Happy Christmas everyone.
Khajuraho is a major, major draw on the tourist and travellers trail as it has some of the finest ancient temple freizes in all of India. It’s world famous however for the explicit sexual depictions on much of the carving
The Magnificent Western Temple Complex – Khajuraho
This is a journal not a history lesson but no one really knows why the tenth century Chandella temples developed such a fascination with erotic imagery but in the 21st century it attracts thousands of tourists both western and Indian.
With such a concentration of tourists it is inevitable that a whole culture will evolve who’s sole purpose is to extract the tourist dollar. Khajuraho is stuffed full of hotels and lodges, competition is fierce and good deals can be had. The visitor has a huge choice of restaurants but very few that could be described as local. Travellers want pizza and pasta apparently.
I followed the book and ended up in a quiet south Indian joint enjoying my first proper Thali of the trip. I timed it just right as mid way through my lunch a huge group of Bombay tourists arrived and filled the place. A big clue to whether you have chosen the right place to eat is if you are the only westerner in the place.
Travellers complain about the number of touts in Khajuraho. Anyone who has holidayed anywhere east of Europe would have come across touts but Indian touts take persistence to an entirely new level. You are approached constantly. Sometimes it’s obvious he’s trying to sell you something because it is in his hand some ancient photos of the same thing you have just taken umpteen digital shots of, a completely useless wall map of India, maybe some Kama Sutra playing cards sir? I don’t think I have ever seen one of these salesman make a sale.
Often it’s not obvious but just as annoying. Someone will glide up beside you and walk with you. “Good Morning Sir” although this morning it’s “Happy Christamas Sir”. “How are you”. “I’m fine” you reply. “Coming from?” meaning what country you hail from. “Outer Mongolia” you reply as you have been asked this a gazillion times already. “Oh it’s very cold there sir” Quick as a button these touts.
Of course your new found friend is learning English and just wants to chat for a while. He knows that you know he’s trying to guide you to a shop or restaurant but it’s just a little game you play. These guys are territorial and here will come a time when the denouement “Just 2 minutes sir” “Looking is free” will arrive and you can be confident that he will not be there in 30 seconds. Of course as soon as he goes another will replace him.
Many find this tiresome and it can frustrate your attempts to walk round a town soaking in the atmosphere. I have a different take on it as I am travelling alone, I will only shop when I want to and I accept they are only just trying to make a living. I guess they have to be persistent as 90% of tourists are in tour groups and will only be there for a short time. They talk to each other and soon get to know that the guy in the Indian shirt is staying at the Yogi lodge not an out of town expensive hotel and is not buying so they leave me alone and go prey on easier meat.
The weather today is sunny and warm, my Indian shirts are getting their first outing sans fleece and I am much happier here than in Gwalior. The temple complex is impressive and whilst I want to think I am learning about early Hindu temple architecture I find myself focussing like everyone else on the erotic sculpture. Many of the images are very ooh er missus and no form of sexual position or act is missed out. One shows that the horse rather than the dog is really man’s best friend. Not to be passed over however a vigorous example of early bestial stonework involving canine and human follows later in the frieze.
There are temples all over Khajuro but the finest with the famous carvings are in the western group. They have sympathetically restored and are a world heritage site. As you have to pay to get in the compound is mercifully free of touts. To see the rest of the temples which are quite spread out you need transport. Most of course hire taxis or rickshaws but rickety old Hero sit up and beg bicycles are easy and cheap to hire.
Having the bike frees me from any agenda so whilst touring the remaining temples you can wheel the bike through the small hamlets that make up the bulk of Khajuraho. It’s around 4pm and the sun is beginning to set. It’s a festival today and many people have told me the name of it but each time it escapes me. The villagers are relaxing outside their small, square plastered abodes. Some have rough tiled roofs others are topped by a coarse looking thatch that is definitely not straw. The houses are basic but painted in a variety of light pastel colours and are all spotlessly clean in a “dusty” sort of way (difficult to explain again)
The kids are out running about as kids do all the world over. One’s got an old tyre and a stick and is happy is larry wheeling this about. The fact hat he has nothing on below the waist is of no concern to him or anyone else. A girl chases a boy at full pelt catches him and pokes him in the shoulder. Boy hurls himself on the floor wailing, waits a nano second for attention, notices that I and the girl are laughing, mouths something in Hindi that must be “I’ll get you” then launches up stone in hand. It’s the same everywhere but here it’s like it was before the Xbox.
I stick out like a sore thumb. If you want to travel in India you have to be prepared to be stared at all of the time. Lower the sunglasses, smile and greet them with “Namaste” usually results in the grim looks transcending into broad beaming smiles. You can stick your comfortable taxis I would not miss this type of experience for all the 5 star travel in the world.
Outside of the main town where there are fewer tourists the attempts at selling take on a different hue. Any rickshaws outside the minor temples have clients so they don’t want to take you anywhere. The Kama Sutra and postcard sellers in town are replaced by rather wiry, glowering lads with the same tired tut their elders peddle. One accosts me as I am unlocking the bike. “Buy postcards” – “No thanks” – “Buy Kama Sutra” – “No thanks, kind of you to offer” (I’m British you know!) As a last resort he brandishes a 2 euro coin “Your money how much”. One golden rule with touts: don’t get clever. “Haven’t you heard, Euro’s worth nothing today” is my not so glib reply. As I am cycling down the hill away I hear the words “Your country stole everything from my country” Maybe I deserved it but it has not been the first time I have heard it.
More often than you realise, the young lad sidling up to you really does want to practice his English as it is one of the vital skills required in order to get a good further education. As it was with Prakash who told me that the rude lad on the hill is not the brightest spark in the village and smokes wacky weed. You always fearful that engaging with someone like Prakash will only result in a demand for a “coin” or being steered in the direction of his uncle’s shop. Not the case, all he wanted to show me was where he lived. His elderly uncle was indeed there but not a trinket in sight. Prakash’s younger brother has his English school exercise book. In it was written “Mother Theresa was a holly angle” I swear to you I am not making this up! Priceless. I hope all my days here contain something similar. I can hope!