Keep Calm and Carry Ohm

19/11/08 Day 6 - Khajuraho

As soon as we woke up we opened our curtains and despite being a contender for the "worst view from a hotel bedroom" the brightness of the sunshine reflected off the pebble-dash was encouraging.

Today was full of what ifs and maybes but we knew that cloudy weather would most likely mean grounded planes and a long train journey in steerage class with the locals and their chickens.

After a lovely lie-in and my first uninterrupted night's sleep, we went down for breakfast just in time before they closed the buffet.

The now familiar Dhal Sambar, Idli and Umpa were tasty but not much else was available. To be fair it was near the end of the service.
lovely arts, Varanasi

On our way back from breakfast we walked past a small gift shop. The shopkeeper had tried to lure me in last night and I fobbed him off with a "I'll pop in tomorrow".

Of course tomorrow was today and he remembered me. He was standing by the entrance to his emporium.

"I am waiting for you" he creepily spoke. He wasn't going to let me renege on my promise. I had no choice but to see what "lovely arts" he had for sale.

There was actually something I wanted to find whilst in India and that was nice Dhal bowl.

We asked Igor if he had any bowls but he deflected our question and directed us towards his prized piece, a large multi-limbed encircled Shiva. We asked him again and you could see disappointment descending over him. Thankfully before he burst into tears the little pot belly and long trunk of a small jet black Ganesh caught Julie's eye. It was perfect! We were in need of a good luck charm today and at least we bought something.

In a repeat of yesterday we had to be ready for a 11:00am pickup. Unlike yesterday Ranjit had an urgency about him. "The plane has already left Delhi and the sun is shining." he said. It was all go, go, go.

Rob and Carol had already checked out. We unfortunately were still trying to get to the reception desk. All the staff were busy with other guests and I could see Ranjit looking at his watch every ten seconds. Julie could see that I was getting increasingly annoyed with the hotel staff, especially when I ended up in a tug-o-war with a porter who was trying to steal my suitcase!

Five minutes later, still in possession of my suitcase but at the end of my tether, I slapped enough cash on the counter to cover our tab and ran away.

We sped our way down the crazy roads, dodging lorries, tuk tuks and the occasional cow, making it to the airport by 11:40am. When we arrived a pack of porters surrounded us and before I could even get my hands on my suitcase it was half way to the check-in desk. As efficient as he was he still only got my (now) standard 40 rupee tip. I wondered why it seemed paltry to him? Perhaps they get a lot of 100 rupee notes from tourists as its the smallest amount they carry.

Ranjit checked us in and we said our goodbyes. "Hopefully we won't meet you again" we joked.

Once through security in an eerie moment of de javu we sat in the departure lounge watching Kingfisher planes taking off. As we waited to board our flight we got into a conversation with a charming elderly couple who were on yesterday's cancelled flight. They had spent last night in Varanasi's premier 5 star Gateway Hotel. (part of the Taj group).

Our envy continued as they recounted their trips to Rwanda, Macchu Picchu, and their trip next year to Bhutan. We had began by trading travellers tales but they had blown us out of the water with their adventures. They were certainly well travelled. The gentleman was a geologist and spoke of his time travelling through India forty five years ago when he worked in Sri Lanka. They were very fascinating people.

At 1pm the call came to board our plane. Minutes later were hurtled down the runway and took off for Khajuraho. Forever the pessimist, Julie said "What if the weather changes and it turns foggy where we're going?" She was right to be concerned as a Kingfisher plane did take off yesterday but couldn't land and had to return to Varanasi hours later. Ganesh's trunk got a quick rub for luck.

Despite only being a short 35 minutes flight we were still served food and drink. As tasty as the cheese and tomato sandwich was it wasn't helping me tick my "curry for breakfast, lunch and evening meal" box. The accompanying spiced potato salad barely counted but the strange tasting glass of green mango juice laced with a garam masala certainly fulfilled the curry criteria.

