The erotic carvings of sexual orgies and gravity defying breasts of the coquette like apsaras (celestial nymphs) on the temples at Khajuraho come as a bit of a surprise. This is another UNESCO world heritage site and the craftsmanship of the carvings is highly impressive both individually and en masse. And en masse they are: originally there were 85 temples and today only 24 remain but those that have survived have now been immaculately restored. It’s not known why the temples were built and there are many competing theories about this including that they are a sexual guide (inspired by the Kama Sutra) for Brahmin boys or, alternatively, that they were built to entertain the gods, thus diverting their wrath.
The surrounding town itself is a little strange. It is essentially divided into the Tourist village next to the temples and then there is the original old village too (this was interesting to wander around). The town planners have obviously been to work here as there are impressively wide streets around the Tourist village and also leading to the relatively new railway station (somewhat inconveniently located 9km out of town (we can only guess that perhaps it was built on a nearby freight line using existing infrastructure rather than building a whole new railway)). Closer into town is a spanking brand new airport (the adjacent old slightly sorry looking one obviously not being sufficient for somebody’s grand designs for the town). All in all, Khajuraho has a touch of the Milton Keynes about it minus the roundabouts.
And yet because the place was so sleepy and empty, this all seemed rather incongruous. True we are not exactly hitting this town in peak season (perhaps being a little over dramatic, on our first day there it felt like one of the hottest places on earth!). There were a handful of western tourists around and marginally more Indian tourists but really, we had the place to ourselves. You almost felt sorry for the hawkers but not quite sorry enough to buy a pack of Kama Sutra playing cards or some rickety old statue of Gandhi. During the day, most of the shops didn’t even open and the footfall on the streets was incredibly low (bar the mad dogs and Englishmen like us). In the early evening, things seemed to spring to life a little but then by 21.00, it began to wind down again. Even the noise from the many wedding parties (it’s peak wedding season again at the moment) had gone by 22.00. (This was actually a bit of a relief as our hotel was opposite one of the town’s many wedding venues).
Not just a case of “Where’s Wally?”, but more a case of where is everyone? Which is not a question that has ever popped into my head at any point during any of our travels to date around over-crowded India.