Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Stopover at Khajuraho

Presenting some useful information on the tourist destination


A journey through India would be considered incomplete without making a stopover at Khajuraho. The temples here compare with the best in world in size and architecture but the thematic expressions presented in stonework make these marvels unique. The sculpted stones on the exteriors make Khajuraho a jewel in the crown of incredible India.

This small town located in serene and peaceful environs of central India preserves the grandeur of India's culture heritage. Built between 950 and 1050 AD when the Chandela rule was at its zenith, the temples continued with religious chores until the 14th century. Rediscovered by the British in 1838 today only 22 remain of the original 85. The damage and destruction could be attributed to natural causes like earthquakes. Historically, there is no evidence of any vandalism. Perhaps by falling into a state of incognito close to four centuries these masterpieces escaped plundering by Muslim invaders.

Approach

Ask the people manning the India Tourism office at 88 Janpath, New Delhi and you'd be told to catch the Bhopal Shatabdi Express leaving New Delhi railway station daily at 6 a m, as the convenient means of going there (apart from flying into Khajuraho, of course). Some four hours later when you get down at Jhansi, there is an M P tourism bus available to take you straight to Khajuraho, 175 km away. However, in our case the Shatabadi arrived late and by that time the bus had already left. Imagine, the most attractive tourist destination being provided with only one bus service to a very important railhead. Then you have other means of negotiating the 175 km route like using a taxi or sharing some minibus service with other passengers. The avoidable UP State transport bus service from the general bus stand at Jhansi would take you there in 6 to 7 hours. Once in Khajuraho, don't expect to find much information from the MPSTDC Information counter at the bus stand. You might find it closed upon your arrival. The next day too you won’t find it of any use as there might not be any spare leaflet for you. Consider Hampi, a similar heritage site in the state of Karanataka, a smaller village in comparison and you'll find a vibrant and fully functional tourist info centre where you can get literature not just on that particular destination but also on tourist attractions all over Karanataka. Despite its massive ad-campaigns the M P tourism does neither impress nor inspire by matching words with deeds.

Stay

A number of facilities suited to all budgets are available. Select any as per your choice but stay away from the tourism department's very own property Payal. They will ask for cash upfront and the check out settlement too has to be made in cash. Your plastic will not work as their EDC machine remains out of order. If you plan staying there carry enough cash else be prepared going through some tense moments with a thinner wallet not enough to sail you through should some emergency arise. They say they have two more hotels like Payal.

Best time of visit

October to March, certainly. April will get too hot to bear. However, just after conclusion of the Khajuraho Dance Festival may well be the right time to squeeze in. Culmination of the festival marks the onset of what many term as off season when tourist inflow becomes a trickle. However, tourists keep coming all the year around. It is high time the destination is marketed as a year long attraction rather than merely labeling it a winter-months-affair.

Though the length of the time spent at any destination depends upon the taste and personal disposition of a tourist yet for the sake of making a general recommendation it would suffice if one could spare at least two days to do this destination. This is minimum you require to have some meaningful interaction with the stones of Khajuraho irrespective of the mode of your travel. Local transport is best hired after negotiating the rates. During the off season an auto rickshaw could be hired for Rs 150 or so down to half of what the driver would initially ask for.

What to see

Prominently 17 temples spread over an area of about 20 sqkm, divided into three distinct groups;

-The Western group with 8 magnificent structures is located right into the centre of the town. A museum is also located over there.

-The Eastern group has 7 temples out of which 3 are Jain temples.

- The Southern group has only 2.

Except for the Matangeshwara temple (western group) where worship of Lord Shiva is a routine no other Khajuraho temple of yore remains a living place of worship.

A sound and light show conducted daily at the lawns of the Western group is a must for everyone visiting Khajuraho.

The Chausath Yogini temple about half a kilometre outside the Western group is the oldest complex built sometime in 900 AD. The Chausath Yogini originally consisted of 64 small cell type structures on a raised platform of which around half remain today.

Then there are ruins of a temple recently found at nearby village Jatkara. What remains here is the richly carved base of what would at one time have been a magnificent structure.

The exteriors of all the temples are rich in sculpture and carved panels depicting complete chores of daily life. Be it man or god, all find place among the lively stones of Khajuraho temple walls. Size and proportion of the statues is the hallmark of artisanship which required sticking to precise measurements to accomplish the feat. The striking similarity of images including that of the Chandela mascot (a dragon seen with two warriors fighting it) is a treat to watch. This mascot appears in varying sizes at all the temples. No corner or niche is without this mascot. The temples appear wrapped in Kamasutra. The majestic Kandariya Mahadeo temple alone is said to have 875 or so sculpted images. Why this erotic description on temple walls? Baffling, isn't it? Well, opinions differ. One viewpoint has it that human beings were supposed to have a full glimpse of what life stood for before entering the temple in order to seek salvation. Another view goes that it was to test the strength of a devotee's beliefs. Philosophically, we humans have to look inwards in order to find the meanings of life and existence. A mind that wavered outside was not oriented towards the ultimate, they felt. A third explanation stresses upon the lavish and high lifestyle of the rulers who had an open attitude towards realities of life and wanted a society based on this realism.

Whatever be the reasons thereof, we truly have a treasure amid us to preserve.

Moving on

- Satna (120 km) is a convenient rail head for moving on towards eastern India or to Bombay. While Jhansi is another important railway junction linking north and south. A railway reservation counter has been set up at the bus stand at Khajuraho and it is fully functional.
- Flying out is yet another convenient option.

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