January 30… I felt much better this morning after getting such a good rest. A morning transfer to the temple town of Khajuraho was arranged – the 5 hour car ride through mostly farming towns was quite enjoyable. Khajuraho is a bustling place, and Caroline, our Irish travel mate, was thrilled to see the first real coffee shop in days right across from the hotel. Masala chai, not coffee, reigns supreme in India.
We met a local guide at the Western Temple Complex in the mid-afternoon, who showed us the highlights of the Western Temple Complex. Legend has it that the town was founded by Chardravarman, the son of the moon god Chandra, who seduced a beautiful maiden who bore a son. The son (founder of the Chandela dynasty) built the most of the 85 temples (22 remain) from AD 950 to 1050. Much like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the temples fell into disuse and ruin and were overrun by the jungle. The temples were “discovered” in the mid-1800s by the British and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
The site’s claim to fame is the stunning sculptures, carved into multi-hued sandstone. There are panels of
erotic sculptures set amid others portraying daily life at the time – gods, war, dance, the royal court, as well as floral and geometric pieces. They range in size from tiny (smaller than my hand) to almost life-size. The attention to detail and fluidity of the carvings makes the Khajuraho site one of the best examples of temple art in the world – they are truly masterpieces.
We had dinner at the home of a local artist – he and his family rent two small rooms near the hotel and his shop. Dinner was a traditional vegetarian meal – papadams and pakora for starters, followed by rice, dahl, vegetables and roti, all prepared by the man’s wife. Later, he took us to his shop, where the art ranged from delicate pieces done on rice paper with a squirrel hair brush to larger, more commercial pieces done on velvet! The smaller pieces were much more attractive.
January 31… I revisited the temples on my own, arriving just after sunrise, or around 7 am. It was cool and peaceful for the first hour or so, and the morning light was lovely. It was a lazy day after that, which was
a welcome break from the frenetic pace we’ve been moving at. In the evening, Helen and I took in a local cultural show – 5 dances performed by local entertainers, which was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an hour. On our way back to meet the others for dinner, the main street was being disrupted a wedding procession – the groom on horseback being led by a raucous van with loudspeakers blasting Bollywood music and friends and family of the groom dancing away. Fireworks added to the noise and confusion. The bride was not present, as the couple wasn’t yet married – the groom was on his way to her house for the marriage.
February 1… We left Khajuraho by car and arrived in Orchha about 4 hours later. Just outside Orchha, we stopped at a local non-governmental organization (NGO) that had set up a handcrafted paper-making operation. The NGO was established to provide new skills to low income local villagers. It was interesting to see the evolution of scrap fabric material (from nearby factories) to heavy, watermarked paper used for a variety of purposes, with all done by tasks done primarily by hand.
Our hotel was
an upgrade from that originally booked for us, due to wedding obligations at the first place. It was right beside the Betwa River and beside the cenotaphs (stone memorials) built for various Bundela rajas, who ruled in the area from the 16th
century until late into the 18th
century, so it had a great location. You knew it was an upmarket place when large groups of Americans, Italians, French and Japanese were also in residence. A quick tour of the town site was followed by sunset viewing from the small bridge crossing the river, looking back toward the cenotaphs.
February 2… A memorable day, but not for the reasons that you might suspect. It started off well enough, with a guided tour of two 17th
century palaces built overlooking the town. The highlight of Raj Mahal was the frescoes and murals decorating a few of the rooms of the palace – still in quite remarkable shape considering they are over 400 years old. Right beside Raj Mahal is Jehangir Mahal, with multi-level tiers built in Hindu-Islamic style – it must have been something when originally built, especially covered in the turquoise and green tiles, a few of which remain
today. There were great views from its upper levels of the surrounding countryside.
