This article was first published in NewsKarnataka.com
It was almost like a SRK-Kajol scene. Only I was the one running on the platform trying to catch the Sampark Kranti Express to Khajuraho from Nizamuddin Station in Delhi and needless to say there was no SRK standing at the door trying to give me helping hand. With minutes to go for the train to leave the platform, my friends and I managed to get into one coaches of the train, much to our relief, and we then walked to our seats through the vestibules.
The overnight journey took us to Khajuraho, famous for its World Heritage sites of Hindu and Jain temples. An air of excitement built up as we waited to get our first views of the temple, famous for their erotic sculptures. But if you think visiting Khajuraho is like getting a ringside view of Kamasutra 101, think again! You really have to look for the sculptures that depict erotic poses as only about 10 per cent depict these scenes. But you can be sure that your guide will point them out to you, as most travellers come in with an anticipation of viewing these. There are more spectacular sculptures to view here, like the one with a lady putting on make-up: the carving is so fine that even the folds of her clothes can be seen; or musicians playing various instruments; courtesans around the kings and even farmers ploughing their fields.
Among the sculptures of men and women, you can see mythical creatures like half lion-half wolf or a half lion and half horse, almost like they out of scenes from Avatar or Game of Thrones. The temples also have some poems and other literary works of the times carved on the walls. From this, it is obvious that the Rajput Chandela kings, who ruled central India and built these temples, gave their artisans the liberty to use their imagination freely.
Khajuraho has three sets of Hindu temple: Eastern, Southern and Western and the Jain temples, which also have some amazing carvings. Ideally, you should plan your trip to Khajuraho in such a way that you have a minimum three-day stay there. On day one, you can visit the Southern and Eastern set of temples; on day two you explore the Western set, the largest with seven to eight temples and some amazing sculptures; and on day three, you visit the Jain temples. This will give you the complete spectrum of the Chandela temples of Khajuraho.
Another tip here, stay at a resort near Panna Tiger Reserve. This way you can do a wildlife safari in the morning and post lunch head out to Khajuraho to visit the temples and return to you hotel in the evening. Panna Tiger reserve may not be as popular as Corbett in UP or Kahna in MP, but safari bookings are much easier to get here and the forests are much more pristine! Good luck with the tiger sighting though!
If you plan this around February, it will be even better as not only is the weather more accommodating but you can be part of the annual dance festival, a week-long fiesta of classical dance set against the backdrop of the temples. After exploring the temples in the afternoon, spend the evening ambling around the small bazaar selling knick-knacks or sipping some coffee on the rooftop of one of the numerous cafes here. In the evening, watch the cultural spectacle of the dance festival.
The calendar for the 2017 is available on the Net, so you can pick the dates you want to be there, depending on the artists performing from Odissi to Kathak and Bharatnatyam. Tickets for these are sold well in advance and many corporates makes block bookings, so you may not be able to get your hands on some tickets so easily. However, the resort that you are staying in may be able to help you with a few tickets as they have an arrangement with the organizers for their guests
The ideal itinerary would be to leave by a night train from Delhi to Khajuraho, spend the next three days exploring the temples, tiger reserve and enjoying the dance festival. On the fourth day, leave for Orchha near Jhansi and look around the riverside temples here and enjoy some rafting on the Betwa river. Finally, on the fifth day you could head for to Jhansi and after visiting Rani Jhansi’s fort in the morning., catch the Shatabdi Express back to Delhi. Khajuraho also has daily flights to and from Delhi and a few other cities, if you don’t want to travel by Indian Railways.
The temples at Khajuraho should be on your list of “places I should see before I die” as their mesmerizing beauty is something you don’t want to miss out on in this lifetime!
(Vidya Deshpande is a freelance travel writer. She also runs a small all women travel venture, Soul Purpose Travel)