money for less-accurate information.
For vacationers visiting Sanchi, there are a few hotels in and around the area. However, most tend to stay in the nearby city of Bhopal, which is a short drive away. Bhopal is a large city and the capital of the Madhya Pradesh state, and consequently there are hotels and guesthouses here to suit every budget and taste. Getting to Bhopal from other destinations in India is easy enough, as it is linked to major cities such as New Delhi, Chennai, and Kolkata by India's extensive and immensely affordable rail network.