Thirty five minutes later it was with great joy and relief we saw the sun was shinning as we descended towards Khajuraho airport. As we were coming in to land we were told not to take any photographs as it was also used as a military base. We didn't see any sign of armed forces but we did witness however an incident of day light robbery when we were charged 150 rupees for a small bottle of cola from a small shop inside the airport terminal. I could understand that we were in the middle of nowhere and the distribution costs would be quite high but £2.50 for 250ml of the world's second best cola was just taking the pepsi.

Our man in Khajuraho met us outside the small terminal building and took us the two minute drive literally just around the corner to our Radisson Hotel for the evening.

It was quite a modern designed allowing each room its own private balcony. The low rise design was much appreciated by Julie who suffers vertigo wearing three inch heels.

We explored the grounds and were pleased when we came across a large swimming pool area. "I'm so looking forward to getting in that later!" said Julie.

Before she could get her swimming costume on we had the small matter of visiting the impressive World Heritage temples.

Within half an hour of arriving at the hotel we were being picked up by Kumar, our guide for the afternoon.

Again we travelled for another two minutes and we had already arrived at the temples. It's such a small town!

The Khajuraho group of monuments achieved World Hertigate status (and protection) in 1986 and have been carefully preserved and meticulously restored. They are found in three distinct groups, the Western, Eastern and Southern groups.

Kumar arranged our tickets at the gate and we entered the western group. It was laid out in the style of a lovely park with carefully manicured lawns and shrubbery.

As we walked towards Lakshmana temple, the first large temple on the left, he gave us a brief history of this unique site.

The ruling Chandela Rajputs established their capital in Khajuraho during the 9th and 10th centuries.

Lakshman temple, Khajuraho
Lakshman temple, Khajuraho

What can be seen today is believed to be only a quarter of the original site.

On-going excavations are hoping to discover more exquisite temples.

The Chandelas were self proclaimed descendants of Moon gods who ruled by divine right. I didn't know exactly what that meant and assumed that they went around telling everyone they were from the moon or something.

Which in actual fact wasn't too far from the truth. "Legend has it" explained Kumar "that ........."

I must admit I really wasn't that bothered about the mythology; we were here for the architecture.

Lakshman temple, Khajuraho

What made these thousand year old temples different to countless others across India were the sensuous figures carved into the sandstone exterior.

It wasn't just the a couple of statuettes either but an entire structure of celestial maidens creating an unbelievably spectacular sight.

Although when Kumar kept on saying that they were "built using local sandystone" we found it amusing.

Kandariya Mahadev  temple, Khajuraho
The beautiful sandystone figurines were mostly illustrating ladies of the court in everyday activities such as brushing their hair, applying make-up and just standing in general seductive poses.
Lakshman temple, Khajuraho

Some however were far more erotic, depicting very explicit sexual scenes.

These portraits of love making gave rise to the temples of Khajuraho being nicknamed the Kama Sutra temples.

Kandariya Mahadev  temple, Khajuraho

Some of the positions appeared incredibly complex. I couldn't begin to think how they could be achieved.

I turned to Julie with raised eyebrows, she raised her finger and said "Don't you get any ideas!"

Kumar (may the gods bless him), made sure we didn't miss any of the more interesting carvings, pointing out every saucy sculpture on Lakshman temple.

Having walked around the temple photographing every naughty bit we were then reminded that it was still a holy temple dedicated to Vishnu.

We took off our shoes to enter the inner sanctum.

Lakshman temple, Khajuraho
Lakshman temple, Khajuraho The sun streamed through the window causing atmospheric light and shade, creating a heavenly aura. The stone here was a different colour, a warm sandy hue drawn out by the sunshine.

I just had to stand and stare for a while it was so beautiful.

It was interesting to note that there were no erotic scenes to distract from thoughts of worship.

Lakshman temple, Khajuraho

My admiration of the artistry was interrupted when I heard Julie come over all of a fluster. A resident bat had woken up, stretched out its wings and yawned a barely audible squeak. This sent her rapidly towards the exit!

