KHAJURAHO — Labour of Love!

“The trains always arrive at your station. The question is which one to take?” — Mehmet Murat Ildan

My first solo trip in India was to Khajuraho, in February 2019.

Solo travel in India for women is yet to take off, as compared to the rest of the world. The predominant reason being, that of, inadequate infrastructure and safety. The perception is this and frankly speaking, there’s truth in it, to a large extent. So, it such happens that you are always looking for someone to accompany you, even on a trip in the neighbourhood :)

But things are changing, and it’s only the women who can bring out a reform by taking the initiative to go solo. Of course, travel agencies organise a lot of women-only trips and you often come across such groups, in India and abroad. Travelling with such groups can be a good start for all those women who have never travelled alone or are in some way apprehensive about it. However, there’s a downside to such “one-size-fits-all” trips as they are far more expensive and very routine.

So, how did this trip to Khajuraho happen?

The place had been on my bucket list for long. Khajuraho – a city named after Khajoor (date palm) is in central India, so not really very far from Delhi, where I live, but not very close too. It is not a metro or even an A class city to give one that comfort of good connectivity and logistics. Yeah, it was somewhere there on the map where I could put my finger on, but the actual travel would never happen.

Mention Khajuraho and only one thing crosses everyone’s minds. The erotic nature of the temples. There’s even a big inhibition about taking children to this place, when only a small fraction of all sculptures is erotica.

Now that I have ticked it off from my bucket list, all I can say is that, if you haven’t been to Khajuraho yet, you are missing on something really wonderful!

About the Khajuraho Temples

The Khajuraho Group of Monuments is a group of Hindu and Jain temples in Khajuraho, in Madhya Pradesh, India. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The style in which they are made is known as Nagara style.

The temples are divided into three groups — the Western Group, the Eastern Group and the Southern Group. They were built by the Chandela kings between 950 AD and 1050 AD. It is said to have had a total of 85 temples by the 12th century, however, only about 25 temples have survived as of now. All are in a periphery of 6 kms. Most of them are made of fine sandstone and a few in granite.

What took me by surprise was the dimensions of the sculptures which are carved out on all outer walls of each temple and inside. I had always imagined them to be big sculptures of the human form, but in reality, they are quite small and hundreds of meaningful scenes have been so aesthetically carved out in each temple.

Khajuraho

The day I reached, after an early check-in and breakfast, I headed straight out. The temples are open from sunrise to sunset. I started with the Western Group which was only about a 10 min walk from my hotel. Mid-way, I found a huge water body, which I later found out was the Shiv Sagar lake.

The Shiv Sagar lake

The lake is not very well maintained so doesn’t really attract many tourists. The steps leading to it are made of solid stone blocks and what I found intriguing was the intermittent use of some stones that had beautiful human forms or floral motifs carved out on them. Then, I saw some carved figurines upside down on a stone block! Either, just like the temples, the steps too must have been aesthetically made by the royalty, or, someone while carrying out repairs must have used these prized pieces of art from the temples to replace the ordinary damaged steps. There was no one around to ask questions, so I just climbed back and moved towards the temples. I still wonder :)!

The steps of the lake
A beautiful sculpture on a step
The inverted art on one of the steps of the lake

There’s a ticket of about Rs 20/- at the entry gate to the temples.

The moment you enter, you see a vast expanse of green with trees and temples at short distances from each other.

This site has the maximum number of prominent temples, like the — Lakshmana Temple, Kandariya Mahadeo Temple, Jagadambi Temple, Chausath Yogini Temple, Chitragupta Temple, Matangeshwara Temple, Varaha Temple and Vishwanath Temple.

Lakshmana Temple, Western Group

These temples are mainly dedicated to Shiva and Shakti. Each better than the previous one. You would need at least 2–3 hours here, so block your maximum time for this group.

Vishwanath Temple, Western Group

Ok, I would like confess that, had I not previously known about the erotic nature of these temples, I would have missed the “part”. It was only when the guide (you should get one), pointed out scenes depicted in each row of carvings, high up on the exterior walls of these temples, does one get the exact import of the sculptures. There are scenes depicted from the daily life, like, a women applying make-up , someone offering prayers, lovemaking scenes and so on. There are figures of deities, celestial maidens, animals and mythical creatures telling a story.

Kandariya Temple, Western Group
Kandariya Temple

Although, the place was buzzing with tourists, at no point, did I experience any uncomfortable crowd. I moved at my own pace and spent whatever time I felt was adequate, at each temple. The temples were freshly washed and spotlessly clean. The whole aura was very pleasing.

The Nandi Temple as seen from the Vishwanath Temple

Since the Eastern and Southern Group of Temples are a little away from here, you need conveyance. I hired an auto-rickshaw for the rest of the day.

The Eastern Group includes Jain temples too, along with the Hindu ones, suggesting that the two faiths flourished together. It has the Parasvanath Temple, Ghantai Temple, Adinath Temple, Hanuman Temple, Brahma Temple, Vamana Temple and Javari Temple.

Parasvanath Temple, Eastern Group
Relics of temples — Eastern Group

The Southern Group has the Dulhadeo Temple, Beejamandal Temple and Chaturbhuj or Jatkari Temple.

Dulhadeo Temple, Southern Group

My autorickshaw chap made a special mention at the Dulhadeo Temple — “this is a temple where newly-weds are recommended to visit first”. I figured that out only later, when I went inside.

The Chaturbhuj temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is the only temple in Khajuraho devoid of any erotic sculptures!

