I can’t believe it’s almost been a month since I’ve started traveling – it seems much longer just because every city we go to is like a brand new trip!
After a comfortable overnight train ride from Varanasi, we arrived in a small (well at least for India) city called Khajuraho which is renowned for it’s temples depicting Kama Sutra. For those who are eekish about overnight travel, the 3AC class is probably the best way to go. They give you bedding (2 sheets, a blanket and a pillow) and the berths are slightly bigger. However, the windows don’t open and are tinted so if you’re looking to buy snacks or chai through the window or enjoy the Indian breeze, you’re out of luck.
Khajuraho is a very nice city and you can tell from the get go that they have tourist money. There are English signs everywhere but with that also comes the touts. We even saw a store called “Kashmir Super Mario Bros” – I have nooo idea what they sell. We’re staying at a nice budget hotel called Hotel Surya which a huge cleanly kept garden in the backyard. It’s underused so I usually spend my afternoons parked on a swing chair enjoying the scenery and sounds.
For the last 2 days, we’ve been exploring the temples in and around Khajuraho. These temples are designed an UNESCO World Heritage Site so they have been restored and maintained very well. The temples are split up into 3 groups – the Western, Eastern and Southern group. On the first day, we visited the Western group and found out that there was a festival going on to celebrate the marriage of Shiva. There were people streaming in from other towns and cities into Khajuraho so it was bedlam on the streets. Lining both sidewalks were tents selling Hindu offerings (rice and flowers), silk fabrics, fruit and other knick knacks. There’s also a still-used temple where men and women bring up metal containers of water, pour it on themselves, then smash coconuts on the temple steps before bowing their head to touch the steps. It was such a sight to see! There were at least 100 people cramming into this temple chanting and yelling. The festival is 25 days long and they’ve set up a fair ground behind the hotel with a ferris wheel, jumpy castle and other rides. I thought about it until I saw a kid standing up on the ferris wheel and thought if I won’t even go on rides at the EX in Toronto, should I really go on some fairground ride in the middle of India? Although, I’m so happy we keep on stumbling onto festivals but then again, it’s India and there’s probably a festival everyweek if not everyday.
The Hindu temples themselves are astonishing to see – they are so elaborately carved and designed with such detail in each panel, column and sanctum. They are actually not as “erotic” as its reputation implies – there’s a couple of very suggestive panels which I giggled about (yes, I know I’m still immature) but mostly, they depict the different gods like Vishnu, Surya, Ganesh etc. and dancing women or apsaras. Inside each temple is an inner shrine that usually has a huge statue of a god and all around it are apsaras that have been carved to sway as if they’re dancing. Astonishingly, no mortar was used to construct the temples – they stay upright purely from the weight of the sandstones and balance in its design. We rented bikes to see the Eastern and Southern group and along the way, we passed by the old Khajuraho village. There were children playing in the streets, women pumping water out of the wells and old men tending to their flock. It was like we went back in time compared to the busy streets of the city center. Everywhere children would say hi and ask us where we’re from. Some even showed off their counting skills and their ability to identify the capital of Canada (and no, it’s not Toronto for those Torontonians out there :)). Since the streets in the old village are very narrow and again confusing, an old man helped us out and told me that I should learn Hindi because it’s such an easy and beautiful language to learn. He taught me some phrases but after 5 minutes, my slow vacation brain forgot it all. We also biked to some Jain temples which I thought weren’t as nice but it was a good place to sit down and enjoy the scenery. People started to recognize us in the town and would call us “Canada” every time we rode by and even helped direct us back to the hotel. I even noticed people starting to take pictures of us instead of the temples – I guess a Chinese girl and big Indian looking guy from Canada on rickety bikes are the attraction here. And as a true sign that I’m getting tanned, people are starting to guess that I’m from Malaysia or Nepal and not Japan anymore!
We’re eating a bit better now that we’re three quarters through the trip. I don’t crave Indian food as much as before and have stopped gorging myself at every meal. Surprisingly, there’s 2 very good Italian restaurants in the city and they cook some mean Chinese food too. I laugh when I think about it, a Chinese girl in India eating Chinese food in an Indian restaurant. Although the pizza and fresh home made pasta from the Italian joints are a welcome break from 3 weeks of non-stop Indian food.
This morning Mike went on a safari to the Panna National Park to see crocodiles (I reluctantly stayed back since I want my first safari trip to be in Africa!) and I wandered around the city and the temples some more. It’s really nice to be in a smaller city since everyone knows who we are by now. The man who owns the convenience stand where we buy water from waves every time I go by, one of the autorickshaw drivers calls out my name every time he sees me and the hotel staff call us friends. It’ll be bittersweet to leave since our next stop is Agra to see the great Taj Mahal!