Khajuraho is another pearl of India with buildings and finely carved sculptures. In its walls one can see mythological gods, warriors, animals but there are two recurring elements of women and sex. The erotic and even pornographic scenes appear but they are not the only ones. There are also sculptures of battles, with aligned armies, or everyday scenes and all in a very careful environment.
They have great influence of Tantrism, a doctrine by which the erotic becomes a philosophical theme whose goal is the sublimation of sexual relations or Maithuna. Women are seen as the reincarnation of divine energy or Shakti. It is also possible that the sculptures have influence of the Kamasutra, the famous treatise on erotic art written by Vatsyayana in the times of the Gupta dynasty.
The alarm goes off 20 minutes before the stop. The train stops and I started to look at the name of the station to see if it was my destination. The neighbors tell me that the train is late and that we would arrive more or less in 2 hours. The only thing I did was to give myself a little siesta and wake up continuously. 2 hours pass and still nothing. I go asking and they tell us that not yet.
There was a stop where the train stopped for 20 minutes, and I went outside to see the atmosphere of the station. It was super gloomy, in the middle of nowhere. I fell back on the bed below, and after a while, suddenly comes the ticket checker to tell us that the next was our stop.
It's 2:30 pm and the train arrives at the Jhansi Junction railway station. There is a lot of movement, and at the exit there is no shortage of auto rickshaw drivers who offer to take us to the destination. The price offered goes down as I move away from the station. A man with a half-full vehicle offers to take me to Orchha.
The station is on the outskirts of Jhansi. I cross the city in the middle of the typical Indian bustle of people, bazaars, vehicles, honks, cows, and more people. There is noise and more noise that fades as I move away and reach Orchha. The arrival to this town is through two tiny arches, which are like the eye of two screens through which only the privileged few are allowed to pass, filtering out as much noise as possible.
The rickshaw leaves me in front of the hotel, where I stay. The rooms are basic, but very spacious. I clean myself and quickly go for a walk. It's 3:30 and I have two or three hours of light left. I walk through the village and watch the daily rural life. I see women who carry the pitchers with water from wells, man playing something that resembles the cards, and children playing cricket.
A short walk takes me to the Chaturbhuj Temple, an old building abandoned whose impressive towers dominate the skyline of Orchha. There, a boy offers me to go up to the roof to see the views and insists on to be careful with the head while we climbed the narrow stairs.
The sunsets in India are not particularly beautiful as a mist engulfs it before descending the horizon. The atmosphere seems festive, as if a great ceremony was about to take place, but I cannot understand what. After sunset, we begin to hear more and more loud noise in the neighboring Ram Raja temple and I approach to see what is celebrated.
I am surprised to see that this town with empty streets was able to bring together so many people. An immense queue waited patiently for their turn to deliver their offerings to the priest guarding the lingam. It is not allowed to take photos. There are hardly any tourists and I end up having dinner alone in a terrace on the road that leads to the fort.
I had an Indian thali with palak paneer, butter naan and paneer naan, and mango lassi. With the full belly we went to rest at the guesthouse, but not before setting up the mosquito net. We lay on the bed and it has been the hardest bed I have ever slept in. Let's say camping and in a sleeping bag would have been more comfortable.
The first thing I do in the morning, after breakfast on the terrace of the hotel, is to go to the market. I am going to visit the Orchha fort complex, where the Raj Mahal and the Jahangir Mahal are located. There are few people in the first hour. I pay the entrance and I begin to see that it has crumbs and I decide to hire a guide who explain its history to me.
He does not offer much information, but enough to stop me in places of interest and have a general idea of how the Maharajas spent time in them. The fort consists of two 17th century buildings that have been fantastically preserved with sculptures and paintings of the time, made with natural dyes that remain intact. We continued and the first thing we saw was the Diwan-i-Am.
We went to the area of the Jahangir Mahal with the Sheesh Mahal. The latter is now a luxury hotel. But before entering I was struck by a descent to the right of the palace. So, as an adventurer, I went down to see what it was. There was was a building in which what stood out most was an area where the roof had a sculpture that simulated a turtle. The building is the Dauji ki kothi.
