Exploring the Medieval Town of Khajuraho


Transport Back in Time to the Medieval Town of Khajuraho


Sarah Parcak said, ‘In archaeology, context is everything. Objects allow us to reconstruct the past. Taking artefacts from a temple or a private house is like emptying out a time capsule’.

This was how I felt the first time I saw the sandstone temples of Khajuraho. I felt like I had stepped into a different time. I asked myself so many questions, tried to reconstruct the lives of people from the past. I kept going back with more questions and assumptions for things I knew nothing about.  I  heard the same questions echoed by other travellers. I was not alone—we were not alone. What went on in the minds of people back then?


Emptying out the time capsule of Khajuraho

I must once again thank Hindu India and author Henri Stierlin for luring me to Madya Pradesh, a state in central India. Stierlin’s technical description of the temples of Khajuraho (in Madya Pradesh) is fascinating indeed.

Madya Pradesh is the second-largest state in India, with a population over 75 million people. It is landlocked and borders six other states. Bhopal is its capital. Would you believe it if I told you there are 12 operational airports in Madya Pradesh? Yes, that’s right!  And to add on, two of these airports service the international routes.

Where is Khajuraho? 

Khajuraho is a small town in Madhya Pradesh. It is known for its beautiful rock carved  temples of the Chandella dynasty. According to Stierlin, the Khajuraho empire extended from Gwalior in the west to Baneres in the east. All the sculptures are of perfect Nagara style, and 90% of them represent the daily life of the people of Madya Pradesh. The other 10% of sculptures are erotic. In Khajuraho, we can visit tastefully carved Jain temples. Both the Hindu and Jain temples of Khajuraho have been declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Khajuraho today

How do you get to Khajuraho?


To be honest, it took us more time to decide how to get to Khajuraho than to actually get here. Though visitors can get here by road or rail, we chose to fly in.

Tea with friends before the flight
The flight we took stopped at several other cities before reaching Khajuraho. During the airport-hopping process, we missed an early service connection. Allow me to clarify myself at this point—this was not our fault at all, the flight took off earlier than scheduled.  After failed negotiations with the airlines, we spent more money and time for last minute rebooking. Soon we were on our way again, and this time we made it!  What, we thought would be a hassle-free and quick option turned out to be a rather expensive one.

Look, I was on time!

When is the best time to visit Khajuraho?  

Overall, Madya Pradesh has a subtropical climate. Summer (April to June) is extremely hot. The monsoon season (July to September) brings heavy rains to this area. The best time to visit is during the winter months (October to March). Bring warm clothes because it does get cold (but not Siberian winter cold, luckily). Most hotels do not provide external heaters unless requested.



Where do you stay in Khajuraho?  

Well, there are many hotel options available in Khajuraho for travellers with different preferences and budgets. Though Khajuraho is a small town, there are plenty of hotels and, I am pretty sure that even during the peak of the peak, everyone will have a place to camp. 

In Khajuraho, there are the high-end, medium range, and budget hotels. My choice, as you know by now,  is to go for something with a local flare and maximum hospitality. We found a few here! Since there weren’t rooms for consecutive nights at the same hotel,  we made bookings at two different places.  You may think this would have been a hassle, but actually, it turned out to be an incredibly pleasant experience and an opportunity to get to know and to be with the local Khajurahoans.

Our first stay was at Harmony Hotel, a family-run boutique hotel. Harmony is a beautiful tourist-class hotel with top-notch hospitality and all the essentials we needed. It is very centrally located, near the western group of temples, restaurants, and shops. The restaurant here serves good, hearty meals throughout the day. We had breakfast and dinners here.  If you wish to try something else, you could try the food at Guru Kripa (next door) and Madras Coffee House (200 meters away). Both serve excellent vegetarian food.


Around Harmony Hotel

Ramayana, our second hotel for the stay, was a small but new tourist-class hotel a little away from Harmony. It is also family run. Anjul Singh was the amiable and helpful owner who started communicating with me soon after I made the reservation. He recommended some famous places of interest to visit and offered to organise the trips. We took his offer for one.  We didn’t get a chance to meet him or his wife in person, as they were both were on the road with another tour group. We were fortunate, though, to meet the rest of his family, including his father, mother, brothers, and cousins who live nearby. 


Come as a friend, go as a family, Ramayana Hotel


I was told that Anjul runs a school for young children close by to the hotel. His brother showed me around that school. Though I took a few photos around, I am just putting up the one taken outside the school compound during break.

Break time

I liked Ramayana’s slogan. It is very inviting indeed.  'Come as a friend, go as a family’.  The staff at Ramayana (Anjul, Satyam, Hirdesh, and the gang)  go out of the way to make the guests’ stay comfortable. I left knowing that we could always return.


With the Ramayana Team

How do you get around Khajuraho? 

There are plenty of travel options available. Travellers could opt to rent a taxi, hail a motorbike, or take an auto-rickshaw.  

Just outside the Harmony Hotel, we met Mubarak, who instantly became our friend, local guide, and auto-driver for the rest of our trip.

