If Kerala is the land of coconuts, which it is, Khajuraho is the city (area?) of date palms. It’s good to have a guide to keep you up to the mark on such things. It also makes it easier for me to remember unfamiliar names if I have something to hook to the name.
When Joan and I were floundering around in Varanasi the night we arrived there, I was trying to decide if we had made a terrible mistake in having the Varanasi/Khajuraho part of our trip at the end rather than at the beginning. It had felt so lovely, warm and fuzzy to have a splendid farewell dinner along with hugs and heartfelt goodbyes with new friends as the culmination of our Treasures of South India trip. I feared that the extension would prove anti-climatic, nerve wracking or both; and, had we stayed in Varanasi with our not-too-good guide and the urban insanity of the city, that would have been the case. Happily for us, we had Khajuraho for our final taste of India.
First of all, Khajuraho is very small. Distances from airport to hotel and hotel to sites are tiny.
Second, instead of the hubbub of a big city, Khajuraho can scarcely work up a bub.
Finally, our guide, Anurag (“call me Anu”) Shrivastava, was excellent. At first, he seemed quite talkative; I felt like I had stumbled into the middle of a L O N G lecture on classical Hindu art/architecture. But, just as my eyes must have been beginning to glaze over, he said “that’s enough of that” and we got up from our ledge in front of one of the magnificent east temples and began our circumambulation. BUT, and this is what endeared him to me, we had gone only a short distance when he became very excited and pointed out three spotted owls that were perched way up high amidst the nooks and crannies and carvings of the temple.
The temples in the eastern complex are Jain temples and I think I am remembering correctly when I say that Anu told us the temples had been converted and some of the carvings replaced by the Jains. Maybe those carvings were too racy. The temples were constructed in the 10th century and have a very different look to those in the south. Although they are built on granite bedrock, the structures themselves are constructed from sandstone quarried about forty kilometers away and they glow gorgeously in the golden light of late afternoon. Anu pointed out many individual figures telling us their significance and interrelationships. And then he let us wander for a while to absorb it all.
The same was true on the morning of Jan. 24th. We went to the western temple complex (where the good stuff is*) and went through the same process: General overview followed by very specific explanations as we looked at the levels of the temples and the symbols, creatures, people, gods, and structures. It was fascinating and even if I can’t remember most of what Anu told us, I do remember being intrigued and that will make me want to learn more. In my book, that is the sign of a good experience.
*Anu explained that of all the sculptures in the Khajuraho temples, only about 5% are erotic but that 95% of the people who come to see the temples come to see the erotica. Proving, once again, that sex sells.