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Published: January 10th 2020
Leaving last night's restaurant where we breakfasted this morning, we passed a local art shop where an older man was sitting on the floor just inside the doorway working on his latest creation. We had browsed in several art shops over the past month and not bought anything, so decided to have another look.
The man's nephew was there, who spoke excellent English, and we chatted as we browsed through the enormous amount of work for sale. We commented on the fact that there weren't many foreign tourists around, that we hadn't seen many at all in the past month. He couldn't speak for the rest of India but in Khajuraho tourist numbers were down by 70% this year, he told us. This was due to the collapse of a domestic airline, meaning less flights to Khajuraho. With no train station in town, the only other way to get here is by local bus, or to have a car and driver, as we did.
No wonder we have been so hassled by street hawkers, everyone is desperate for a sale, weather it be a bed, a meal, or a fridge magnet. We bought three miniature paintings between us, and
arranged for the nephew to collect us later in the day for an auto rickshaw ride to Raneh Waterfalls, about 18klm outside town.
After leaving the shop we headed to the Eastern Group of temples where the famous Karma Sutra Temples were located. Entry fee was R600 ($12), the complex was beautifully maintained with sweeping lawns and flower gardens and not a scrap of litter anywhere. Wide concrete paths joined the temples, and there wasn't a hawker in sight.
Designated as one of India’s 7 wonders, The Erotic Temples of Khajuraho, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 25 structures still standing once formed part of a larger complex of around 85 buildings, and are scattered over a 9 square klm site.
Constructed from sandstone taken from the banks of the Ken River, almost 30klm away, each temple consists of an entrance, hall, vestibule and sanctum, all constructed without mortar.
Their remote location saved them from destruction by Islamic raiders, but also led to their abandonment in the 13th century. Only the relatively isolated temples managed to survive the various Islamic dynasties that ruled the area between the 13-18th century. They were rediscovered in 1838 by
the British after being hidden in thick forest for 100’s of years.
The temple are in 3 groups - Western, Eastern & Southern. The Western Group has the most important temples, the Eastern Group have a couple of exquisitely carved Jain temples, whilst the Southern Group boasts only two temples.
Kandariya Mahadev Temple is regarded as the most impressive one, and is in the Western Group. More than 800 sculptures embellish the temple, every facet of the temple’s exterior is covered in carvings. Little is known about the intent of the sexual imagery, but it is widely believed that the temples were meant to celebrate all aspects of life, including sex. Only about 10% of the carvings which adorn all these temples are sexual, but these attract the most attention.
After leaving the temple complex we walked to the art shop where we had arranged to be collected for our visit to Raneh Waterfalls, in a region known as the Grand Canyon of India.
The falls are located at the entrance to Panna National Park, on a 5klm stretch of the Ken River, where water flows down the gorges of a 30 metre deep canyon, forming
a series of waterfalls. This is also the only place in Asia where 5 different types of rock are found together - pink granite, green dolomite, black lava rock, red jasper and brown quartz. There is a R500 each entrance fee, which includes the National Park, and R100 for the guide, which is mandatory. After a series of mishaps, no one is allowed in without a Forest Guide, who joined us at the at the ticket office.
The rickshaw was allowed through and we drove through the National Park, playing 'spot the animal', to the parking area of the falls. There were several lookout areas, all joined by a concrete path and steps, and there were only a handful of people around.
This volcanic canyon fills completely with water during the monsoon season, and has at times flooded across the plains. So much water is hard to imagine, particularly as sections of the canyon which now hold water are up to 50 metres deep.
After leaving here we were dropped outside a small Tribal & Folk Art Museum, from where we'll walk back to our hotel. It's situated almost opposite the Western Group of temples, down a
side road on the edge of town. It was worth the stop, the museum was clean with a few interesting displays and art work on the walls. On an undercover outside wall was a long mural made from cow dung, with a raised pattern covered in different coloured foil. Definately something different!
We returned to our favourite restaurant for dinner later, where we ate our way through three shared Indian dishes and naan bread, washed down with two cokes each, for the princely sum of R700 ($14).
Tomorrow we fly to Varanasi, just eight days to go before we fly home.
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