Once out in the open she regained her composure, put her shoes back on and waited for us all to join her.

Lakshman temple, Khajuraho Lakshman temple, Khajuraho Lakshman temple, Khajuraho
Lakshman temple, Khajuraho

We left Lakshman temple along the southside following the crudely carved scenes along the base. We found the one involving the horse particularly hilarious. Those soldiers were certainly lonely when out on manoeuvres!

Kumar drew our attention to the ashamed onlooker in the middle peaking from behind his hands. It was very funny.

When the soldiers (who were not into horse molesting) returned home they indulged themselves in glorious orgies where wine, women and song flowed. It made for a very entertaining scene.

We moved on and continued to the next temple, Kandariya Mahadev . It looked even more impressive than Lakshman and Kumar said that because it was almost identical we were free to wander around on our own. Kandariya Mahadev  temple, Khajuraho
Kandariya Mahadev  temple, Khajuraho

It was certainly the largest temple in the group.

The mountainous spire rose to a hundred feet, built to represent Mount Kailasa, the realm of Shiva.

The setting sun was now delightfully colouring the sandstone with its glow.
Kandariya Mahadev  temple, Khajuraho

It happened in the blink of an eye as the clouds dispersed and the temple was instantly illuminated. It was a remarkable difference from the drab grey, bringing a new dimension to the temple.

It took my breath away.

We moved nearer to take a closer look. Many of the sculptures of Kandariya Mahadev were very similar to those on Lakshman.

The erotic panels continued with the theme of yogic embraces; limbs entwined in implausible positions in an illustration of tantric sex.

Some suggest that these temples were for the worship of sex, a temple to love, where sex is seen as a means of connecting with the divine.

Others say that because there are no erotic carvings on the inside, the temples therefore represent that one should leave their sexual desires and thoughts of fornication on the outside if they are to be holy. (I bet that was a Victorian British Missionary who came up with that one that!)

Another more pragmatic view is that these are just scenes from the day to day life of 10th century India when there was a whole lot of shagging going on.

Kandariya Mahadev  temple, Khajuraho
workers, Kandariya Mahadev  temple, Khajuraho

Before I went blind through excessive titilation we walked towards the next temple, Devi Jagdamba.

As we came around the corner we stumbled across a group of labourers hard at work. They weren't however the usual pot bellied hard hat brigade but instead they were a team of eight sari clad women.

It was such a peculiar sight; the women were doing all the tough physical work and the men were just sitting around supervising.

They carried on their heads these large bowls filled will a thick concrete mix.

They must have had neck muscles like Arnold Schwazeneger as those bowls must have been really heavy.

It took two men to lift them up and place on top the ladies heads with only a ring of fabric for protection.

They were well hard!

We stood and watched them work for while. They were like a troop of ants, working as if in a brightly coloured chain gang.

Down on ground level between the two temples was a concrete mixer, operated obviously by five men! (Boys and their toys!)

worker,Kandariya Mahadev  temple, Khajuraho

The ladies then carried the concrete across to two men on scaffold who lifted the bowls to the basement floor. A further two men lifted the concrete onto the heads of a continuous flow of five females who ferried the mix over to where it was required.

All of this they did with such poise and style as if they were walking down the runway of a catwalk. Who knows perhaps the sari and head bowl look maybe in Vivienne Westwood's next spring collection.

Moving on we walked across the shared platform to Devi Jagdamba temple.

At the back of the temple we saw a family placing their helpless little child inside an empty alcove for a photograph opportunity.

We remembered doing the exact same thing on countless occassions with Hannah when she was small enought to be manipulated into small spaces!

Devi Jagdamba, Khajuraho

We only had a quick look around Devi Jagdamba as it sadly suffered from the difficult third temple syndrome.

We had seen so many spectacular sculptures that it offered nothing new. It was very similar if much smaller than the other two temples.

Unfortunately we decided not to go inside the third temple.

