Khajuraho is a small town located in the untouristed state of Madhya Pradesh. It is quiet and laid back and surrounded by beautiful rural countryside. Traditional homes and villages dot the tranquil landscape, where life still goes on as it has for generations.
What brings tourists to this part of India are the famous temples that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent two days exploring each group of temples and the old village that lies just outside the main part of Khajuraho.
The Khajuraho Temples
The temples in Khajuraho were built between 950 and 1050AD during the Chandela dynasty of Central India. Originally there were 85 temples on the site; today just 25 remain. Although they are excellent examples of Indo-Aryan architecture, what has made them so famous is their erotic carvings that depict scenes of karma sutra.
The Western Group
The temple art is beautifully preserved, especially in the Western Group, which contains some stunning sculptures. The most striking, best-kept temples are within a fenced enclosure and come with an entrance fee. The rest, however, are free to enjoy.
The artistic stonework shows a storyboard of life from a millennium ago – royalty, armies, wrestling, war, courtship, marriage, lovemaking, music and dancing, gods and goddesses, plants, animals and mythical creatures. Women and sex appear repeatedly, which is probably why the temples of Khajuraho are some of the most famous in India!
They are not merely erotic sculptures though; the temples also feature some of the most revered Gods of Hinduism. The Western Group are certainly the largest and most striking but don’t miss exploring the other areas too.
The Eastern Group
The Eastern Group are located in and around the old village and feature three Hindu temples and four Jain temples, three of which are in a walled enclosure. This area sees far fewer tourists so is much more peaceful; you can also wander around without being hassled by touts.
The old village is traditional with winding lanes and curious children, who are always ready with big smiles and friendly greetings. Ollie and I were, in fact, invited in to see the school of one of these children, where we were introduced to the head teacher and shown around! It is experiences like this that make travelling so rewarding.
The Southern Group
The Southern Group of temples are a bit further away; you’ll need an auto or a bicycle to reach them. The three Hindu temples in this group are the most isolated and off-the-beaten-track but are still very much worth seeing.
No two temples in Khajuraho are the same, which makes this town more than just your average temple stop. I have not mentioned the names of any temples in particular; you can find detailed descriptions for each one in any good guidebook.
Panna Tiger Reserve
As well as the stunning temples, there are many things to do in the area around Khajuraho. Ollie and I joined up with another couple and did a trip to Panna Tiger Reserve, 32km away. We opted for an afternoon safari when the heat of the day had subsided. Although we weren’t fortunate enough to actually spot a tiger, we did see lots of other wildlife, which made the trip worthwhile.
The peaceful setting of the park, with the Ken River flowing through it, is picturesque in itself and makes a great escape from the small scale hustle of Khajuraho.
Other attractions in the area include Raneh Falls, Pandav Falls and the Ken Nature Trail; it was March when we visited so we were advised to skip the falls. Being the end of dry season, there wouldn’t have been much water in them.
Food and Accommodation in Khajuraho
Khajuraho has some decent restaurants and traveller cafes; our favourite and definitely worth mentioning here was Lassi Corner. Despite its name, this humble little place does a range of dishes, including some of the best parathas in the whole of India. We went here for breakfast every morning, enjoying plate-sized chunky parathas and steaming cups of chai. The cheese and egg paratha is, quite simply, the best! The lassi’s are also pretty good too, made in the traditional by-hand way.
Hotel Zen was our choice of accommodation; it’s a chilled out place with spacious clean rooms and a quiet garden. The guys there were great, organising our Panna tour, giving us free lemon teas and even surprising us with dinner on-the-house one night. We would definitely recommend!
Khajuraho has yet to become the kind of place that is overly commercialised and bursting with tourists. But it is certainly on the trail. The good thing is that the tour groups tend to stick to the Western Group of temples so escaping the crowds here is not difficult. A cycle ride into the beautiful arid countryside that surrounds Khajuraho or a stroll through the old village is enough to make you feel like you are in deep rural India, very far indeed from tout or tourist.
From Khajuraho why not head to the underrated gems of Orchha and Gwalior, both of which can be visited on route to Delhi!