“Where are you”, I asked Anil on the phone. But before he could reply, I informed him about myself. “I’m at Indraprastha Metro Station”. Anil was excited to hear my voice and only said that “Ok, I will be there in 10 minutes”. It was neither my first voyage nor the last but I was very excited about it from day one, i.e. the moment Neeraj advised us to visit Khajuraho as it is quite close from Chitrakoot. I knew itis quite tough to plan a holiday break in this harsh summer but the reasons were so compelling that it was hard to refuse. It was Neeraj’s marriage in Chitrakoot. So, we planned to visit Khajuraho a day before the marriage day (19th May). “Chalo (Get up)”, a known voice brought me back to the present world where Anil was standing in front of me. “Oh! Yes”, I shook my head and got up to leave for Nizamuddin Railway Station with my beloved.
Our train (Uttar Pradesh Sampark Kranti) was scheduled at 7:45 pm and we were at the station at 7:30. It took us five – seven minutes to be at our reserved seat already occupied by our future co-passengers. But before had the time to react, Ashwini’s voice diverted the issue. He along with Younus was standing just behind us and was quite surprised like us. “Kya bhai, kaha (Hi! Where)”, Anil was a little loud in his excitement. “We are also going for Neeraj’s wedding”, Ashwini replied. “Bahut bhadiya, ek se bhale do aur do se bhale char (Great, it is good to have four as companion), we all said together and laughed a lot. But we soon realized that everybody was staring at us, so we busied ourselves in adjusting our luggage in the already occupied place to avoid their glances.
We chose the night train so that we would rest after the hectic schedule in our offices but the scene was quite opposite what we had thought. The smell of alcohol and snoring passengers in the coach made all four of us irritated. Adding to my anger was the cries of a baby whose mother was out of this disturbing world in her sleep. The height of the night was the hot yet funny debate between the TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) and a passenger who was drunk and out of his mind completely. I saluted the patience of the officer and diverted my attention to the dark outside world. But the quarrel got hot and hot with every passing minute. After losing all my patience, I interfered and requested the officer to let him go. In short, our journey got off to a wonderful start.
Morning views: way to Khajuraho
It was 7 past in the morning and we were at Khajuraho railway station. “Right time”, I said. “Almost”, added Anil. The sun was shining brightly and there was a nip of hotness in the air. We took up the luggage and moved fast towards the exit point where the hotel’s (Hotel Narayana Palace) representative was waiting for us. Actually, I always preferred making advance booking of accommodation rather than depending on and giving extra charges or commission to local agents. Ashwini was thinking of a car but we were somehow lucky enough to get an auto-ride up to the hotel. The starting patch of the road gave us a roller coaster ride but after covering about 2 km of distance, everything became smooth. A very clean and nice road flanked by trees on both sides captured the admiration of all four of us. En route, we came across a major development at Khajuraho domestic airport. The airport will very soon get a terminal for international air traffic.
It was only 7:30 am and we were standing in front of Hotel Narayana Palace. It was a small hotel but clean and nicely maintained. White building with a touch of orange and the interior decorated with some antiques like sword, shield and elephant. As, I already mentioned that I made room reservation well in advance so now we just have to do the check-in formalities. Luckily, Ashwini and Younus got a room despite their on-the-spot booking. After doing all the formalities of check-in and morning natural alarms, we decided to take a brisk walk in search of breakfast. Being so early in the morning, most shops were closed, but yet we managed to have our morning meal (Aloo Parantha and Veg Cutlet with tea) at Blue Sky Restaurant.
Our morning meal destination – Blue Sky Restaurant
It was a nice eating outlet but we found it a bit overpriced. After getting some relief from hunger pangs, we returned to the hotel to get ready for our exploring expedition.
“Oh! God, it’s too hot and it is only 11 am”, this remark of Younus urged my curiosity to get information about weather and I quickly tapped on my phone apps ‘Weather’ and it showed 32ᴼ C. Anyways, we moved further and our first stoppage was a lake. Khajuraho city has two lakes, one clean and the second less clean. We stopped at the second one and gave it a quick glimpse and move ahead to reach the main attraction, i.e. THE WESTERN COMPLEX of KHAJURAHO TEMPLES.
The first lake at Khajuraho
It hardly took us 10 minutes to reach the Western Complex of Temples from the lake. The ticket counter was almost deserted and it took us only a few seconds before the tickets were in our hands. For Indians, entry ticket is 10 rupees per person while for the foreigners, it is 100 Rs per person. Holding our entry passes in our hands we entered a large open-air complex dotted with impressive structures, parks, trees and of course large number of tourists, both national and international. In between the dominating reddish and green hues, a spark of blue colour diverted my attention. It was a small yet beautiful bird with blue feather and a long tail. Before I could capture that little chirp in my lens, she flew away, leaving me disappointed. The remaining three fellows were busy in clicking their profile pictures beside the signboard on which Khajuraho’s history was mentioned. I left them behind and moved on with my own thoughts. I was overwhelmed as I always wanted to be at Khajuraho once. “So, now I’m here! Thanks to Neeraj”, I said to myself.
Anil big Nandi figure in background at Vishwanath Temple
I started my exploration from Lakshmi Temple, situated on the left side. But the temple was closed for renovation. So, I headed to the next temple dedicated to Varha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. A huge metallic statue of Varha, inscribed with art cravings, was placed in the centre. After some good clicks, we all head towards another shrine devoted to Vishnu. One to another to next one, our itinerary of Khajuraho temples had now covered almost most of the temples, and the only one that was left was – the most beautiful Kandariya Mahadev Temple.