After visiting these two palaces, about half the group chose to attend a cooking demonstration / lunch at a local woman’s home. It was an informative visit and lunch (which she made using the various recipes) was delicious. There are basic spices used (turmeric, chili, cumin) as a base to pretty much every dish. We had a great Masala tea (boiled black tea, spices, water and milk) to start – the “western” version calls for 1 teaspoon of sugar per person, while the Indian version has twice that amount – they have such a sweet tooth! And the cups are much smaller than our mugs, so imagine how sweet that would be. The other dishes for lunch were a potato/spinach curry, an eggplant curry, dahl, vegetable biryani and fresh roti. All of this done over a two burner portable stove with some pots, pressure cookers (to cook the dahl and rice quicker) and a flat grill. A feast for 500 rupees (less than CA$ 10)! I was so happy to support the initiative of a local woman – we’ve rarely see women here in an income-earning
It was another lazy afternoon, until leaving for the main town to attend an evening service at the main temple in town. Right outside the temple, I was bitten twice by a female dog protecting her puppies, in the right calf and on my right arm. It happened so quickly, I can’t even really tell you why – I looked at her the wrong way, stepped on her tail, got too close to the pups – I’m not sure what caused her to attack. All I can tell you is that it could have been much worse, since she was going for my neck or face (which is why I was bitten in the arm, protecting my face) until someone threw stones and made her release me. Terrifying, and not something I recommend. Since there was no way of knowing if she carried rabies or not, I was at a clinic shortly after the attack, the wounds got treated, I got an antibiotic shot and a rabies shot, as well as painkillers and more antibiotics to take for a few days. Unfortunately dog bites are not an uncommon occurrence in India, so all of the necessary supplies were
on hand. Also, I had previously had the rabies vaccination series before going to Africa the last time, so that may be the best $200 I’ve ever spent on preventative care! I’m fine (really) and on the mend (the bruising is very attractive, as you might imagine), though I have 4 more follow-up rabies shots to get over the next month as a precaution. Not the way I expected the evening to unfold. Oh, and the total cost of the doctor’s visit – 900 rupees, or just under CA$ 20. Poor Bhagi, now he has paperwork to do, reporting the situation to his office.
February 3… It must have been the drugs, but after the adrenaline wore off, I slept reasonably well, all things considered. It’s a good thing I don’t remember my dreams, as I’m quite sure an angry dog figured prominently in them last night! Also, I generally sleep on my right side, so that caused some discomfort as I knocked my leg a few times.
We travelled to the small town of Chanderi today. It was meant to be done by tuk-tuk and then 2 local buses but the group opted to pay 500 rupees
each to arrange a transfer by car. Having seen the condition of the buses and how crowded they are, we just weren’t up for the challenge! Chanderi is so not on the tourist trail and was a pleasant surprise, and such a change from the touts and annoyances in Khajuraho and Orchha. The locals were genuinely happy to see us and didn’t hassle us at all. They love getting their photo taken and are not shy about asking you to take it! Such a refreshing change, and some great photo ops.
A local guide (Kalley Bhai, a real character) took us for an orientation walk around town in the afternoon. It’s much cleaner than the other places we’ve visited so far, and the citizens seem very proud of their town. Dinner was hosted by Kalley Bhai, at his home. It was a special occasion, as today was Adam’s 21st
birthday. Not only were we treated to another great local meal, but there was birthday cake and fireworks too. Another special touch was Kalley Bhai’s preparation of individual name cards, in both Hindi and Islamic text – now we can show the locals our name card and they will know
who we are – very cool idea.
February 4… We started the day by meeting the mayor of the town at his home. He was quite interested to hear our thoughts about the town and any improvements or suggestions we might have to make things better – their approach to governing is quite unique, but seems to be successful. Two local reporters showed up at the end of the meeting to take a picture of us with the mayor – such a weird feeling to be treated like local celebrities.
The celebrity treatment continued later in the afternoon as Caroline, Anne Marie and I headed out to explore the side streets of town. This is the kind of stuff I like to do - roaming alleys and markets with camera in hand. It was so fun to get out and wander aimlessly! Anyway, we picked up a following of children in our journey – it kind of felt like we were Pied Pipers with our followers. It was all with the best intentions however, as they were so curious about us and where we were from.
February 5… The day started with a visit to the local
clinic for my next rabies shot (2 down, 3 to go!). Bhagi had to go buy the medication at the pharmacy nearby, then a nurse at the clinic gave me the shot. The vaccine kit is very good – it’s prepared for single use, with sterilized needle and vaccine in all in one box. 350 rupees later (CA$ 7), I was good to go. The bruising on my leg is at its most spectacular today, but the wound doesn’t hurt as much as it did and looks to be healing well, so that’s good.
We made the local paper this morning, from our visit to the mayor yesterday.
We drove from Chanderi to the train station in Latitpur, about 90 minutes away. I write this as we’re travelling from Lalitpur to Agra by train – yes, it was late leaving (by an hour) but we are meant to arrive in the next half hour or so. Tomorrow is a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal and then Helen and I meet our new travelling companions for the second half of our journey. Stay tuned!
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