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Khajuraho Travel Guide

Noted for its erotic temples', Khajuraho is a quaint town which has much to offer a visitor. Added to that, the Millennium Celebrations to be held in Khajuraho are sure to attract attention and acclaim to these beautiful temples.

Khajuraho, situated in the heart of Central India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, is noted for the country's most exotic, erotic statues. Not many are aware that these marvellous statues are a thousand years old. Khajuraho's Millennium Celebrations in 1999, will last throughout the year. In a rare example of public, private and local enterprise working together, the Celebrations are being organised by the Madhya Pradesh Government, the Archaeological Survey of India, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural HeritageKhajuraho Temple (INTACH), companies like Eicher, newspapers like the Times Group, hotels like the Oberoi and Taj and travel agencies like the Orient Express. It was the Orient Express' founder, who can be described as the man who 'discovered' Khajuraho. This was in the '50s when it was little more than a jungle-town, infested with snakes and dacoits. But it was the sight of the stupendous temples that caused him to give up everything and work on building roads, telephone lines, and a hotel so that Khajuraho could be accessible to the world. The work is now being enthusiastically carried on by his son Kanti and his 5 brothers.

There are very few people today, who have not heard of Khajuraho. It is, in fact, a World Heritage Site. But for the first-timer, the temples continue to amaze and mystify. Who built these amazing temples? How did the sandstone structures last so long? Why is it that not much is known of the varied social scenes that the sculptures portray so graphically?

There is a statue to 'the Unknown Sculptor', in the middle of Khajuraho town, constructed by Poddar, which is a tribute to the superb craftsmanship of these temples, with their beautiful apsaras, gandharvas, mythical animals, gods and goddesses. There are warriors, lovers, artists, dancers — a celebration of every section of society. So, who were these people? It is believed that the Khajuraho temples were built between 950-1050 AD by the Chandela Kings of Bundelkhand. These were warrior-kings who fought many wars but did not allow their land to be subjugated by other invaders. Thus, the statues are a testament of 'pure' Indian art, unsullied by any other influences.

There is a fascinating legend behind the Chandela kings, who claimed descent from the moon! According to the legend, Hemwati, the lovely daughter of a Brahmin priest, was seduced by the moon-god, while bathing in a forest pool. The child born of this union was Chandravarman, founder of the Chandela dynasty. He was brought up in the forest by his mother to avoid a censorious society. But when he became a ruler, he had a dream- visitation of his mother, who implored him to build a range of temples that would reveal human passions. Thus Handravamian began building the first temples which were continued by his successors. It is also believed that they were followers of the Tantric cult which believes that the gratification of earthly desires is a step towards Nirvana (salvation).

These temples are, indeed, a celebration of life with all its passions and energies. Out of the original 85 temples, only 22 remain. They have a unique architectural design, each temple standing on a high masonry platform, with a marked upward direction, almost as if pointing to the heavens above. You enter the temples through a porch or Ardhamandapa, behind which is a hall or Mahamandapa. This is supported by pillars and a corridor around it. A vestibule then leads into the Garbhagriha or inner sanctum. There are three geographical divisions for the temples — Southern, Eastern, and Western. There are only two Southern temples, which are scenically situated on the outskirts of the city, with the Vindhyakt temples in the background. The intricately carved Duladeo temple is dedicated to Shiva, while the Chaturbhuj temple has a huge 3-meter high image of Vishnu.

The Eastern temples are partly Jam and Hindu. In fact, this is a common pilgrimage center for Jams and there are many Dharamsala. The most striking is the Parsvanath temple, with its exquisite sculptures depicting the everyday activity. There is a bull-emblem of the first Tirthankara, Adinath. But the Parsvanath image was installed in 1860. It is this lain-Hindu combination that is singularly interesting about these temples. There is the Shantinath temple, visited by the Digambar Jams, with a 4.5-meter high image of Adinath and the Ghantai temple with a lain goddess on a garuda (Hawk-like bird). The Hindu temples include the richly carved Brahma, Vamana and Javari temples, as also a Hanuman temple with a 2.5-meter high idol of the monkey-god.

There is a lot of excavation work going on, and it was fascinating to see several heads of gods and goddesses being unearthed from the ground. Khajuraho Temple The Western temples, in the heart of the city, are the most famous, with all the mithunas (couples), Gandharvas, apsaras, vidyadaras and kinaras. The images of the apsaras are stunning, with their sensuous poses and liquid movements.