The Jahangir Mahal was built in honor of Mughal emperor Jahangir, who was invited to the palace for just one night. The front wall of the structure faces east and is covered with turquoise tiles. The domes of the Jahangir Mahal were built according to Timurid customs. Its large Iwans are large enough to accommodate the entrance of the war elephants.
From here we can see the ruins of the Rai Praveen Mahal. Suddenly, our guide changes the tone, making our curiosity sharpen when he tells us the story that in one of the visits of the emperor fell in love with the courtesan wanting to take her to his harem. But she, finely, through a song explained that she was only a second before the status of him.
Next we continue our visit to Raj Mahal built in the middle of the courtyard that also has some beautiful murals inside. The Raj Mahal was a royal residence until its abandonment. Its interior was decorated with murals depicting religious, social and nature themes. Some are still preserved, although their state of conservation is not excessively good. It is said that inside it has several secret passages, although I did not find any.
Another thing I saw on the upper floors was the lattices where one could look outside without being seen, which I suppose would be for the ladies of the court when practicing the purdah.
It was a palace that became a temple more by accident than by design. The image of Ram was installed inside, while the construction of Chaturbhuj was taking place. For some reason, the image later, could not be moved from the palace and despite the towers and the decoration ended up becoming a sacred place.
Then I see the Chaturbhuj temple. It reminds me a bit of a cathedral, with its high ceilings and arches. It's nice, but it impresses much more on the outside than on the inside.
The walls of the enclosure that protected the space of what was a threatening jungle populated by wild beasts, now delimits it of green fields. As the hours pass, hordes of tourists arrive to visit the site, thus losing the tranquility of this extraordinary enclave.
After walking for a while towards the river area, we finally reached the cenotaphs. They are called Chhatris. The 5 cenotaphs are spread over a well-kept garden. We went from one side to another, entering one, then the other, until we got tired and went to see the Betwa river environment.
It is the 1 pm and I decide to get away to get closer to the river and spend the last hour watching how an ordinary day goes by in an Indian village. Just opposite there is a ghat, or what is the same, a step that overlooks the river. There people are bathing and washing clothes. Women on the one hand and men on the other. Women sing songs and bathe dressed. The men bathe in their underpants.
Although it is never a typical day and today they were preparing for the Durga Puja. Then we went for a walk around the market area and bought some samosas and pakoras. They were much better than those we had eaten in Delhi and of course cheaper. We also tried the gulab jamun.
Back at the hotel a taxi driver offers to take me to the Jhansi station. I try to bargain, but he tells me that the price is fixed. The guy is polite and his reasoning is irrefutable. I approached the hotel. I pick up my backpack and calmly crossed the countryside under a sun of justice.
The noise increases as we get closer to the city. I arrive with time and stop in the canteen of the station first. I have chapati and matar paneer with fresh cheese. At the scheduled time I reach the platform, where people lie on the ground waiting for the train. It's 3:40 and a loud honking scares the animals that roam the tracks.
I go up and check that I'm practically alone. There are few passengers. Only one railway employee goes up and down collecting the sheets and blankets. I walk and look out of the door. The sun falls and offers its best light. We arrive at night in Khajuraho, an artificial city built around the temple complex.
At the exit of the station a boy chewing paan, comes to offer me a taxi. It is night, and there is hardly anyone and the station is about 8 km from the center. While I think about it another man offers to take me. In the dark night, another passenger climbs next to the driver. From the back seat, I admire his skill as he negotiates the numerous cows lying in the middle of the dark road.
I reach the hotel and the truth is that it is very good. For a reasonable price I have a spacious and clean room. The guy at the reception recommended me to have dinner at the restaurant next door. It was a vegetarian restaurant, but since it was late I did not feel like wandering in search of alternatives. I had rice and roti with dal, shahi paneer and mixed vegetables.
One of the waiters sits with me to talk and tell me about Khajuraho, since he seems to have studied history and is fascinated by the subject of cosmic sex.
After having breakfast with papaya lassi, banana pancakes and milk coffee, I calmly head to the west group, which has most of the temples of the region. It is famous for the sculptures in which there are many sexual figures that are carved on their walls, representing scenes from the kamasutra. Apparently the original set of temples was much larger but currently only a part is preserved.
