Erotic? but is it art?

Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Flag of India  ,
Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Abstract: Took a taxi to Satna then bus to Khajuraho over a bone shaking road. Arriving at 9pm, we enjoyed the folk dance festival, where apart from the dancing we met Ganesh and Arvindra, two students who turned out to be great fun, and ended up as firm friends.... spent the next day exploring the temples with their help. There is of course one particular form of sculpture for which these spectacular temples are famous. The erotic, extremely graphic and well executed figures form in actual fact, only a very small fraction of the thousands of images, and the other scenes depict all facets of life, it is of course images like the man 'enjoying his horse's company' whilst other figures look shocked, that have made the place famous, but come expecting titilation and you are going to be dissapointed ! It is however a staggeringly beautiful set of temples, (much like Prambanam in Java). We took the bus to Jansi and engaged the rickshaw and tempo drivers in a battle of trying to get a good fare to Orchha. Unfortunately one driver decided to touch Rachel 'inapropriately' but thankfully the other drivers dragged him away before a scene developed and the police got called... not a good welcome to the town. When we finally arrived in Orchha 20 minutes away we were a bit frazzled but our guest house owner and his place and Orchha all exuded an air of calm and although we only had a couple of days the old palace/fort and temples were lovely. And... another dance festival this time with acrobatics... much fun was had by all....

Nitty Gritty : We had arranged for the jeep driver that had driven us from Umaria to Tala to drive us to Satna to save us a day of travel as we are so short of time. As we hadn't had breakfast and by now we were realising Indian's seem to eat breakfast at 9.30am, we stopped in a little town for Samosas and chai - both were delicious...

Reaching Satna bus station, we were lucky to find a seat on a bus pulling out destined for Khajuraho and its erotic temples. We arrived after dark, albeit it safely, having vowed not to travel on Indian buses at night due to their bad safety record. We were really tired but delighted to have stumbled on the last few hours of a folk dance festival, with big crowds of people gathered in their finest colourful saris around the showground. Colourful dancers and musicians did their thing and we wandered around the stalls and were approached by Ganesh and Arvindra, two students. We were both really tired and weren't in the mood for ernest young english speakers, but they were wanting to practice their english as both wished to train as guides with the Indian tourist office. Reluctantly we agreed to meet them the following morning for a tour of some temples fearing they would ask us for money at the end of the tour. Bleary eyed we met up at 6.30am and wandered around some of the beautifully carved outer temples and watched the sun rise. We soon became comfortable in each others presence and for 20 year olds they were very mature and we chatted about cricket, cast system, marriage, cultural differences etc. It was them that introduced us to a wonderful samosa shop were we supped chai and gobbled down umpteen samosas and pakoras covered in sweet relish and curd.

The western set of temples made a welcome break from the frenetic town outside and were set in lovely gardens. The temples at Khajaraho are renowned for their erotic sculptures depicting images from the karma sutra and others including one showing man's best friend really is his horse ! These erotic sculptures made up a really small percentage of the total number of exquisitally crafted images. Many were of beautiful women with huge breasts and intricately carved bodies. It was an amazing place and none of the carving we have seen in other parts of India have lived up to it yet.
The archeological museum, which was really small, had a wonderful collection of sculptures and door lintles which allowed us to view the craftsmanship at close quarters.
Later that day the boys took us to visit Ganesh' family home - his family live in one room and it is a stark reminder how families are raised and children well educated without the need for a 5 bedroom house and a swimmingpool. The local kids loved playing cricket and G & A tried to get us to stay another day so that a village cricket match could be organised in our honour - oh for more time....That evening we treated ourselves to the sound and light show at the temples which was wonderful (although R could hardly keep her eyes open), especially as the temples were lit up in an array of colours and the story of how and why they were built was fascinating - many unresolved issues, like why there and what was the significance of the erotic art.
Met up with the boys for dinner, but they mistook our intention of to meet them in the restaurant and we finished to find them stood outside waiting for us for 1.5 hours !
We ended the day as firm friends and plan to keep in touch and promised to return when one of them marries - our first Hindu wedding !
Our visit to Khajaraho was short lived and the following morning we were on the bus to Jansi the gateway to a small village of Orchha with its temples and palace. Bus travel was developing a familiar routine - jump on at 7am, stop for b'fast at 9.30am, 11.30am for lunch and in the afternoon if an all day journey. This morning we stopped for the most amazing pakoras covered in hot corriander relish and served in a bowl made of leaves - very environmentally friendly. We were amused for the first part of the journey by a really old man sat in front of us who introduced himself later as a freedom fighter who fought against the British for independence of his motherland of India. What amused us was him finding somewhere to dry a large pair of undershorts which he eventually tied to his walking stick handle and dangled out of the window so they billowed in the wind. We'd love to have spent some time chatting to him about what it was like during the english occupation.
From Jansi we had to arrange transport to Orchha, which should have been straightforward - local bus (tempo) or auto rickshaw (3 wheeled bike), except that none of the drivers would take us for the indian fare and all insisted on well overinflated prices and as it was 25km, it was too far to walk. For the next few hours we felt like we were in a circus. First we went to book some train tickets and on the way back the driver decided to touch R's leg and brush against her breasts. Needless to say he was not happy when she gave him the Indian fare and shouted at him, but walked away when G offered to ask the police to intervene - very distressing experience. After a cup of chai and being told by the vendor not to pay more than 10rp each, we finally found a tempo driver to take us, settling on 30rp in total ask we reluctantly paid for a set for our bags - we had to threaten the driver with the police for this.
We found a great guesthouse overlooking the huge palace - an oasis of calm and instantly the upset of earlier faded. Orchha was small, with very few tourists and a laid back feel. The temples were huge and abandoned and you were left to explore their ruins on your own. A young lad found us and led us through narrow passages and up winding staircases to the very top of the building with good views of the temple dotted countryside and the cricket match below. He then set about demonstrating cricket strokes to us. It was very pretty, but as we'd been spoiled by the scenery in Bagan, Myanmar, this temple dotted countryside was nothing special. Taking every opportunity to sample delicious street food, we discovered aloo tikka - spicey mashed potato fried and covered with sweet and spicy sauce - yum !
Orchha palace was a rambling affair and would have been covered with green and blue tiles similar to those in Istambul - there were a few left to give an idea of what it would have looked like. There was a central courtyard and several floors with turrets and great views. This was the first day of a two day dance festival so we returmed later for a very professional affair with acrobatics and colourful costumes, but by 9pm we were fit to drop.
Today, en route to one of the outlying temples with mogul art still visible on the ceilings, R discovered that the green knobbly fruit we'd been seeing everywhere were guavas and a love affair developed with her able to eat a kilo in pretty much one sitting !
Cricket was being played by all the village kids and at one point they looked to G for an umpires decision and he was in seventh heaven at being asked to bat......until they wanted him to pay them for the privilage......
Sadly we had to leave Orchha the following day - getting to the train station was much easier than coming the other way and the driver merely laughed when we said we'd only pay the Indian price. This train would take us to Agra, or Agro, as travellers refer to it. G had become adept at leaping off the train at a stop and returning with tasty morsels - this time, puris with firey curry and chai, all in eco friendly containers.
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