Between the famous ‘Temple of Love’ at Agra, and the infamous temples of Khajuraho (Kajar-raa-ho) and Kama Sutra, the Indians have everything covered from kissing to copulation. So it comes as no surprise that India is one of the most populous countries in the world.
Most people think the erotic carvings featured on the sandstone temples at Khajuraho are based on Kama Sutra; I disagree. The Hindu Chandella dynasty and the Jains built the temples around seven hundred years after Kama Sutra was created. (Unlike those constructed by the Hindus, the Jain temples, which make up much of the Eastern Group, are virtuous.) The Hindus, therefore, had plenty of time to get their hands on a copy. I don’t think they did because only a few of the 64 positions illustrated in Kama Sutra are set in stone on their temples in Khajuraho. While there are lots of erotic carvings around, most are duplications of the favoured few.
The amount of skilled craftsmanship required to complete each carving-laden temple in Khajuraho is extraordinary. I’m amazed that it took a mere 100-years to build the complex, which initially comprised around 85 temples. Only twenty-two remain and most of them are spectacular.
The fifty-minute sound and light show that takes place every evening at the Western Group of temples, which was built by the Chandellas, is well worth seeing.
Most of the Hindu carvings are of women. They are elegant, graceful, sensual, coquettish and respectful. The male figures, on the other hand, are a bit dreary regarding clothing and stance; I couldn’t distinguish one from the other. Although they looked more impressive with their clothes off, all of them still looked the same with their exaggerated naughty bits. Size mattered as much back then as it does today!
Interestingly, the graphic erotica is largely of men and women. I saw only one small, banal image of two gay men. I’m pretty confident there’s only one homosexual carving because our guide pointed out every erotic sculpture on every temple with the beam from a small, square hand-held mirror. If there were more than one, I think we would have seen it. While there are many carvings of women close to one another, I didn’t perceive any as symbols of lesbianism. If some are widely thought to be, I believe our guide would have said so.
Each temple also features a battle scene or two, but that’s all. The Chandellas were lovers, not fighters.
No prizes for guessing why the temples of Khajuraho were the highlight of Kuldip’s trip to the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Up until Khajuraho, Kuldip and I had never been on safari. After hearing from the hotel staff that a guest had seen two tigers in the Panna National Park and Tiger Reserve the day before, we couldn’t resist going to see if we could spot a tiger or leopard, or two, of our own.
We arrived at the park after thirty-two kilometres of some of the roughest ‘roads’ upon which I’ve had the misfortune to travel. The life-size facsimile of a tiger that stands at the entrance to the ticket booth was the only one we saw that day. It reminded me of what it is like when you arrive somewhere to awful weather, and someone says: “You should have been here yesterday.”
However, we did see the snout of a crocodile poking out of the river Ken that flows through the park, and the backside of a blue deer. Monkeys were prolific in the park as are spotted deer. We weren’t far into the park when the bird of India put on a great display. I hope the peahen nearby was as impressed by his performance as we were.
Without the temples of Khajuraho, and the Panna National Park to a lesser degree, there’d be no town. Getting to this little place isn’t easy. Depending on traffic, it’s a minimum eight-hour drive from Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. Currently, there’s only one flight, on alternate days, from Delhi, via Varanasi. Locals think tourism has declined since the removal of Agra from the flight route.
One can tour this part of India clockwise or the other way round. We went clockwise and spent two nights in each place. Firstly, we flew from Delhi to Lucknow and hired a taxi to Varanasi. (Taxis are a very cheap way to travel long distances in India especially when there is more than one passenger.) We then flew to Khajuraho where we hired a taxi to Orchha. From there, we got another taxi to Gwalior where we caught a train back to Delhi. (We have since discovered that we could have caught a train to Delhi from Jhansi, which is a lot closer to Orchha than Gwalior.) It’s easy to include Agra, but we left it out because we went there in 2011. Regrettably, as I stated in an earlier blog, those who tour this part of India usually skip Lucknow because it’s out of the way.
Travelling anti-clockwise to and from Delhi, one would visit Orchha, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Agra and Lucknow.
We saved around A$700 by arranging the trip ourselves instead of going through a travel agent. It’s not hard to do. We booked our flights, train travel and accommodation on the Internet. Taxis are easily booked from one’s hotel as are individual or group sightseeing tours. There’s no need to worry about pre-booking tourist guides either; there are plenty everywhere you go. Like the knowledgeable English-speaking ones we hired outside the temple complex in Khajuraho and the Panna National Park and Tiger Reserve when we got there.
Scholars are still trying to understand the connection between religion and erotica at Khajuraho. But, that’s what makes the place so fascinating and well worth a visit.
If you don’t want to know the sexual exploits of the Chandella Dynasty in Khajuraho in the 10th and 11th centuries, look away now!