Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Jan 27, 2003
Variety - Domestic Travel
Where stones tell stories...
An amazing village grown around the magnificent 10th and 11th-century temples built by the Chandela rulers is the famous destination, Khajuraho. It has not less than 25 perfectly sculpted stone temples, standing majestic against a rural, unpolluted background of hills and forest. I saw what I had been hearing since a long time how every inch of these temples have carved figurines posing, dancing, admiring themselves in mirrors, combing their hair, gossiping and making love. Absolutely unusual poses that have made Khajuraho temples unique in style. The visual effect is so strong that there is no need to run into wild imagination.
There are three main locations to go around in Khajuraho the Western, Eastern and Southern group of temples.
The first thing my guide told me was that the Western group has won some award. My inquisitiveness solved the mystery when the Tourism Department informed me that this group of temples has been nominated by UNESCO as a representative World Heritage Site, and one of the 18 most important contributions of India to world culture. There is also a `Sound and Light' show here highlighting the history of Khajuraho in the voice of film star, Amitabh Bachchan.
The Eastern group lies on the eastern bank of the Khajur or Ninora Sagar near the old village of Khajuraho.
The temples here can be further grouped into two categories: one being an enclosure housing the Jain temples, and the second a cluster of four temples.
I began my tour from the Ghantai temple, which is now mostly in ruins. Only the gracefully carved bell and chain motifs remain which reflect how beautiful the temple must have been. Next, I walked towards the Javari temple, which dates back to 1075-1100 A.D., and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
Just ahead is Brahma temple. And to the north of Brahma temple is the Vamana temple. The Parsvanath temple is the largest amongst the Jain temples in the city.
The Southern group has just two temples the Duladeo temple, which stands on the banks of the Khuddar stream, and the Chaturbhuj temple, which has an extraordinary nine-ft high deity in the shrine, made out of a single piece of stone.
Well, Khajuraho is not just about the romantic saga that the various temples unfold through their fine carvings. There is much more than that. Just 27 km away from Khajuraho, a 30-minute drive will take you to the ideal getaway: Panna National Park, spread over 543 sq km along the eastern bank of the Ken river. It's a welcome change into the wilderness from the erotic environ of the several temples. Legend has it that the Pandavas spent part of their exile in the jungles of Panna.
More recently, the Park used to be the private hunting ground of the royal family of Panna, Chattarpur and Bijawar States. After independence, the park was declared a wildlife sanctuary, and in 1981 was accorded the national park status. Later in 1994, it was declared a tiger reserve. I was told the tiger population is about 25 here and that they have obliged almost all visitors by giving their appearance.
Some sloth bear, chowsingha, chital, chinkara, sambhar and wolf have also been spotted on and off. The River Ken that flows in the Park also has gharials that have been spotted sun bathing on its banks on cold winter days.
Besides trying your luck spotting wildlife, do not miss discovering the beauty of many scenic waterfalls here, especially the Raneh Falls.
The Raneh Falls, 19 km away, located to the north of Khajuraho on the Ken River, are worth visiting. Famous for their seasonal waterfalls and rock formations, the attraction here is a five-km long, 100-ft deep canyon of crystalline granite in shades of pink, red and gray.
Then there is Ken Nature Trail, a jungle track within walking distance from Raneh Falls. Do not miss out Ken Gharial Sanctuary, which is at the confluence of the Ken and Khudar rivers. This is a home to the long-snouted gharial variety of crocodile. Pandav Falls are also very picturesque in a bowl-shaped valley on the river Ken.
Also, explore the forts at Kalinjar and Ajaygarh, about three hours by road. Most interesting, you could see India's only working diamond mine, and the largest in Asia, adjacent to the Park at Majhgawan.
The Archaeological Museum houses sculptures and stone panels of ruined temples in the Jain, Buddhist and other galleries. There is a huge statue of Buddha and an unusual statue of a dancing Ganesha. Those who hold interest in the Indian art and craft, must visit Shilpgram. This 10-acre complex has craftsmen from various parts of India working on ethnic handicrafts.
About three km from Panna National Park and the Madla village and about 30 km from Khajuraho, is what I had been dreaming of The Giles Tree House. It is a cute little quaint tree house on the banks of the Ken River that leaves you wondering about how to possibly reach the treetop without falling.
But the fact is that this is a popular guest-house with five rooms, running water, bird-watching platform and a tree-house restaurant. You do reach there and, believe me, it is great fun to be there.
Khajuraho has, by and large, remained a virgin village, as you do not find much commercialisation here. There is no chola bhatura joint or shops selling export surplus. There is neither any imported goods watches and T-shirts outlet here. So there is natural freshness and all that you find are antique items, which could be picked up as pretty souvenirs.
Raja Café is the most popular restaurant where you will know about the people visiting Khajuraho. Then there is Madras Coffee House serving South Indian food. There is also the Mediterranean, which has a rooftop café serving western food and snacks.
So, if you have done enough of the hill-station drive and want to be away from traffic and shops and people, you could take a short break at Khajuraho a peaceful destination with, perhaps, the finest sculptures in the world.
Picture by Phal S. Girota
How to get there
By air: Regular flights link Khajuraho with Delhi, Agra and Varanasi. Flying from Delhi to Agra takes 35 minutes and from Agra to Khajuraho, it takes 40 minutes. From Varanasi to Khajuraho, it's a 45-minute flight.
By rail: There is no direct train to Khajuraho. The most convenient station is Jhansi, 175 km away, which is linked to Delhi and other major cities. From Jhansi railway station, a number of buses and taxis ply to Khajuraho. Satna, 117 km away, is another convenient railhead. The nearest railheads are Harpalpur (94 km) and Mahoba (61 km).
By road: Khajuraho is connected by regular buses with Satna, Harpalpur, Jhansi and Mahoba.
Where to stay: There are many places to stay in Khajuraho that include five-star and budget options.
When to visit: The best season to visit Khajuraho is from October to March.
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