There are the unforgettable images of a maiden adorning herself before a mirror, applying kohl on her eyes, plaiting her long hair, removing a thorn from her foot. The erotic images, of course, have been much written about, and one was amused by the guide who described the 'group-sex' scenes to a group of American tourists.

The complicated, almost acrobatic orgiastic scenes have been associated with Tantric rituals and practices. However, it's not so much the sexual aspect but the grace, energy and feeling that strikes one mast about these images. The eyes, the face and the body are poetry of pure emotive movement.

The Kandariya Mahadeo is the biggest and most stunning temple, with its 800 statues of gods and goddesses, the marble linga, and the ceiling that rises 31 meters high. The Lakshmana temple has friezes of battle-scenes and erotic poses, depicting both sides of the Chandela warriors' lives. In fact, the 8 figures on each column are supposed to represent each sect of the Tantric cult. The finely carved inner sanctum has a three-headed idol of Vishnu's incarnations, Narasimha and Varaha. The Varaha temple has a 9 feet high image of the boar incarnation of Vishnu, gorgeously carved with 474 images. The Chitragupta temple is dedicated to the sun-god and has many group scenes of royal processions, hunting, dancing, reflecting the lavish lifestyle of the Chandela courts. The Devi Jagdambe temple has a gorgeous image of Parvati, while the Matangesvara temple has a 2.5-meter high polished linga of Shiva. This is the only temple that is actively used for worship.

The gardens around the Western temples are picturesque and become a spectacle of color and light during the Khajuraho dance festival every March. The festival is held outside one of the temples and is a feast for the eye, especially as the top dancers of the country always take part. After a wonderful round of the temples during the day, it is an exciting experience to revert to them at night and see them as a backdrop to the aesthetics of another kind.

Temple of Khajuraho temples are magnetic, and one is tempted to visit them several times. An excellent time to visit them is early morning (there are rickshaws from every hotel that take you there), where one can partake of the puja (prayers) in the Matangeswara temple, and also study the sculptures at leisure, without being disturbed by the numerous groups of tourists. The marketplace outside the temples, is a beehive of activity, with Swiss, Italian, fast-food restaurants, and Indian cuisine of every kind. One can taste everything from masala-chai to tandoori rotis and Marwari thalis. And there are the usual array of souvenir shops, STD booths, and numerous touts and guides. Some well-known eateries include Raja Cafe, run by a Swiss couple. The husband, in fact, runs an old tree-top restaurant called 'Tree House', on the Ghat Road. This has inspired another lovely roof-top restaurant called Ken River Lodge, started by Binny and Bhavna Raja, of the erstwhile royal family.

Even though Khajuraho's temples are its biggest attraction, it has other interesting sights. There is the Ken Gharial Sanctuary, 120 km away, which is rough and wild, with its gorges, rocks and lovely Ken river. There are vantage look-out points and the views are almost like the Grand Canyon. Facilities for boating and fishing are coming up here. Close by is Pipra Ghat, which is a picturesque picnic spot, where one can rent quaint cabanas made of thatch.

The Panna National Park, 30 km from the city, is well- known. Khajuraho is one of the few cities in the world which has a World Heritage Site and a Tiger Reserve so close to each other. The best time to visit the Park is early morning and drive in an open jeep through the thick, wild vegetation. We saw the paw marks of tigers, though the animal was elusive.

However, we saw a variety of marvellous birds (blossom eaded parakeet, red-belted capwing, weaver, tree-pie), antelopes, chinkaras, sambas, boars. Khajuraho Temple While driving to all these areas, the charm of the rural scenarios overtakes you. The villages are clean, spotless, and one sees many mud-huts being converted to brick contractions. An ambitious plan for the Khajuraho village is to equip every hut with a bathroom "We want it to be a model village to the rest of the country" said the organizers of the Millennium Celebrations. As the women draw water from the wells, the men cycle to work, and the children flock to the municipal schools, there is a peace and content that can well be a rural model in the country.

Close to the Panna National Park is the Pandav Falls, with the caves where the Pandava brothers are supposed to have rested during their exile. For the adventurous, there are also the Benisagar Dam, Ranesh Falls, and Ranguan Lake.

Khajuraho combines history, architecture, culture, and environment with delectable charm. It is a town that takes you away from the noise and pollution of the city, with its fresh air and scenic countryside. There are craft centers and cultural shows, but no wilder entertainment. Hotels like the Poddar's Grand Chandela Hotel provide ethnic dinners and entertainment almost every night. But basically, it is the quaint charm of the area and the marvellous beauty of the temples that attract people to Madhya Pradesh's most famous tourist town.