There is something deeply amusing about the prevailing ‘culture’ in this country. A mention of Khajuraho, a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, brings coy smiles or mischievous smirks from the person across the table. Plans of a trip to Khajuraho, if revealed in advance to family, brings forth unparalleled shock, bordering on paranoia from parents. All this brouhaha around the erotic sculptures shifts the spotlight from the beauty and grandeur of this magnificent place. Khajuraho is more than Kama Sutra. It makes the wanderer marvel at the toil and excellence of the sculptors who carved one of the finest specimens of Temple Art and Architecture in the world.
Our trip to Khajuraho was remarkable in that nothing went as per plan. Our story will be stated later. First the itinerary and the logistics.
3 Day Trip to Khajuraho
Our planned itinerary : On the first day, visit the Western Group of Temples, Eastern Group of Temples and end the day with the Sound and Light show. Second day would be devoted to Panna Tiger Reserve. Third day being holi was supposed to be devoted to bhang, etc at Khajuraho.
Thanks to Radisson booking all the safaris at Panna Tiger Reserve for the weekend, Panna had to be scrapped from our itinerary. Due to high levels of unexpected eventualities, the final trip worked out to be:
Day 1: Reached Khajuraho at 6 p.m. The evening was devoted to the Sound and Light show (do not opt for the Hindi version as half the words do not make sense, too shuddh for the likes of us!).
Day 3: Roamed around Khajuraho-visited the Western Group of Temples, the Eastern Group, the Southern Group and the Archaeological Museum.
Hotels : We stayed at Hotel Harmony. Reasonably priced and conveniently located at walking distance from the Western Group of Monuments, the place has a nice aura about it and is definitely recommended. The food is very basic. It would be better to give one of the many restaurants that dot the market area a try. Early morning coffee at Madras Coffee House, with a view of the Western Group, surpasses expectations.
How to Reach: UP Sampark Kranti is the ideal train for those travelling from Delhi. A road trip is the more adventurous and exciting option.
Best Time to Visit: Given the scorching Madhya Pradesh sun, summer months are at best avoided. October to March is the ideal time to visit. There is also an annual Khajuraho Dance Festival in the month of February.
If visiting in the relatively milder months of October-November or February-March, then an early morning sight-seeing is recommended (the Sun gets unbearably hot by 11:00 am).
When it comes to selecting between holidays on the parameter of unplanned adventure, there is no parallel to my trip to Khajuraho. From the very beginning this trip was special. A friend booked train tickets online. The tickets were waitlisted with the waiting list numbers ranging from 55-60. The optimistic streak in my friend gave us all the confidence that our tickets would get confirmed. On the day of the journey, our status was waiting list 6-11. Three hours before our scheduled departure we left for the Nizamuddin station. En route the station we got the expected unexpected news that our tickets had not been confirmed. The news notwithstanding, we gravitated towards the Nizamuddin station to decide on a plan of action.
Over a meal in Comesum (the more ambitious amongst us ordered chicken at Comesum and then complained about its quality!) we were trying to come up with an alternative plan. From driving down to Jaisalmer to going to Kasol, every possible North Indian destination was considered. Finally we decided to go to the Sarai Kale Khan Bus Stop (walking distance from the Nizamuddin Station) and board the first bus departing from Sarai Kale Khan post our arrival; destination no bar. When we reached the bus stop, plans were again changed. After considerable debate and discussion among ourselves, we came to the decision of boarding the Madhya Pradesh State Tourism bus to Gwalior. A 6 ft something friend kept cribbing about the lack of leg space in the bus! On the whole it was a painful journey but quite an experience.
When we reached Gwalior Bus Stop early next morning, we started deliberating on the future course of action, yet again. Having taught at The Scindia School, Gwalior, for three months I was well acquainted with the place and told my friends all that Gwalior had to offer. While we were freshening up at the Bus Stop, a friend found out about a train leaving for Jhansi from the Gwalior Station. All Gwalior darshan plans were immediately shelved and we ran to the station. Taking six running tickets from the counter we boarded the Jhansi bound train. When we finally reached Jhansi we decided to have breakfast at yet another Comesum and chalk out our final Plan of Action. A recce outside the station brought us in contact with some bloke who was in Jhansi to drop some government official and was now on his way back to some place in Madhya Pradesh. The bloke in question agreed to take us around Orchha, eventually dropping us at Khajuraho (at a predetermined handsome amount, of course!). Finally, and quite miraculously, we were on our way to Khajuraho, via Orchha.
It was a quick tour that we took of Orchha (and I really did not mind as I had already visited this magnificent place during my stint at The Scindia School). A tour of the Orchha Fort which has the Jahangir Mahal, followed by a visit to the Ram Raja Temple, the Chaturbhuj Temple and the picturusque cenotaphs on the banks of the Betwa culminated our brief tryst with Orchha.
The lunch at Sheesh Mahal Hotel, located inside the fort premises was decent and reasonably priced. Post lunch we visited the Laxmi Narayan Temple and then started our journey towards Khajuraho.
We reached Khajuraho after sunset. Our first task was to get us a shelter for the coming two days. After settling our lodging issues we darted towards the Western Group of Temples complex to get ourselves tickets for the Sound and Light Show.
It was a day later that we came back to the Temples in broad daylight and marveled at one of the finest temple-art in the world. “Around the outsides of the temples are bands of exceedingly artistic stonework showing a storyboard of life a millennium ago – gods, goddesses, warriors, musicians, and real and mythological animals.”-Lonely Planet, India.
The Western Group of Temples include the most striking and well-preserved temples inside a fenced enclosure. A tour of the Western Group should start at the Varaha Temple. Right opposite is the Lakshmana Temple, the south facade of which has some of the raunchiest art-work. Next is Kandariya-Mahadev– with its soaring rooftops, it is the largest of the Khajuraho Temples. On the same stone-plinth is the Devi Jagadamba Temple. Further north is the Chitragupta Temple, a rarity in North India in being dedicated to the Sun God. To the east is the Vishvanath Temple with the Nandi shrine right opposite. Juxtaposing the fenced enclosure on its southern boundary is the Matangesvara Temple-the only temple in the Western Group that is still in everyday use.
The Eastern Group includes Hindu Temples scattered around the old village and four Jain temples. Winding lanes and dirt tracks lead to the Southern Group.
Raneh Falls and Pandav Falls
Raneh falls, located 20kms from Khajuraho, is a natural waterfall on the Ken river. Called the Grand Canyon of India by tourists, it is a canyon formed by the Ken River and composed of volcanic rocks, mainly granite. The Ken Gharial Sanctuary is located here.
Located 35 kms from Khajuraho, the picturusque and tranquil Pandav falls are definitely worth a visit for its heart-shaped plunge-pool along with the adjoining caves.