Khajuraho

We spent today wandering amongst well-preserved temples adorned with erotic sculpture. Khajuraho’s many temples, the western complex in particular, are some of the best in all of India. But it’s the pornography that has made them famous, and launched the business of a million touts. Not that Khajuraho is thick with salesmen, it just seems that literally everyone is selling something here, whether it’s handicrafts, erotic books (ie Kama Sutra), pornographic bronze key-chains, postcards, etc., etc. It’s surprising that the mouse running around this internet cafe isn’t carrying some mousie-porn in its mouth!
Honestly it’s hard not to be “templed-out” by this point in time, having seen much of India’s finest architecture, but we broke up the sights into an afternoon autorickshaw ride to the free southern and eastern temple areas, and then this morning’s visit to the main, 250 Rs, western compound. For Anderson yesterday’s highlight was definitely the one temple that, of course, didn’t allow photography once you’d crossed a well-placed line of stones, but it was from the 10th century, and practically a pile of ancient rubble with a white marble Shiva lingam recently reinstalled. What’s so fascinating then? Most of the temples here are reconstructed, so if sections are missing of the original stones, they are filled in shoddily with modern concrete, and could potentially qualify as eyesores in many cases. By being primarily rubble, the entire contents of the temple are visible, without the polluting touch of modern man. Plus, it’s sweet to see intricately-carved stones lying strewn about, one could clichely comment “like a movie set!”
We rode to about a dozen temples, some around a kilometer away from others, and so hidden within modern villages, such an interesting contrast an antique temple adjacent to modern Indian housing, not slummy, just simple and concrete. Our rickshaw ride ended with some drama, as we’d spoken with one driver earlier about a tour, then returned to his same (“its number – is no number – it’s new”) rickshaw a bit later, but only his friend was there, so obviously we went with him. Turns out that really upset “Chyote,” although of course not at his friend who stole business from him, apparently, but at us for being bad people. Funny how we whities are all the same (as in dollars on legs), but we’re not supposed to think the same way towards touts/drivers. Some days it’s hard not to be a jaded complainer 🙂
The best part, in one way, about Khajuraho, is our hotel. Since it’s the off season – too hot for most tourists, evidently – we got a steal of a deal, a mid-grade hotel for a low price (200 Rs). While we don’t have AC, we at least have a water-based air-cooler, which definitely makes a dramatic increase in our room’s comfort level. We actually decided to stay another day, but get up early, rather than leave late this afternoon to Orccha, our next destination, mostly so we could spend one more night on our soft, comfortable beds! So tomorrow we’ll aim high for the 5:30 am bus, but probably catch the 7:00 am one, a little more our style.
As for today, this morning was spent, for 3 hours or so, wandering around the main temple complex, alternating photos of impressive architecture and equally impressive (& acrobatic) temple smut. Not to ruin the surprise of our upcoming photo gallery, but there were certainly a few stone orgies, plenty of rock fellatio, ample carved caresses, and one scene even involved a horse in a non-hunting environment!
The temples, several in three-building complexes, were massive and imposing, with elaborate carving all over, with much of it being ornate and non-erotic, though a surprising number of statues and scenes at least involved nudity (predominately feminine) to some degree, sometimes even 20-30 meters up the building! Most were, shocker, dedicated by lingam to Shiva, although other members of the Hindu pantheon, Vishnu, Parvati, Kali, Nandi (Shiva’s transportation), etc., also had temples dedicated to them. Strangely many of them are actually mislabelled, but then again that’s nothing new in India. We also got a few discounted books on sites we have seen, so that was pretty nice, all the official Archaeological Survey of India books were 40% off, 99 Rs down to 60 Rs, so we picked up the Ajanta book as well as the Khajuraho one, plus a different cheap book on Hampi. What nerdy tourists are we…
The food has been pretty tasty here, had a rooftop thali at our hotel last night that was quite delicious, and more recently we has some nice samosas and veg pakora off the street. The oil may not be fresh, and flies may have even gotten there first, but a 3 Rs samosa with chutney is hard to beat for flavor! We were escorted around by an assortment of child salesmen this afternoon, so our leisurely walk to the Hanuman temple (which was really just a large statue of the monkey god, covered with orange dye/paint) ended up being an endless question and answer session, with far too much of the conversation being directed towards us buying things of varying nature (dinner, internet, clothing, handicrafts…). No Indian salesman ever believed a disinterested Westerner.
Our journey to Khajuraho (which we struggle to avoid mispronouncing Khujaraho…) actually was broken up over two days from Varanasi, we arrived in the connection town of Satna on a bus too late to catch the next, 5-hour, bus to the land of erotic temples. We went from Varanasi to Allahabad by bus, which took around 3 hours, then after some runaround (no bus, only train to Satna) we rode in relative comfort for another 3 hours. It’s hard on the train when no one really speaks English, and one cannot find any conductors (seriously, they practically go into hiding it seems :-), but apparently we were on a reservation-only sleeper car, although we are quite sure most of the Indians riding didn’t have proper tickets either – one guy hid in the toilet whenever train employees came through – but being white we obviously stick out just a little bit. Fortunately the guy sitting by us was nice, and didn’t care if we were sharing a bench with him, and then the train conductor’s, after checking our ticket and telling us we’d have to move (or pay several hundred more rupees), didn’t have the desire to show us where we ought to go, as we asked. So we just sat, awaiting Satna, and of course the conductor’s didn’t really check anyone else’s ticket, and the world is still turning…
In Satna hotels were scant, and it was getting dark, so we went to the inappropriately-named Hotel Safari, which refused to budge on its 300 Rs overpriced room, but at least it was air-cooled, and the room-service food (from a nearby restaurant) was fast, cheap, and very good after a day of sitting/traveling. Sleep came quickly, although so did our 5:45 am alarm for our 6:30 am, 5 hour-long, bus ride to Khajuraho. That bus was nice, friendliest driver we’ve had in a long time, he drove fast, chain-smoking small cigarettes, and kept a smile on his face the whole time. We weren’t smiling as much when the bus filled up to capacity (which means well-beyond the Western-sense of capacity), as our seats in the very front were then crammed full of people, but it turned out everyone was heading to town for the once-a-month Shiva Bazaar. After finding lunch and then a hotel, we wandered through the set-up market, but the reality is almost everything on sale is either foodstuffs (which we lack the kitchen to use), or cheap trinkets that by now we really don’t need. In general it is a shame that the traditional arts/crafts are being replaced by cheap plastics. Helps to solve the litter problems around here…
That’s that for Team Muth, tomorrow will be more rural local bus riding, en route to the peaceful town of Orccha, which has more temples and forts and such. A day or two there, then onto Gwalior, in the far north-west corner of MP state, before heading up to the mountains of Rishikesh, and some welcome cool and clean air!
Peace
A&E

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