Who hasn’t heard of the Khajuraho temples? The temples are more famous (or infamous?) for the erotic sculptures than anything else. So famous that they are one of the most visited tourist locations in India. So famous that this small town even has an airport to boast of and the presence of some of the biggest 5 star hotel chains.
Continuing our practise of only using public transport, we took an overnight train from Jhansi and got down real early at the recently constructed Khajuraho railway station. This time, instead of carrying our backpacks, we used the cloak room to store them. With the baggage taken care of, we were ready to roll. Hired an auto to the temples and quickly got done with breakfast at the only restaurant open at that time.
Now, the UNESCO site is just the western group of monuments at Khajuraho. However, there more temples – in the south and the east too. We started off with the main site, got our tickets and the mandatory record shots and got in.
One experiment we tried this time and which worked out really well were the audio guides. Imagine entering a temple and a lifting music accompanying you – it is surreal!
It took me about two hours to complete the audio tour of the temples and take in the beauty of the excellent carvings. All of the sculptures and temples are made of sandstone. The Chandela kings built more than 85 temples in a relatively small area, only about 25 exist now. I remember only one of these temples being in use today. It is easy to note the difference between the sophistication of carvings in some of the older compared to the more recent temples. The carvings done when the Chandela kingdom was at it’s prime are more detailed and exquisite. The figurines are taller and the designs more ornate. But the basic designs themselves did not change over the centuries these temples were built.
A word about the erotic sculptures here – they are always seen on the exterior of the temples and in the recesses between the main sections. The prominence these carvings still get tells a little about human nature. Most tourists associate the erotic sculptures with Kamasutra, and make a common mistake because both are from completely different eras and are not related at all. The British officer who discovered these temples was quite offended – this was in Victorian times anyway. Now, i’m sure it’ll offend the sensibilities of many Indians today too, which again is proof to me that our culture was too deeply influenced by Victorian when the British ruled us. Anyway, researchers believe that these carvings are an indication to people that they should leave all their desires before entering the temples. Whatever the intent, I think it’s good amusement now.
Who says Indian culture is conservative?
Three incidents made the trip more memorable for me. The first one was at the lone temple in the western group of temples where the deity is still prayed to. It was originally built as a temple for lord Vishnu. However, turns out that the statue of Goddess Saraswati actaully got installed in the temple. As i entered the garbha griha (sactum sanctotym), a local lady sitting there gave me some interesting tidbits – apparently there is a little space between the statue and the wall. Anyone, no matter how fat, can apparently squeeze through this tiny space and make a wish – which will (as wishes made at such places go) come true. I couldn’t verify this unfortunately as I’m skinny and was able to go through quite easily.
The Saraswati statue with the make-a-wish gap
The other incident was when we went to have our lunch. We rented a couple of scrappy bicycles and made this ridiculous plan of going to a 5 star hotel in these bicycles and having lunch there. It was an interesting experience – we got stopped at the gate – but not because of our ride but because the guard wanted to confirm wheether the restaurant was open. Thankfully it was, and we enjoyed some really tasty biryani.
Bharath parking his bike at The Lalit
The last was when we were in the overnight train to Jhansi and I was pretty hungry. We had gone to bed as soon as we got into the train because we were quite tired and had another train to catch past midnight. Now, Jhansi station doesn’t have a lot of good places to eat and Bharath and I were talking about this. The train coach attendant offered to share his meal because a passenger had given him his. I gorged on the homemade chicken curry while Bharath could only watch (he’s vegetarian). A continental breakfast, a 5-star Hyderabadi lunch and a local homemade dinner – talk about variety in a day!
I haven’t written much about the eastern and the southern group of monuments because i honestly thought they weren’t worth the effort. We had time to spend so we did go visit them but i wasn’t very stoked about them myself. Oh, a tip here – there’s a river nearby. The stretch near the road wasn’t very tempting but if you have time, explore a little and find if there’s any good spot to splash your tired self. Ask for a local town map at any of the small shops and you’ll get a photocopied one for Rs. 2. It’s good enough to get your bearings.
Travel – if you are traveling from the south of India, make Jhansi your base and take the trains. One branch of the U.P Sampark Kranti train ends at Khajuraho and this is great if you want to save a day. Board the train in Jhansi at 2am and get to khajuraho early int the morning. People traveling from the north can take this train from Delhi, where I think it starts. There is a passenger train starting from Jhansi at 6am which gets you to Khajuraho by 12pm too.
From Khajuraho station, you have many auto rickshaws which will take you to the western monuments. Fares upto rs.80 if you don’t share and can bargain well. If you’re ok with sharing, it costs rs. 10 per person. In Khajuraho itself, the UNESCO heritage site – the western group of monuments is in one enclosure where you can only walk.
You can hire bicycles to go to the other monuments. Rent – rs. 40 for the whole day (Indian rate, the rate is rs.100 for foreigners). The Sampark Kranti leaves Khajuraho at 6 pm and you can plan to take the same train back if you’re pressed for time.
They have an airport in Khajuraho and I saw and Indian Airlines flight take off too. That might be another option to explore.
There are air conditioned sleeper buses to and from Bhopal as well if you prefer that. We couldn’t take these buses because they were off for Holi.
There are a bunch of expensive hotel chains including The Taj, The Lalit and The Ramada. We didn’t really look for acco, but I’m sure there’ll be cheaper options as well.
Plenty of restaurants with international cuisines here. In fact, the place where we had our breakfast seemed quite popular with Korean tourists. Their mini library had a lot of guide books in Korean and they had Korean products stocked too.Khajuraho experiences by ajay