The pictures below are of us with his family. We definitely needed that hot drink and some heat to warm up our numb hands.

Another cold day in Khajuraho

Mubarak is well-learned, speaks both English and Hindi, and is a Madya Pradesh native. Trust me, he knows every turn in Khajuraho. He used to be a driver before, he told us,  but he doesn’t do so anymore because of his recent leg pains.  We were so lucky to have met such a pleasant driver like him.

Do look out for Mubarak when you are there. You would need a bright person like him to take you back safely when you get dazed trying to absorb the overwhelming facts about these Chandella-structures.

Where do you get the best chai in Khajuraho? 

After checking in on the first day at Harmony, I took a short walk to explore the surrounding area. What I found a few steps away made me tremendously happy and kept me beaming for days. A tea and coffee stall! Meet Milan Soni, the owner. He makes the best ginger tea in town. Adrak ki chai. Just see the amount of fresh ginger (adrak) he adds to each pot of tea. Milan is a native Khajurahoan and told us he started making tea at this exact location back in the nineties. Do you see the little shed at his back? That was the original spot then.

Milan making us a pot

Milan also told me that, back then, Khajuraho was just a small temple village in a forestry area. The buildings you see around here today did not exist then. There were mostly trees and plants. Over the past 25 years, this village has grown into the town we see today. And here below, I am enjoying that hot cuppa.

Having Ginger Chai

Notice the wall to Milan’s right? That is the Wall of Welfare sponsored by the Lions Club.  Anyone can place any piece of reusable clothing or small items (like bags) on the hooks provided. Those who need them can pick them up freely. What I admired was that there was no abuse to this generosity. Each time I came for a hot glass of tea, I observed that the items placed at the wall days earlier remained on the hooks for the rightful recipient to claim.
That is the WOW

What can you do and visit in Khajuraho?  


There are at least three MUST-DO’s.

 1.  Visit the Medieval temples.

The Chandella kings built these ancient temples between 950 and 1100.  Since there is plenty of historical information available of these temples, I will highlight just a few points on them.  For more details on the temples, do visit Wikipedia or refer to Henri Stierlin’s work.

After the 1250s, the Chandella’s left this region to fight wars in the north. In the late 11th century, several other empires ruled northern India, and the glory of Khajuraho was overshadowed by conflicts and other new structures. With that, the popularity and population of Khajuraho diminished. Over the decades, wild jungles grew and covered Khajuraho, and the temples become isolated and hidden. In 1838, during a visit to Central India, a British Indian Army captain named T.S. Burt rediscovered these temples. He was amazed by the intricate details of the temples and that these monuments remained intact for so long.  Stierlin refers to these temples as masterpieces of medieval Hindu architecture.

Sun set over the Western Group of Temples

The genius architect who designed these remarkable temples remain anonymous.

The inscriptions found on the temple walls are original and state facts about the rulers and the period when the temples were built. Today, of the 87 temples built by the Chandella kings, 22 of them survive to show us the glory of the remarkable past.

Original inscriptions

The Western Group of Khajuraho Temples


This is the most beautiful group of temples. Almost 80% of the temples are in their original form.

Matangeswara Temple
We were told to visit this temple first before visiting any other. Matangeswar Temple is dedicated to Siva. Once in, I noticed a 2.5-meter tall Linga statue. There is no entrance fee to get inside. Outside the temple, there were a few yogi’s meditating and chanting mantras.

First temple to visit

Lakshmana Temple
This would be the first temple that we would notice after clearing entry validation.  Lakshmana Temple represents the once flourishing Chandella capital. The temple was consecrated in 954 by King Dhanga, and a local guide told me the sculptures in this temple are 90% in their original form.  It is considered one of the most magnificent temples in the state.
Magnificent Lakshmana Temple

Within the Lakshmana Temple compound, there are several smaller temples, halls (a vestibule and dance/meeting hall), and a sanctum. 

All around the temple, I noticed beautiful sculptures depicting everyday work life and carvings of elephants.

How did they carve these so perfectly?


Kandariya Mahadeva Temple
Just like at the Lakshmana Temple, you will find smaller temples around Kandariya Mahadeva.  The building plan for the Lakshmana and Kandariya Mahadeva temples were the same.  Kandariya is the largest and most exquisite of all the temples in Khajuraho. The surging spires and sculptures that form the temple and are 80% in their original form.

A stunner indeed. 

Stierlin stated, ‘Kandariya Mahadeva is the most exquisite of temples here, and in it the development of central Indian architecture reached a peak of perfection’.  I agree — it is stunning!
You take my breath away!

You will also note each temple has towers. Each tower rises towards a disk where the Kalasha urn sits. This is one of the concepts of Nagara architecture.

There are places within the compound where you sit to pause in between or to have a  a hot or cold drink.
Time to rest after all that walk

Chitragupta Temple
This temple is dedicated to Surya. Surya in Sanskrit means ‘sun’.  The temple was constructed around 1000.
Elegance, harmony, grace,  all in one deal

Vishwanath Temple
This beautiful temple here is the Vishwanath Temple. The temple was built in the same style as Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, before 1002. Inscriptions found at the porch of the temple suggests that the temple housed two Lingas – one in emerald and the other in stone.