Kandariya Mahadev Temple
Beautiful architecture at Kandariya Mahadev Temple
It was true! Kandariya Mahadev Temple was most striking, most beautifully adorned and of course larger in comparison to other structures. A few things I found quite unique about the temples in Khajuraho:
No typical worshipping pattern is followed in any of the shrines. In simpler words, no incense sticks, no oil lamps, no water, no milk, no saffron and also no general public! It is only just flowers and the authorized person (the priest who is appointed) between the deity and general devotees.
A stone slab inscribed with mantras devoted to Lord Shiva
Unlike other ancient temples in India, Khajuraho temples are placed on high platforms and do not have any enclosure walls. Every temple is divided into an entrance area followed by a hall and then to the sanctum bearing the main idol of the worshipping deity.
Third, for which I enquired a lot from the locals but failed to collect any reliable information, is an arc-shaped thing with two conchs placed on the ends. And the most important part is that it is placed in front of the entrance of every temple.
The King and the Lion Statue, the most common figurine at Khajuraho
After the entire round-up, we all felt tired and hungry. So, we decided to leave the western complex, but a large structure situated outside the main complex was capturing our attention since we had entered the complex. Despite the merciless sun over our heads, we gathered our remaining strength and visited the one, known as “Matangeshwar Mahadev Temple”. The way to this particular temple is from outside the complex and it is the only shrine (as per we visited) in the city where regular worshipping is allowed for even general public with all puja things. The moment we entered it, a huge Shiva Lingam (which is said to be of 18 feet high) was in front of our eyes. I have never seen such a big Shiv Lingam till now. So, it was a very precious moment for me. But we left the temple very soon after as the hunger started gaining control over our mood.
18 feet high Shiv Lingam at Matangeshwar Mahadev Temple
It was almost deserted everywhere except a few tourists and locals. Despite so many eating outlets, we decided to relish street foods at a movable roadside stall (Rahul Chat Bhandaar). A young boy welcomed us with a smile and my curious mind started its play.Tikiya fried roll of potato), samosa (refined flour cover outside and potatoes filling inside) and papri (fried refined flour roll) served with boiled chana, chutney and dahi, and topped with onions and tomatoes. YUMMY!!! It was a hearty treat full of taste and memories for which I got appreciation on my street food idea.
Street Food at Khajuraho
After having our lunch, we planned to leave for Eastern Group of Temples. But because of the merciless sun over our heads, we decided to take an auto. It hardly took 15 minutes drive to reach Eastern Complex and no ticket for entry. The complex is mainly dominated by Jain temples and differs from Western ones in terms of art engraved on the walls, and minor work details are being used to adorn the temples; otherwise, they all are quite same. Yet renovation work was going on in some of the compounds; we managed to the view main ones, namely, The Parshwanath Temple, Lord Mahavira Temple and Adinath Temple. There were others too dedicated to other Tirthankaras. But after a quick stroll, we left the complex to return to the hotel as tiredness was clearly visible on our faces, leaving the Southern Complex of Khajuraho Group of Temples.
Lord Mahavira Idol
Lord Parshwanath (the black idol) in the background
Sculptures adorning the wall of Jain temples
“Chalo yaar, thoda ghuma jaye (Get ready friends, it’s time for leisure”, Younus said Anil on the phone.
“Abhi dhoop ho gi yaar (It is still hot outside)”, Anil replied.
“No buddy, its 6 pm”, Younus clarified and Anil had no choice than saying “OK”.
Around 6:15 pm we were again out for an evening walk. It was pretty ok in comparison to the morning torture. The deserted look of the roads became a talk of the past and people were seen strolling here and there. This time, our first stoppage was the main lake or better could be called “THE BOATING LAKE”. It was clean compared to the first one that we saw in the morning. But before we decided to take a round, the charges mentioned on the boating board annoyed Ashwini and Anil a little. 160 Rs for a 30 minutes boat ride!!! But if you are an Indian, you are still lucky because the foreigners have to pay double of what you are paying. Anyways, we left without enjoying a boat ride but very soon we realized that the decision was right. There was so many mosquitoes around the lake that we could hardly stand stable for a minute.
“Now what? Let’s go for window shopping”, I said. Khajuraho does not have a big market area like most of the tourist destinations. Everything is situated within a very small place, from eateries to cloth shops to medical stores. So, we decided to take a stroll starting from a small cloth shop from where we bought BAMBOO SILK SAREES for just 500 Rs each. After doing the round ups, it was time for dinner (my favourite thing. Actually, I’m very fond of food and it always becomes an important part of my travel itinerary).
Food stalls ready with their specialties at night
Kya kahaya jaye? (What to eat), Ashwini asked. See there were so many options – Chowmein, Dosa, Uttapam, Aloo-Puri, Paranthas, Thali-food, Bread-Omellete and of course Street Food. I started with Gol-Gappe but instead of traditional sweet- n-sour water it was filled of dahi (curd) with toppings of sev, pomegranate seeds and chutney (red sweet sauce). It was yum……….my!
Gol gappe filled with dahi and sev toppings
Anil chose boiled eggs, aloo-puri and gobhi parantha which I also shared. While Ashwini decided to have as usual chowmein and Younus, (my God!) satisfied his hunger by two big dosas along with dahi gol-gappe and papri. Finally, we all had a good and healthy drink ‘Masala Nimbu Pani’. It was really one of my most memorable hang-outs at night. After having such a worthy dinner, we again took a stroll around the market that started getting slow and slow minute by minute and around 10 pm most of the shops were closed. We returned to the hotel about 10:20 pm and bid good-bye to each other for a sound sleep as we had to arise early next morning to start our journey to Chitrakoot, the venue of Neeraj’s marriage.
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