There’s something about being around temples that are over 800 years old that make you pause—a sense of timelessness, intrigue about a lost world and humility in the face of true craft and skill. And when those temples famously portray explicit and erotic, sensual sculptures, it’s enough to make you stop entirely. Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh was the carved out, cultural capital of the Chandelas of Bundelkhand, who built these temples between 950 AD and 1150 AD. And when the dynasty began to decline, so did Khajuraho’s importance. The temples were eventually swallowed up by the surrounding jungle, until they were rediscovered in the 1800s by a British soldier. Today, the otherwise nondescript town is a popular destination with tourists from around the world flocking to its magnificent temples, now a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
WHERE TO STAY
We recommend you take in some luxury much like the Chandela kings of old:
With cottages, suites and rooms that combine modern-meets-old-fashioned décor, this Taj property features largely luxury amenities including a swimming pool, a bookshop, three restaurants, a bar and quaint curio boutiques. Romantic’s can ask the concierge to set up a moonlit meal for two on the machaan.
Hotel Chandela, District Chhatarpur, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh (+91 7686 272 355-64; www.tajhotels.com) Double from Rs 4,200
The Lalit Temple View
With extensive verdant gardens, this hotel holds the location trump card by being situated a short walk from the famed western group of temples. Traveller’s tip: while making your reservations ask for a room with a view—of the temples.
The Lalit Temple View, Opposite Circuit House, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh (+91 7686 272333; www.thelalit.com) Double from at Rs 10,000
WHERE TO EAT
Started by two Swiss women who settled in Khajuraho 40 years ago, Raja Café —like most of the restaurants in the town’s single market street—serves European fare, complete with homemade pasta and ‘grandmother’s apple pie’. After a long and tiring day of walking around the temples, a glass of chilled beer will hit the spot.
Raja Café, Main Road, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
WHAT TO SEE
Start by visiting the amazing temples, built to precision with blocks of sandstone, adorned by gorgeous sculptures. Of the 80 or so temples originally built, 25 remain, split into the eastern, southern and western groups of temples. The western group of temples located in the centre of town are the best preserved and attract plenty of tourists. Visitors can rent an audio guide for Rs 50 or hire a guide for Rs 600.
The biggest draw, of course, is the erotic friezes, though they only make up about 10 per cent of the thousands of sculptures. One of the theories is that the carvings were meant to depict everyday life, and sex scenes are just one aspect of it. This could explain why one panel depicts a couple having sex at one end and two women pounding grain at the other. Scenes of war, song and dance and mythology are also scattered all over the walls. Watch the sound-and-light show that takes place every evening in English (6.30pm) or Hindi (7.30pm) at the western group of temples. Tickets are Rs 50 for Indians nationals and Rs 200 for foreign nationals.
Make time to visit the small but quirky Adivart Tribal and Folk Art Museum, which houses a collection of tribal art and craft, such as Bhili paintings, terracotta Jhoomar sculptures, masks, statues and more.
OUTSIDE THE CITY
Make a day trip to Raneh Falls, a granite canyon, and Pandav Falls—where legend has it, the Pandavs spent time during their exile.
DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT
The wickedly hilarious representations of the iconic erotic poses on every possible tourist curio—from posters, playing cards and figurines to key chains with movable parts.
HOW TO GET THERE
Air India and Jet Airways have direct flights to Khajurao from New Delhi daily.
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