Only when we got back to the hotel did I read that we had missed a statue of the goddess Kali in the garbhagriha (the inner sanctum) which is apparently one of the iconic statues of Khajuraho.

An iconic statue that we did see was that of the heroic son of a moon-god Chandravarman fighting off an over-sized lion.

There were several examples of this scene dotted around the temples.

We came across this one on our way back to Kandariya Mahadev.

We decided to have a look at its garbhagriha. Although after the "bat incident" Julie decided to stay outside in the bright light.

Kandariya Mahadev  temple, Khajuraho

She missed some quite exquisite carvings in the porch and hallway and a gloriously phallic lingam in the inner sanctum.

Kandariya Mahadev  temple, Khajuraho
Lakshman temple, Khajuraho

Kandariya Mahadev  temple, Khajuraho

When I came back out Julie was having a mini-trauma as her sandals appeared to be melting into a smudgy black mess. The man-made straps were reacting with the DEET she had sprayed on her feet making them look like she'd been down the coal mines.

"Look at the state of them!" she said genuinely upset. I don't think I was suppose to laugh at that point.

Next up, temple number four, Chitragupta, was waiting for our attention but it was a little further away and neither Julie nor I could be bothered to walk the extra distance towards it.

Carol must have had the same thought as we joined her on a park bench to wait for Rob who had gone on alone to have a closer look.

I noticed there was a lady sitting on the steps laughing and smiling and for a brief moment I thought it may have been worth making the effort to walk over there after all !

But even the lure of a real-life celestial maiden wasn't enough to get me up off the park bench.

Chitragupta temple, Khajuraho
Chitragupta temple, Khajuraho

Instead I tested out my super zoom on my camera, one that I had bought especially to photograph gorillas in the wild. I was quite impressed.

I did get to use my camera for some proper wildlife shots when we heard a chorus of parrot squawk coming from this large tree.

Trying to find a green parakeet amidst the green leaves was ridiculous but we did find one in the end and I zoomed right in!

It was soon time to make our way back to the main gate to meet up with our guide Kumar.
On our way we passed Vishwanath temple the fifth and final large temple in this western group. We hardly gave it a second glance as we had not time to stop.
Nandi temple, Khajuraho

It was a shame as it was equally as impressive as all the others.

It also had a small satellite temple called Nandi where enshrined inside was a huge bull statue, the vehicle of Shiva.

It was a shame we didn't have enough time. The sun was setting and we didn't really had time to dilly-dally. Kumar was eager to show us the Eastern group before it got dark.

He met us at the corner near the relatively new Parvati temple and lead us to the gate.

Before reaching the exit one of the park attendants stopped me, smiled nervously and said "Hello sir. I see that you are a spiritual person". I didn't know what to say and just smiled back enigmatically.

"Who do you follow? Do you follow a guru?" he asked.

"No, no" I answered, still a little confused as to where all this was leading.

He then pointed to the tattoo down my right arm.

By now Kumar, who had rushed on ahead, had come back to join in the conversation. "He's asking about the markings on your arm" he said.

"Ah, these ... they are the four symbols of Led Zeppelin." I began rather mystically. The park attendant obviously had no idea who I was talking about. So I continued in a more basic manner "They were a famous rock band, musicians, with long hair."

He turned to Kumar and asked "Do you know of them?"

"Oh yes, yes, yes" he nodded with an air of superiority over him but his body language told me that he didn't have a clue either!

He seemed convinced that I was in India to find something asking again "Do you follow them?"

I explained that I followed no one but have an interest in Buddhism.

"I could tell" he said praising me by saying "You wear a good Buddhist colour" touching my arm and my burgundy top.

I'm sure if I had chosen my words carefully and spiritually I would have recruited my first disciple! He seemed to be hanging off my every word.

Kumar interrupted and said "We should go now"

Outside the park we crossed the road to our minibus which was waiting for us to shuttle us across the small town to the Eastern group of temples.

The collection of temples here were all Jain.