Each of them is dedicated to a god and, although the area had more than 85 temples, currently only about 20 remain. The temples were built by the Chandela dynasty, whose capital was in the city of Mahoba about 55 kilometers away. As they say, one was built after each battle won. The materials used for its construction are from the Panna area and are blocks of granite and arsenic stone.
The towers, are Sikhara type, with cone-shaped termination, with a stone structure called Amalaka. The figures meticulously carved in sandstone, the watermarks and the Sanskrit words written at the entrance to the temples are really impressive. In a temple that is outside the enclosure, but that can be seen from within, a group of women goes down the stairs.
On one of their arms they carry containers with water and in the other hand they carry a kind of earthenware vessel with which they drop water in their path. The guide explains that they are doing a prayer and offering ritual. I love seeing them. I cannot stop photographing them. They smile at me as if giving me their consent. Once they finish we continue with the visit. The first is the Lakshmana Temple.
Built on a platform three meters wide, the temple is accessed by a finely decorated staircase. There are also some small temples in each corner of the platform. The sculptures on the exterior walls depict scenes of daily life, warriors and erotic scenes. It is dedicated to Vishnu.
One by one, the guides who guide the different groups illuminate with their mirrors the best known figures. They comment with grace about the silicone breasts of the dancers. I see one with the controlled distance with which a lover moves a monkey away from his beloved who embraces him with force and images of couples in love. The guides also comment on the use of drugs and oils to prolong the practice of different postures.
The next one is the Varaha Temple located opposite the Lakshmana and is small in size. It contains a statue of Varaha in the form of a boar. The image of the boar gives the feeling that it is made of bronze or metal but it is actually made of stone and at its base has a snake under it. We continue with the Matangesvara Temple dedicated to Shiva and the Visvanatha Temple.
I see mixed sculptures of dancers (apsaras) and women with instruments (surasundari) accompanied with the famous spicy scenes of the Kamasutra like a full-blown orgy. We must untangle the complexity of their positions, as our guide says it is almost impossible. We entered the interior and what was striking were the ceilings.
The amount of details in the images are incredible, the facial features and the body especially of women. Originally the temple had an emerald linga. One thing that caught our attention and that happened in all the temples was that the figures that were within reach of the hand had the area of the breasts more worn than the rest. It must be that touching them brings good luck.
It is also worthy to admire the elephant and the lion that line the stairs. We continue to the Nandi Temple. Its roof is pyramidal. Inside there is a statue of Nandi, the bull that serves as saddle for Shiva.
Next we head to the Kandariya Mahadev Temple, the most spectacular of all the temples of Khajuraho besides being the largest. On the platform there is a large sculpture of Ganesha without a head with a rat between his legs. There are many figures of animals, gods, images of battles, but the most abundant are erotic.
We continue with the Devi Jagadambi Temple dedicated to Kali. Its decoration contains sculptures of women performing daily actions. In this there were less erotic sculptures (although it still had sculptures with orgies and risque scenes) and more geometric sculptures and flowers.
We head to the one dedicated to Parvati. In it are the figures that are better carved. I did not find it very flashy. Finally we head to the Chitragupta Temple. Inside there is a statue of Surya, the sun god, riding in his car pulled by seven horses. I had planned to spend two days there but the site can be visited perfectly in half a day.
So I have plenty of time and decide to extend the afternoon a little. It's hot, but inside the temples it's cool. I see is that inside them there are lots of bats. The roof protects me from the sun while I see the landscaped enclosure that frames the eight outstanding temples. The behavior of tourists is also entertaining, among which most are newly married couples.
After this we went to eat something at a kind of family restaurant. We ordered a lassi. As the afternoon progresses, the sky gets dark and the light does not improve the view. It's time to go out. I go to see the eastern group of temples with my driver. Most of them are conserved incredibly well. I suppose they will have been restored at some point because otherwise the state of conservation in which they are found is inexplicable.
