The flight from Varanasi was fairly empty, as where the streets of the small town to which we flew. Khajuraho, by Indian standards, is a barren outpost. It’s off-season, yes, but it’s still only a town of about 20,000 thousand people. The hotel is deserted of guests but lively with staff all of whom are polite and helpful, lingering always for the next tip.
I booked this Radisson hotel using various deals and coupons and got it for about $70 which I thought was a good deal. On a lark I asked how much an extra room costs and he said $30, which I eagerly accepted but with a little frustration that I over-payed.
It’s hard to know ahead of time whether or not there will be availability. It turned out to be a smart move to get an extra room for the girls.
We spend the evening playing a few games of Splendor and go into the little town for some ‘Italian’ food at a place top reviewed on Trip Advisor. It was gross. I mean no offense to the proprietor who was clearly proud of his food to the point of offering us something else when saw our uneaten ‘pizzas’. The girls like Indian food a lot but they each only eat one dish – Emma chick peas and lily curry chicken. It gets old eating the same thing so we try alternatives and sometimes they don’t work out. I left him a nice tip.
I feel fantastic after my first nights sleep in days. Lily too kicks the jet lag. I’m finally excited. After the usual ok-but-not-great breakfast we pop in a taxi ready to hit the temples. I tell ‘Fareem’, a quiet man, to start with the farthest temple and he drives us there in about 8 minutes. Mind you, the hotel is about 8 minutes from the oddly huge airport. What a difference from Delhi and Varanasi.
It’s a good day to be excited. The temples at Kajuraho are a mysterious artifact in the ancient world. They comprise a handful of primary and a dozen secondary temples from the 9-11th century built by warrior kings of the Chadwalla dynasty. What makes them mysterious is that there is no record of their construction and carving. Moreso that they contain some of (maybe THE most) explicit erotic sculpture on the planet.
But first we head to the Jain group of temples which lie in the countryside along farms and town wells and small houses. The First is an active temple at which people are worshipping and eating. A group of women at a table eat nuts and some grains. Jain is a very ancient religion of India that after persecution, conquest and state sponsorship of other religions is only 3-4 million people. They are widely known as ascetics and proponents of extreme non-violence. They are the monks that won’t kill a mosquito that lands on them, and they minimize eating plants that are killed in cultivation like tubers. Needless to say they are vegetarian.
Several very thin men, completely nude walk by us in a group. Jain also promotes limited clothing as part of it’s ascetic philosophy. The temple here is a mix of modern and ancient – plaster walls form rooms with ancient carvings, the largest of which is a statue that seems to have both breasts and a penis. Jains do not worship a god, nor have a creation myth. To them the universe always existed and god is the perfection in us all.
A few more temples dot the outskirts of the town, and all are beautifully restored. But the highlight is the Western group, right in the center. By the time we arrive, Emma is experiencing stomach pain. I give her an Imodium, which she chokes down painfully (it’s chalky like a tums). And in her stoic way, she slowly gets out of the car and walks with us to the temples.
Stepping out of the car I’m swarmed by touts – guides, souvenir shops, food stalls all hawked insistently but not aggressively. (I found Egypt worse in this respect, almost intimidating) The guides try to tell me to lie about Emma’s age at the Ticket booth so save myself $7.50. I decide not to, in part because then I’m indebted to the guide and he will push me harder for a sale. With Emma sick and Lily cranky, I just want to get inside and see the art.
This reminds me of Egypt where we had a terrible experience in the searing heat of Luxor Egypt (110 F there, it’s about 90 F in Khajuraho) with a guide who was more interested in hearing him self recite brain-bashingly boring facts about endless successions of Egyptian Pharoes and dynasties than he was being interesting to my 6 and 9 year old kids. To this day, when I ask ‘Should we get a guide?’ They yell ‘NO GUIDES!’ emphatically.
Ancient art has a lot of depictions of sex. Even prehistoric petroglyphs show exaggerated genitalia. Many cultures had fertility representations, albeit not sexual in nature. The Greeks, Romans had many drawings of sex, hetero and homosexual on their pottery and walls, best seen at Pompeii. The Kama Sutra depicted sex acts around the same time. So why are a bunch of 11th century sculpture so fascinating?
One is because of the subject matter. There are depictions of masturbation, homo-eroticism and even bestiality. The other is the quality. Many of the carvings are exquisite – even sexy to a modern audience, which is pretty amazing.
The temples here are nicely restored, showing off both the architecture and the sculpture beautifully. Only about 10% of the sculptures are sexual in nature, but of course that’s what everyone wants to see. I scout around for the most unusual carving – the man fucking a horse with shocked onlookers. But I can’t find it. The guide out front is chuckling at me I’m sure because he knows where it is.
Emma is struggling with bad intestinal pain and trying to keep up with us. Lily lies alongside Emma and moans a little to which I respond with annoyance “Lily cut it out, you’re not sick. Do you always need the attention.” I’m worried about Emma. She will endure a lot of pain before she asks for help. “Emma, do you want to go back to the hotel?” long pause. “Maybe just for a few hours and then we can come back” she offers compromisingly.
We haven’t seen many of the good sculptures but we need to go. After an argument with the front desk of the Temple park, they concede to let me back in on the same ticket within 2 hours. We were only there for 15 minutes and my daughter is visibly sick. It should be a day-pass anyway for $7.50, it’s not like the place is crowded. The driver is hiding somewhere in the parking lot and I have to search for him. He’s under a tree off to the side.
At the hotel, Emma crawls into bed and asks for some buttered pasta, which the restaurant waiters sweetly bring to her room – a half portion ‘complimentary’ which is nice of them. She eats it, and is still hungry, so I order her more. She sleeps most of the day as does Lily who does have monthly cramps. I apologize to her for getting angry. She didn’t deserve that..
The day turns to night, and Emma eats another bowl of butter noodles, which is good. She doesn’t have diarrhea or a fever. She sleeps more. It’s becomes just another slow day in India. Lily and I read a lot because the WiFi goes out, which we are told is a town-wide internet issue and can’t be fixed until morning because it’s a government service. That perplexes lily enough to write her friends on snap-chat.
The monsoon has come. Outside my window I can hear the rain fall, soft and steady. I regret not getting back to the temples myself yesterday afternoon while Emma was sick. I really want to find the better sculptures, especially the weird bestiality one. Fortunately Emma is feeling better and she wants to go with me despite the rains. Lily stays back because the internet came back and ‘she has to catch up on snap chat before the stories disappear.”
Emma and I are walking in the warm rain. The sculpture gets the most attention, but the buildings are amazing on their own, covered top to bottom in relief. Inside are columns and a central ‘room’ with a pedestal for a statue that was long ago stolen.
We search for the oddest ‘erotic’ art of all, the bestiality picture with man and horse. I know which temple it’s on, but can’t find it anywhere. We circle three times and Emma gives up. I’ll feel so stupid if I don’t find it but I have to concede defeat. We walk down the stairs to the next temple, and I’m bummed. And as we walk away, I notice a strip of sculpture around the base of the whole building that I had not noticed before. And the very last bit of that strip had what we were looking for. Voila! That’s some crazy stuff they depicted.
Enough with the erotic art. Let’s go see the Taj Mahal.