Jain is a religion of the most non-violent principles. Those who follow the ethos of complete harmlessness tend to have two curious traits.

Some wear a mask to cover the mouth, not just in case they swallow flies but also in case they swallow micro organisms that they can't even see.

Also, in an act of renunciation, some don't wear anything at all choosing a life without possessions, to the point of walking around in the nude.

At the arched entrance there was a little Jain bookshop with several books with naked Jain monks on the front cover. Julie and I reacted with typical immaturity!!!

We followed Kumar past Shantinah temple and Adinath to take a closer look at Prasvanath temple.

Built by the Chandellas this was a small replica of those in the western group. It wasn't originally a Jain temple but over time it became appropriated.

It was soon apparent that there weren't any erotic sculptures. Another one of Jainism virtues being celibacy

Any explicit statues were replaced with more standard carvings.

Many of those that remained were still very graceful and sensuous in there form but no hanky panky going on.

The closest we got to a lewd act was Lord Vishnu fondling his wife Laxmi in one of the most repeated images of Khajuraho.

Further along in an alcove sat a statue that looked like Buddha but was in fact a Jain monk by the name of Adinath.

His tale is very similar to Siddhartha Gautama (aka Buddha) born a prince to later renounce the life of luxury to find his truth.

We followed Kumar back to the brilliant white Shantinah temple.

Outside a sign prohibited entry to anyone wearing any leather goods. smoking or chewing tobacco or betel (a leaf). Julie and Carol decided to sit outside, I'm not too sure if was the leather goods or chewing tobacco that stopped them from entering!

Before entering the temple I took a photograph of this old bicycle leaning up against the wall.

It caught my eye as a unusual photo op.

"What are you doing??" asked a concerned Julie who was worried that I had finally lost my marbles.

Rob and I stepped inside and found ourselves alone in a large empty courtyard. After the extravagance of the other temples this seemed to be very plain and simplistic. It was so peaceful and calming inside.

It did actually have one or two statues.

One a striking white marble naked Jain monk and another a 4.5m tall brown marble naked Jain monk, both I believe was the image of Lord Shantinah.

There were several swastikas within the temple, worked into patterns on floor tiles, or into window trellis or painted on the walls.

Whilst its quite a common sight throughout India the swastika is much more in evidence in Jain iconography, more than any other of India's faiths.

It's such a paradox to be both symbolic of the most benign religion and the most extreme evil regime in modern history.

Although it wasn't difficult for us to shake off the Nazi association here as it was so peaceful.

Our little moment of spiritual tranquillity was shattered however when a coach load of Chinese tourists poured into temple; it was time to leave.

We hopped back onto the mini-bus and were making tracks back to the hotel.

On the way we past a local market.

"Would you like to take a look?" asked Kumar.

We all jumped at the chance to mingle amongst the villagers.

We stood on the edge looking over the vast market wondering where to start. We could see a path but to join it we had to step over a pile of runner beans.

We seemed to be in the vegetable quarter!

All the traders had their green vegetables laid out on the empty sacks they used to transport them.

The competition was tough. Everyone was selling pretty much the same items as their neighbour.

How does one sell more than the other?

We didn't by anything, there wasn't much we could have done with a pound of runner beans.

 

We left behind the vegetables and came to the fish quarter. The smell was attrocious but it was a wonderfully exciting experience nonetheless.

There was a lot more activity going on towards the centre but we turned left following Kumar into the lentil quarter.

Row after row of pulses lined our path, again each trader selling exactly the same.

The market went on and on as far as the eye could see. Whilst we had only seen a small corner of it Kumar was leading us back to the minibus.

Our short time in the market almost came to an even more abrupt end when we inadvertently spooked a cow. She must have been deep in a world of her own, dreaming of green pastures, when she suddenly spotted us. Four white beings aiming directly for her.

"It's your white skin" said Kumar "She's not used to your white skin"

The head instantly lowered and swung, she scratched the dusty earth with a hoof and then feigned a dreadfully lacklustre charge towards us. We weren't in any real danger. Running with the bulls in Pamplona it was not!