Chaturbhuj Temple, Southern Group

I can just say this — the finesse and craftsmanship of those who worked on these temples, is unmatched. Each figurine has been chiselled with so much precision and minute detail, that the sight leaves you mesmerized. So much manual work, a thousand years back, in the hot plains of India must not have been easy.

Most temples have a similar design. The temples have been constructed on a quadrangular raised plinth of stone, well above the ground. There is a series of wide and steep steps that lead to the entrance at top. Many temples have a very intricately carved garland (Toran)at the entrance.

Varaha Temple (see the raised plinth)

The temple exterior, on all the sides has exquisite carvings of geometric patterns, of lions and elephants, of kings and queens, the common folks. Using these sculptures, the scenes of normal day-to-day life are conveyed.

The inside of the temple has typical elements of Hindu temple architecture, like — an entrance porch, an outer hall, an inner hall and the sanctum sanctorum.

The beauty outside is matched equally inside, where you see huge carved ceilings, massive pillars, sculptures of gods, goddesses, devtas, devis, angels, demons and so on. Of course, in Jain temples you see the Tirthankaras and other related Jain images.

The temples are quite dark inside, especially around the Garbha Grah (the sanctum santorum) with some light pouring in through slight openings. I read in some temples that royal dance performances would be held in the inner hall while the royalty sat around on big platforms.

Can you imagine a vivid imagery of a dancer in all her finery giving a performance in front of the king, queen and nobles…..with probably scented oil lamps casting warm yellow light inside the temple?

One really marvels at the skill of those times and the quality of material used to build these stunningly beautiful gems which have withstood the vagaries of time. They have been around for more than a millennium and they are still so robust and overwhelming! I was truly spellbound. And that is an understatement.

By the time, I was done, it was already evening.

Every February, Khajuraho hosts a beautifully curated ,week-long Indian classical dance festival. And that’s where I was headed in the evening.

The stage was very strategically set, in the background of a temple. A big light standing at one end of the stage gave an illusion of a moonlit sky. I enjoyed some very interesting classical dance performances by artists from different parts of the country. Although, the show ended quite late in the night, I comfortably found conveyance to take me back to the hotel.

Entry to the dance was free.

Khajuraho Dance Festival

What’s the best way to travel?

From Delhi you can take a flight to Khajuraho which usually has a stopover at Varanasi and can take anything from 3 hrs and upwards. A road trip and train journey takes approximately the same time, which is around 10 hrs.

February, being the peak season, the flights were very expensive for me, so I checked out the train schedule. The fastest train is the UP Sampark Kranti which leaves Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station at 8:10 pm every day of the week. It reaches at 6:30 the next morning. On its return, it leaves Khajuraho at 6:20 pm, reaching Delhi at 5:30 the next morning.

Agra Railway Station

The night-time travel make it the most economical and feasible mode of transport between the two cities and I recommend it.

Where can one stay?

Khajuraho is really small and all the temples are quite close to each other.

The city is at a distance of about 6 km from the railway station, which is out of the city. Although, the train reaches early morning, however, there are dozens of auto-rickshaws available to take you to your hotel. One such autowallah offered me a ride for a hundred bucks, which I readily accepted. Alternatively, you could request your hotel to organise a pick-up, so your car would be waiting to avoid you any hassle.

The ride from the station to my hotel was on a straight road with fields on both sides. With the cool morning breeze blowing into my face, I was all set to meet the day!

Almost all prominent hotels are at the city centre and not far from each other. I could see many small ones too in the vicinity, and they looked quite okay for backpackers and those who prefer a budget stay. I had booked my stay at the Radisson Jas hotel online and I recommend it for its location and overall ambience.

Most of the touristy Khajuraho can be done on foot and for those temples that are situated a little farther, there are plenty of auto-rickshaws and taxis that you can hire at nominal rates. Don’t go by the laminated rate cards they carry, that’s a fraud. Just ask around and figure out approximate rates. You could check with your hotel too, as they too organise these trips.

What’s the best time to travel?

You can go to Khajuraho anytime of the year, however, summer would not really be the best time. Central India gets brutally hot during summer, so, avoid it between April — June, if you can. But if you want to get the best out of your trip, then try and schedule it in February. That’s what a kind soul on Twitter had suggested to me once, when I had expressed my desire to visit Khajuraho. And, I did just that. Can’t thank him enough!

February is when the week-long Khajuraho Dance Festival is held every year. The dates change slightly every year, so do look up for the schedule on the official M.P. Tourism website. http://khajurahodancefestival.com/contact.php http://www.mptourism.com/events-fairs-festival/khajuraho-dance-festival-2019.html

The festival is a colourful potpourri of dances, every evening, between 7pm -10pm. There are classical dance performances like Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri, Mohiniyattam, Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi and so on. An experience not to be missed, to watch the show under the starry night sky held in the backdrop of the ancient temples!

How much time is enough for a good trip?

If you are really hard pressed for time but really want to do this, in that case, plan to see just the temples. You can do that in a day — reach in the morning and leave back by evening!

However, there is more than you can see if you have a day or two more. You have the Panna National Park, Raneh Falls, Pandava Falls in a periphery of 25–30 km, all three close to each other. I had a spare day so on Day 2, I went to Raneh Falls and Pandava Falls, as well.

Is it safe for women travelling solo?

Absolutely. People are nice and no extra caution is required. I did not experience any untoward behaviour from anyone. Just be yourself and take the usual care that one does during travel!

You may reach me at namrata.wakhloo@gmail.com

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