In all my travels through India, I have never seen anything as incredible as the temples of Khajuraho. These temples were built between the 10th and 11th centuries by Chandela kings. They ruled a vast area which included most of modern Madhya Pradesh, in the historic Bundelkhand region. Of the original 85 Hindu and Jain temples, only about 25 remain in a fairly good condition. These sculptured temples dedicated mostly to Hindu gods and goddesses, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.
The temples were dedicated to two religions Hinduism and Jainism, suggesting a tradition of acceptance and respect for the different religions.
The temples are just poetry in stone and the sculptures appear almost life like. The intricacy and detailing of the carvings leave you gasping in awe. There is a profusion of sculptures with intricate detailing, symbolism and expression of ancient Indian art.
Both internally and externally the temples are richly carved with excellent sculptures that are frequently sensual and in some instances sexually explicit. But the erotica is only about 10 percent of the total sculptures. The rest are depictions from the daily life of ordinary people, going about their routine activities. You see armies marching and kings surrounded by their courtiers and their women. The sculptures highlight the beauty of women with their perfect bodies.
The temples are grouped into the Western, the Eastern and the Southern group of temples. Start with the western group as these have the largest number and the best temples.
Most popular of these temples, in the western group, is the Kandariya Mahadev temple dedicated to Lord Shiva who appears to be meditating in a cave in the high Himalayan mountains. This is the tallest of all the temples, soaring skywards to an astonishing 31 metres.
Other important temples are the Lakshmana temple, dedicated to Vishnu, the Jain Parshvanath temple in the eastern complex, originally dedicated to Adinath, and the Matangeshvara temple which is the only Hindu temple here that is used for worship.
Sound and Light Show.
Every evening in the gardens of the Western Group of temples a sound and light show is put on, first in Hindi and then in English. It is mesmerizing with the temples lit up and a wonderful narration of the history of the temples, recounted in Amitabh Bachan’s deep baritone.
Museum of Tribal and Folk Art
Visit the State Museum of Tribal and Folk Art in the Chandela Cultural Complex. It showcases the works of various tribal artisans. The art gallery displays ancient relics and artifacts. Except for Mondays and public holidays, the gallery is open daily from 12p.m to 8p.m.
Situated less than 25 km from Khajuraho, Raneh Falls is one of India’s hidden gems. When the guide mentioned the falls to us, we were initially reluctant to visit “just another fall” but thankfully we did go and it was well worth the visit. It is easily one of the most beautiful and mysterious spots that I have seen and surprisingly not many people are aware of its existence.
The guide will tell you that Raneh Falls is the mini grand canyon of India. Reach the main gate of this reserve where a forest guard will accompany you into this protected reserve. Driving through a forested area we saw Nilgais, both male and female, the latter accompanied by their young. We were extremely lucky to see a group of three white backed vultures feeding on a carcass. These birds are so rare that we thanked our lucky stars for the wonderful sighting. We also saw a group of jackals ferociously squabbling over a dead cow. Our first view of the deep gorge really took our breath away. Jagged rocks in different colors, soar up from a deep canyon- like abyss. Our knowledgable guide told us that millions of years ago, this natural formation was formed by volcanic eruption. The rocks you see are yellow dolomite, black basalt, white quartz, red jasper and pink granite. Running over the peaks is the Ken river, descending in small and large falls. Especially during the monsoon the area is just a maze of waterfalls. When we visited, there was just one major fall descending vertically into a deep green pool enclosed by vertical peaks. The guide told us that a movie had been shot where the lead actress was lowered in a crane into the depths of the pool.
Since we visited the Raneh Falls during February, we were lucky to see the magnificent rock formations in all their splendor. During the monsoons the rock formations will not be visible, with the whole area inundated with hundreds of streams and waterfalls.
As we trekked, we could see the Ken river stretching away like a silvery green ribbon, pristine in its cleanliness. Our forest guard told us that the water is enhanced by different medicinal plants falling in, which have curative powers. Part of this river is dedicated as a sanctuary for the protection of the Indian Gharial. We were lucky to see a few of them sunning themselves on the rocks close to the banks of the river. We required binoculars as the Gharials were on the far bank of the river.
Other attractions of Khajuraho
The Madhya Pradesh tourism showcases folk dances of the state. Along with the dances, the artists perform acrobatic feats. This is not of the highest quality but we wanted to encourage local artists, who certainly need that income.
If you are a shopaholic, try the bamboo fiber sarees, dress materials, and dupattas. Several shops sell handicrafts and jewellery. Use your judgement while shopping for antiques as many of the shops tend to pass off clever fakes as the original thing. There are plenty of eateries too so go ahead and have a great holiday. Khajuraho is certainly worth a visit.