Just where do I begin?
Vishwanath Temple was built in the same style as Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, before 1002. Inscriptions found at the porch of the temple suggests that the temple housed two 
Linga statues—one in emerald and the other in stone.

sophistication made simple



Nandi Temple
This temple faces Vishwanth Temple. It is dedicated to Nandi, the bull which serves as the mount of Shiva.


A  classical sight - elephant at the entrance


Varaha Temple
Varaha Temple faces the Lakshmana Temple. This temple is noted for its famous boar statue. The 1.7-meter-high Varaha was built on sandstone, and the entire body of the Varaha is delicately carved with figurines.


Tall Boar Statue at Varaha Temple

Parvati Temple
This is a temple dedicated to Parvati and has been heavily restored in recent years.

Parvati Temple, charming

Chaunsat Yogini Temple
This is one of the earliest temples in this region. With its primitive structure, it is the only granite temple complex in the area.

The Eastern Group of Khajuraho Temples

Next, after another glass of strong, hot ginger tea to beat the cold, Mubarak took us to see the eastern group of temples.  The Eastern Group of Temples were also beautiful but were much smaller in size. The carvings were also less intricate than the ones we saw the day before. The eastern temples we saw included:

Vamana Temple
Vamana Temple was built between 1050 and 1075 and is dedicated to Vamana, an incarnation of Vishnu. 
Fine work 

From this temple grounds, we could see the old village of Khajuraho.

Village life

Javari Temple
Javari Temple was built between 1075 and 1100 and is also dedicated to Vishnu.
Simply grand

Chatubhuja Temple
The locals call this temple ‘Jatakari’ because it is located in the Jatakari Village. Though Chatubhuja is grouped as part of the eastern group of temples in the tourist maps, some online publications classify it as a southern temple.  I am not sure why this is so.
Chatubhuja Temple
Duladeo Temple
Duladeo Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. We reached the temples just after sunset, and at that time the visibility inside the temple was rather low. The thoughtful guard on duty pointed me to the Linga of the temple. Duladeo is noted to be one of the last temples built by the Chandella kings. The figurines carved in Duladeo are said to have soft, expressive features, but it was too dark for me to notice.
Duladeo Temple, glows even after sunset

The South Group of Khajuraho Temples

There are a couple of Jain temples in this group. Just like the Hindu temples of Khajuraho, the Jain temples too were built in the Nagara style. During the Chandella dynasty, the Jain community and religion flourished. We visited the Parshvanath, Adinath and Shantinath Temples, and the Jain museum is right next to them.

Jain Temples - Parshvanath, Adinath and Shantinath  

2.  Folk Dance Show.

This is a very colourful and lively one-hour performance by the talented local dancers. The show is organised daily by the Madya Pradesh Tourism Board to promote the state’s culture. Shows are on every night during travel season.


Talented dancers of Madya Pradesh
Here is a video clip of the performance.


See this chap marked below. He is Hirdesh, one of the talented performers from the show. He graduated college, and like many others I came to know in Madya Pradesh, Hirdesh has two jobs to support his family and education. During the day, he works at Ramayana.  What coincidence to have met a local celebrity at my hotel!
A friend at the folk dance performance

3. Sound and Light Show.

This is a beautiful heart-warming display of music and lights at the western group of temples. The show is an hour long under the stars. There are two shows daily, the first in English and the second in Hindi. During this show, I learned more about these temples and the glory of Chandella kings. If you are here during the winter months, remember to dress warmly to beat the cold.
Colddddddd ... 

Here’s my main takeaway from this trip. Building the temples of Khajuraho was funded by the great kings of Chandella. But, it was the people of Madya Pradesh (Khajuraho) who put their heart and soul into sculpting solid rock, day and night, to form magnificent and delicate pieces of art, culture, and pride.  The kings recognised the effort of the people and rewarded the people with gold. As a result, the state of Madya Pradesh and the people prospered there during the Chandella reign. Centuries later, though the reward of gold is no longer there, the gold in the hearts of local people continues to shine on through the generations. The beautiful temples and the town of Khajuraho are reminders that the unity and passion of people enable the realisation of great ideas.

See you again Khajuraho

I also must admit I knew very little about Madya Pradesh before this trip. Today, my quest for knowledge about and fondness for this fascinating state, the charismatic town of Khajuraho, and its ever-inviting people has grown exponentially. The people I met here have led ReachingDelphi and me onto another mystical path that’s yet to be explored.

Enjoy your cuppa. Enjoy your coffee and ginger chai.  Enjoy these moments.  They are timeless. Counting Stars, ReachingDelphi.

References:
1 - Hindu India: From Khajuraho to the Temple City of Madurai (World Architecture S.) - by Henri Stierlin 
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madhya_Pradesh
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airports_in_Madhya_Pradesh
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khajuraho_Group_of_Monuments
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varaha_Temple,_Khajuraho



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