From Varanasi our next destination should have been the capitol of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow. But we feared it would be another filthy, horrible nightmare much like Delhi (see my post: Delhi scams). So, we looked at our options and contemplated going somewhere else. The main problem with this plan was the availability of transport. We had already booked our train to Lucknow well in advance, but the colossal Hindu festival the Kumbh Mela was in full swing and available train tickets for anywhere out of Varanasi were non-existent. Varanasi train station was mayhem. Huge crowds of Hindu pilgrims were camping at the station like refugees waiting for an available space. Passengers crammed onto trains without tickets, there was violence and destruction. Riot police were called in to control the crowds but they just made things worse and many desperate people were killed due to an overcrowded footbridge collapse. After seeing what was going on at the train station, there was no way I was using the ticket I had already bought and getting on a train from here to Lucknow, even if I really wanted to go there.
Weâ€™re getting out of Varanasi
About 400km west of Varanasi is a place called khajuraho. Itâ€™s famous for its amazing temples and intricate erotic carvings. I had heard of this place and I would much prefer to go there than Lucknow. But how would we get there? The train was obviously not an option. What about flying? Khajuraho has a tiny airport and it does receive domestic flights from Varanasi. I checked the flights and as luck would have it, there was availability for the next day. The only problem now was that due to the problems we had previously encountered with booking trains on the fly, I had pre-booked all of our trains all the way through getting back to Mumbai. Because we were supposed to have gone to Lucknow, I had pre booked our train to Jaipur leaving from Lucknow. The last piece of this puzzle is, can we get to Jaipur from Khajuraho and catch the rest of our booked trains to Mumbai. I checked the trains and I couldnâ€™t believe it. There were some spaces available in a few days when we wanted to travel. I realised that this is because Khajuraho was at the other side of Allahabad where the epicentre of the Kumbh mela is held to what Varanasi is, and we would be travelling away from it rather towards it along with the herds of stampeding pilgrims desperate to dunk themselves in the filth of the Ganges. So it was all set, off to Khajuraho we go.
Ariving in Khajuraho
Khajuraho is so different from any of the other places we have visited so far in the north of India. It is very rural and spacious. There is hardly any traffic and as a result, the sky isnâ€™t clogged with pollution, the air is clean and the sun shines through saturating everyone with a healthy dose of vitamin-D.
Iâ€™d pre-booked a hotel on Agoda the night before our flight. It was very cheap but very nice, and within walking distance from the main collection of temples. And what really made the difference with this town was the people. They were all really nice and genuine. Of course you still had shop keepers, beggars and kids after your money but it didnâ€™t feel as obtrusive and intimidating here as it did in Delhi, and they were more respectful of your space and often left you alone if you said no and would walk away with a smile.
The temples at Khajuraho are literally amazing, and the detail of the carvings is very impressive. We spent a whole day at the main collection of temples and still didnâ€™t see it all. These temples were being taken over by the jungle up to the 19th century when the British began to restore them. They now sit within beautiful landscaped gardens and are well maintained and still being restored. The main collection of temples is fenced and there is a small entrance fee, but scattered around in the nearby fields and villages are other temples that you can seek out and explore at your own leisure.
As amazing as these temples are, there are just so many of them, which are very similar in architectural design and by the end of the day temple fatigue was beginning to set in and I was losing the motivation to see any more temples.
The erotic carvings are what makes these collections of temples so different and has made it one of the most popular tourist sites in India, but not all of the carvings are of an erotic nature, most are of other everyday occurrences that the people who lived here would have experienced. Some are of simple actions such as feasting, playing musical instruments, farming, washing or combing their hair and others are of more prolific events depicting raging battles. The erotic carvings show that these people were very open about their sexual activities and quite experimental too. They range from carvings of voluptuous curvy woman, many types of sexual acts including twister-like positions and group orgies. Thereâ€™s even some evidence of bestiality with a horse. Anything goes I guess.
Indian wedding anniversary
The manager of our hotel invited to his first wedding anniversary celebration at his family home. We accepted and then next night the three of us hopped on his motorbike and he took us about a mile down the road to the next village. It was a very simple village and he lived in a very modest home with his wife, 2 brothers, parents, grandparents, his uncle, 2 cows and an ox. Yes, the cows and ox were in the house. Many of the villages were here for the celebration. A large sound system had been hired and was playing piercingly sharp Indian music at full volume. I donâ€™t know if the treble was turned all the way, the speakers were bad or if the music was just supposed to sound like that but no-one seemed to mind and they danced crazily through the night. Anna and I were the only white people here and were treated like guests of honour. Some of the woman had spent all day preparing food using simple equipment an open fire inside the house. They insisted that Anna and I eat first before anyone else. They piled all sorts of mysterious foods onto our plates and refused to eat themselves until we had finished the whole lot. The uncle even went out to get us some bottled water as they knew we couldnâ€™t drink their tap water. After the meal we were made to watch a 3 hour long video of their wedding and then everyone danced in the main room. There was a lot of energy and things being thrown around in excitement. Iâ€™ve never seen people have this much of a good time completely sober.