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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Quick guide to Khajuraho

Well, hello there 

I have been missing in action for the longest time, but it feels good to be back. The new year has been kind to me and things have been rather busy on all fronts. In the midst of it all, Len and I managed a quick breather: a short trip to the temple town of Khajuraho that has left us with uplifted spirits and weary bones! I thought I'd keep this post resourceful for anyone who is planning a visit to this charming town. 

Contrary to popular conception, the intricate carvings on the temples of Khajuraho are not only about erotic art as we found out. But, sex and eroticism were probably a part of the everyday lives of Gods and Goddesses as well as common men back then, and the sculptures depict that. Not surprisingly though, the Kamasutra was being sold at every nook and corner of the town, as well as imitations of the highly sexualized sculptures.


Relics of a glorious past
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip


About the town

Technically a village, and we instantly noticed this as we moved away from the main road along which are located the Western Group of Temples, museums, and Shilpgram - an artisans centre. This is the heart of the town, with most hotels and eateries concentrated within this 1-2 kilometre zone. The local occupations (apart from hospitality) are farming and cattle rearing. 


Watching the sun set in the horizon
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

Peak of architectural flourish 

Needless to say, the main tourist attraction of Khajuraho is the Hindu and Jain temples built during the Chandel dynasty in around the 11th century. These are segregated into three groups: western group of temples, southern group (Jain) of temples, and eastern group of temples.

The western cluster is the largest of the three, and is organised inside a gated garden. Tickets need to be purchased from a counter next to the entrance and cost Rs 30 (Indians) and Rs 500 (foreigners). These temples are large and beautiful with manicured lawns all around. Near the temples, there are two lakes and a number of restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops selling everything from fridge magnets to so-called pashmina shawls and clothing items. We would recommend Raja Cafe and the Madras Coffee House for a meal. 


Sunny day at the Western group
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

Under the shade of a peepul tree
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

South Indian thali at Madras Coffee House
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip 

The best EVER pasta carbonara: a must-try at Raja Cafe
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

A 20-minute walk will take you to the southern group with three Jain temples inside a single compound. One of these still functions as a live temple. Less crowded than the western group, I found this place to be very peaceful and a nice place to rest under the shaded peepul tree or at the Parshawanath or Adinath temples.  

Shantinath (Jain) temple
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip
Next to the Parshawanath Jain Temple
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip


The last of the temples we visited are located on the eastern fringe of the town. There are three temples that are slightly scattered across large green fields. When we visited, we saw many animals grazing - cows, buffaloes, and even pigs. I loved this place the most. It was open and breezy and if one sits on the steps leading to the Vamana temple, it is a calming sight to take in. Sitting here, I could hear birds chirping, crows cawing, and an occasional cow mooing. I think I even heard a rooster :) We didn't see any hotels this side, only hutment. 

video


Getting around

There is only one mode of transportation in this town - big autos that can be shared with other passengers or booked individually. Mostly they will ask you for Rs 100 no matter where you want to go, but this can easily be negotiated at Rs 30 or Rs 50. Auto drivers try to strike a deal with you for anything between Rs 300 to Rs 500 for a temple tour. This is quite pointless as the temples are actually all within walking distance and it is easier (and cheaper) to find an auto to ferry you to a particular set of monuments on a need basis. Even better, you could hire a cycle and ride around the town. 

About 20 km from Khajuarho town is the Ken Gharial Sanctuary. More on that, soon!

Best time to visit

As with most plains of India, the winter months are most suited for travelling, and I would recommend end of February for two reasons. First, weather-wise it is comfortable. It is easy to walk for a couple of hours even under the sun. The second reason is the Art Festival that takes place this time every year. Set against the backdrop of the Western Group of Temples, one can enjoy classical and folk dance performances in the evenings. In addition to these, there are also art exhibitions by artists across the country (and some international as well). 


Life-size Chhau dance dolls inside the Art Festival ground
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

Kathak dance performance
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

The other fun factor for us was the local Shiv Ratri mela that was taking place at the time. For anyone who is keen to visit a true blue rural mela (fair), this is just the perfect place. It was rustic India at its best, without the pretense of sophistication! We took a ride on a massive, rickety giant wheel, among others :)



video


This little boy on the trampoline was so keen to pose for us
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip
Freshly made sugarcane juice with a dash of lemon and salt
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip
Hotels
We stayed at Isabel Palace Hotel, which is about 1.5 km from the heart of the town. The distance seemed reasonable at the time of booking, but if I have to return I would probably stay at Zostel (an upmarket hostel), or at the state-run Hotel Jhankar. Khajuraho shuts down completely by 11 pm and restaurants serve up to about 10:30 pm. Also, the roads beyond the market get dark and deserted after 9 pm. I wouldn't say it felt particularly unsafe, but it would have been more convenient to stay closer to the western group of temples. 

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