India & Nepal

November 2005

Part 6:

Madhya Pradesh

<< Part 5: A Passage to India    -   Back to Index   -    Part 7: Gwalior and Agra >>

November 16th (day 19): Khajuraho

Khajuraho was once the religious capital of the Chandela Rajputs, a Hindu dynasty that ruled this part of India from the 10th to 12th century. Between 950 and 1050 they built a series of temples of which 22 remain, most of them beautifully restored. Khajuraho lies a bit in the middle of nowhere, far from any major city, which is probably why its temples were never destroyed by muslim invaders. It is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Our night train from Varanasi arrived in the town of Satna at 9am, 2.5 hours late. Fortunately we could immediately jump on a bus to Khajuraho and we arrived there at 1:30pm with just enough time left to see everything.

The temples are magnificent but all look very similar, so I only show pictures of the two nicest ones: the Chitragupta temple and the Vishwanath temple. The biggest and most impressive one, the Kandariya temple, had scaffolding for restoration so I didn't get good pictures of it.
While the architecture of the temples is impressive, the real spectacle is offered by the incredibly rich ornamentation: the temples and their bases are covered with finely sculptured figures of people and animals, depicting scenes of daily life, warfare or religious ceremonies.

The sculpted figures generally look very cheerful and seductive, and many of the scenes are erotic or outright sexual. Judging by their temples, the Chandela Rajputs were a happy bunch. The contrast with gloomy christian churches couldn't be bigger.

Some pictures of the temple walls:
Some close-ups of the sculptures on the temple platforms:
In the evening we ordered a car and driver to get us to Orchha that same day. While waiting for the car we had dinner. A local shop owner who spoke English well helped us order our food, so for once I could try some specials. Like most of the time in India, the food was good and cheap.

We arrived in Orchha at 10:30pm after nearly 4 hours of driving.

November 17th (day 20): Orchha

Orchha was founded in the 16th century to be the capital of the princely state of the Bundela dynasty, who were on good terms with the Mughal rulers. Nowadays it is just a village, but the old palaces and temples are still there, decaying and stripped of their interiors but structurally intact.

Few tourists make a stop in Orchha, but I wanted to see that strange combination of a rural village with big monuments, and it totally lived up to expectations.

We'd arrived in the dark so the next morning we were surprised to see an impressive temple (the Chaturbhuj Temple) towering right above our hotel. We'd only visit the monuments in the village itself, but the landscape around the village has many more monuments, like the mausoleums of the former rulers.

The monuments of Orchha are among the finest examples of Hindu architecture, and we could wander around them entirely freely, which was a lot of fun because there were always stairways leading to higher floors to discover. Orchha was one of the highlights of this trip.

Chaturbhuj Temple was built in the beginning of the 17th century and dedicated to Krishna. There is still a little shrine tended by a priestess, but it is mostly empty and we could walk around and climb to higher floors freely.
The son of the priestess showed us the stairways to the roof (for which he later asked baksish of course) where we had a great sight over Orchha.
The Raj Mahal or King's Palace was built between 1531 and 1539, making it the oldest of Orchha's palaces.
The Jehangir Mahal is an even bigger palace that was built right next to the Raj Mahal early in the 17th century and has more elements of islamic architecture, a token of the friendship with the Mughal rulers.

Where to?

After visiting the palaces we reviewed our plans and discussed where to go next. Our main plan was to go north from here to Gwalior and Agra, then turn west to Jaipur and Jodhpur, and then finish our journey up north in Amritsar. Thanks to our quick Everest trek we had two more days than we needed for that.

Before the trip I'd wanted to go to Jaisalmer, a fortified desert city west of Jodhpur, and we could just about have made it with our two extra days, but it would have required two very long train journeys. Since we were already spending 8-10 hours a day in trains, busses and cars, we didn't feel like that and decided to make a shorter detour south to Sanchi instead.

So we took a ride to Jhansi, from there a train to Vidisha and then another ride to Sanchi where we arrived very late in the evening. We drove around the few hotels and they were all full with Buddhist pilgrims, so in the end we had to take the last available room in an expensive hotel, where we didn't even get to enjoy the luxuary since we just had enough time to sleep there.

November 18th (day 21): Sanchi

Sanchi is a village where in the 3rd century BC the Buddhist emperor Ashoka, the first ruler who unified India, ordered a great stupa to be built to house relics of the Buddha. In the 1st century BC the stupa was expanded and four monumental gateways were built around it. The gateways were covered with narrative sculptures which show scenes from the life of the Buddha.

Sanchi became a center of Buddhism and many other structures were built around the main stupa until the 12th century. Then the place fell into decline until the British rediscovered it in the 19th century. It is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The gateways and their sculpted figures and scenes are the main thing to see here. Each scene tells a story, but we only had very limited documentation so we could only figure out a few of them.

Here are shots of each of the four gateways, arranged like a compass:
Here are some more details and other views of each of the gateways, clockwise and starting on the east.

Eastern gateway

Southern gateway

Western gateway

Northern gateway

In the evening we started a long train ride to Gwalior, where we arrived near midnight.

<< Part 5: A Passage to India    -   Back to Index   -    Part 7: Gwalior and Agra >>

Godsmurf Sun 04 Nov 2007 @ 14:52
Assuming you're talking about Everest BC trek: I didn't see any snakes and can't imagine there being any that high.

Carole Davt Fri 02 Nov 2007 @ 13:59
Wonderful pictures and story-----a real girly question--are there any snakes up there??? and how tough is it to complete??

Della Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 23:55
Nice pictures and writing! Your photos really bring back to my mind the days i spent in Nepal!
Go ahead and share with us more your travel notes and experience in the future!

Godsmurf Tue 21 Mar 2006 @ 13:41
Hehe. Should be up within a few days!

eleni Tue 21 Mar 2006 @ 01:56
Great! i was anxious and still am for no. 7 :)
It's like you are reading a book and when it starts to get really interesting you realise that some pages are missing...


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