Whilst she wasn't a fearsome El Toro she certainly wasn't moving out of our way. We had to take a wide berth around the grumpy old cow.

Having not bought any lentils or vegetables Kumar gave us another opportunity to spend by taking us to a gift shop. To be fair there was a lot of really nice high quality items for sale here but we couldn't even afford the smallest of trinkets.

We were shadowed around by the customary personal assistant advising us on all the items we allowed our eyes to settle on for the briefest of moments. "Don't look at the Golden Elephant!" I told myself "aah, too late."; "You like this sir?"; "This is a lovely piece; only 15,000 rupees."

There was one small erotic carving that caught my eye but we didn't even have enough cash for the 1250 rupee price tag.

"I'll come back tomorrow for this" I promised but I'm sure he had heard that line before and he looked quite dejected as we paid for our Khajuraho guide book, postcards and a pack of saucy sculpture playing cards.

Before leaving the emporium we were shown to a theatre where an "evening of traditional dance" was performed every night. Kumar asked if we wanted to return later to see the show. Rob and Carol signed up but Julie and I declined.

"We have a head massage booked for tonight" we explained. It sounded like a lame excuse when we said it but it was quite true. We were really looking forward to a traditional auyrvedic scalp massage we had booked for 8pm at the hotel's spa.

By the time we had returned to the hotel, sat in the bar to eat delicious snacks of potato skins filled with mashed potato and spinach and a deep fried paneer roll it was time to search out the hotel's Health and Fitness Centre.

We followed the signs outside and along the pool to the end of the building. We walked inside what looked like a storeroom but it was their reception area. It was dreadful. They had obviously not spent one second of thought about style. "Nevermind" we thought, "let's not judge a book by its cover"

The young lad who welcomed us was also my to be masseur whereas a timid young girl appeared from behind very surgical looking curtains to be Julie's. We were lead into separate treatment rooms. Despite the place reminding me of a Veterinary Surgery the actual head & scalp massage was very pleasurable.

He gave my scalp a really good scrub, to the point that I was concerned he was going to create a bald patch! With extra oil in my hair he then ran his fingers from forehead to the base before slapping me around the head a bit. I worried that I was enjoying that a little too much.

After my happy slapping he asked me to take my shirt off and he continued to give me a neck and shoulder massage. I was worrying now that he was enjoying it a little too much!

I could hear Julie being slapped in the other room. I smiled as I imagined her face pulled in puzzlement. "What the hell is going on?"

That was precisely my thoughts when my masseur instructed me onto the table to give me a back rub and then told me to roll over to kneed my face like plasticine. It all seemed over and above what it said on the menu but at the end of it all I felt incredibly relaxed.

We left the "health spa" after our 30 minutes of being rubbed up the right way and returned to the bar for a nightcap. We only just got there in time to order a drink before the bar shut at 9pm. By order of the government the bar had to shut early during an election campaign period, which apparently we were in here in Madhya Pradesh.

We saw some familiar faces in the bar. They were on the plane that didn't take off from Varanasi yesterday. As we got talking to them we discovered they had suffered a nightmare 12 hour overnight coach journey from Varanasi to Khajuraho. We were so relieved we weren't part of their tour group as they recounted their terrible ordeal.

With the bar shut we decided to return to our room to order room service.

Julie had a Tadka Dhal with french fries (one of our favourite comfort foods at home!) and a plate of tandoori fish. These large skewered cubes of fish were similar to the dish she had in Delhi, only not quite as amazing.

I had a Dhal Makhani and a great vegetarian platter of various tandoori dishes, the curry filled potato was especially different.

All mopped with paratha and poori breads, it was a veritable feast.

Within half an hour of eating Julie headed for the pillows and fell fast asleep. With a long day of travelling ahead of us tomorrow I decided to follow her lead and join her.
Next Day > ęCopyright Colin Owen 2008

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