The entry is free. First, we arrived at the Brahma temple. Then I visited Javari Temple, dedicated to Vishnu. Then I see the Vamana temple, which is directly opposite. Then I take the car again and go to Adinath and Parsvanatha Jain temple, which is the best preserved inside. In this area there are also other yellow temples that we assume are reconstructions of the temples that were sometime here, as they have parts of the originals.
We begin with the Parsvanatha Temple, which contains very few sculptures of lovers and many of women playing various musical instruments or performing actions such as makeup or bathing. It also has a sculpture of Shiva and Parvati. Here there are not so many erotic images. The images that stand out most are the woman who pampers a child, those of Vishnu and Lakshmi and the woman who writes a letter.
We continue through the Adinath Temple. When it starts to get dark, I go back to town. I take a small turn and see a large crowd of people at the end of a road. It turns out to be a market for fruit, vegetables and spices. I buy garam masala and take some pictures. The atmosphere is very authentic and here there is absolutely no tourist. Once I have finished visiting the temples, I return to the center of the city.
Then I went to see the sunset at Shivsagar Lake. Some fountains begin to pour water combined with colored lights. I stayed there for a while and a man started talking to us about love and life and reminds me of the cosmic sex discussion with the other fellow the previous night. At 6 in the evening, just as the sun sets, the Puja ceremony takes place in the Shiva temple. The priests perform a ritual with noise and candles. They touch several percussion instruments and some bells that are at the entrance of the temple.
After the ceremony I go to the hotel to shower and change clothes. Then I go out again for a walk around the center of town. It is very complicated to move forward because all the salespeople pursues me. I head to the Kandariya theater to see the typical dance show that started at 8:30 pm.
After the show I decide to dine in one of the places recommended by the guide and this time does not disappoint. I have tandoori chicken with naan and raita and a beer. While we are having dinner, tourists do not stop arriving and when we get out we understand why. In a sign they announce that they are recommended by the Lonely Planet.
Also while I was eating from the terrace I could see that in the street they were celebrating one of those weddings that last so many days, with drums, dances and all that. After this I head for the hotel to sleep.
I decide to visit the rest of the temples that are scattered throughout the region. While not as well preserved, they have the additional attraction of having to explore, as well as being located in a more authentic location. On the way to the last group of them, I pass through the old town, which is the authentic town that is closest to the archaeological remains as opposed to the modern tourist urban network.
At the entrance, an old man with high-magnification glasses claims me from the door. He insists that I see his sample of antiques, costume jewelry and other items for sale to tourists. I decline, but the interior of the apartment looks nice and I decide to enter. He explains to me the wonders of all the items that he exposes in an orderly manner on a low table.
I'm not interested in anything except a metal box that I cannot look away from. I begin to focus on the bargaining of the box that, of course, I just bought. At the exit, a kid, offers to show me the town. I tell him that I do not need a guide, but he seems to have nothing better to do. He explains how they spread cow dung in the door of the houses as a carpet to avoid the entry of mosquitoes and as a ritual of good luck.
He also shows me the limits where people lives and some numbers that appear in the corners and indicate the date of polio vaccination. In the streets we are surprised by several vans or tractors that carry idols illuminated in a thousand colors and emit thunderous music. There dance groups of young people, throwing colored powders. I ended the afternoon watching the sunset over a lake.
Next to it, some parents complete a straw doll to which firecrackers are inserted. As its time to eat we ordered chicken korma and paneer pakodas. The truth is that it is very good. When we finish we buy some sweets and a lassi. Then we return to the hotel where the driver is waiting for us.
We're going back to Jhansi, to the train station. There are a lot of people around the station and on the platform. We thought it was going to be a lot more chaotic but it's not badly organized. They have screens with information about the trains and, at least ours arrive punctually.
We got on the train. We look for our bunk beds. These coaches have air conditioning and curtains to separate the compartment from the corridor. We do not have anything of privacy up here. So I take advantage of the fact that I have the sheet and I use the sheets that they give on the train to make me an improvised curtain that isolates me a bit from our compartment mates.
One of the guys below does not stop belching, talking in the mobile phone and making very unpleasant noises. I call his attention and, at least, slightly lower the tone of voice. Also the air conditioning is very strong and the jet hits me directly in the face. I cover it with some bags that I carry in my backpack. Afterwards, I fall asleep.