Posted by: jeanne | October 27, 2018

city of earthly delights

city of earthly delights: that’s another pun.  i’m not going to belabor it, but there are similarities between bosch paintings and khajuraho.

wednesday was mostly a travel day.  we were up at dawn with the birds and the call to prayer, had breakfast at 8, and were on the road late, primarily because we were taking photos.

the roads between gwalior and khajuraho are problematic.  they’re putting in a divided highway, but in the meantime it’s pothole street, with dust and honking trucks on their way to and from mumbai (which our driver pronounces ‘bombay’).  at the turnoff to orccha we passed a working quarry, and at that point we could hardly see in front of us for all the dust.  we kept the windows closed, and had the air conditioning on all day, but we could smell the dust, our clothes felt gritty, and jim lost the ability to talk above a croak.  my tonsils are swollen and jim has snot, but at least it’s not delhi belly, so we’re grateful.

the little towns we passed thru remind us of the towns in quintana roo, in mexico, on the way to isla holbox, where we have relatives.  (see old blog posts for more.)  they’re small, look temporary even tho they’ve been there for possibly centuries, and are built with spare items originally designed for use as something else.  so, tree branches for poles, cut up tires for roofing shingles, old signs for walls; whatever they can repurpose, they do.  reduce, reuse, recycle could have been invented by rich people studying the economy of the poor.  except cows don’t wander the streets and get stuck in traffic in mexico.  and there aren’t temples in every wide spot in the road.

we notice houses that look half built.  the ground level garage has working roll down doors, but the middle story has no back or front walls, and the roof deck is just a slab of cement.  but we understand that many of these are completed houses, or are waiting for the money to finish them and are being used until that time.  the ones that are finished finished are painted in gaudy colors, with embellishments, and stick out like sore thumbs right in the middle of old shacks and partial ruins.

when we pass fields with grazing cows or freshly plowed, or being hayed, there’s always a tent put up, or some shade rigged.  not modern popup tents, either, but a framework of poles covered by canvas or tarpaulin or plastic, or rags – whatever blocks the sun.  it could well be that these are homes.  a glance inside shows everything neat and clean, as always here.

the big cities we pass – chattarpur being the one we’re going thru at the moment, they have more middle class housing, everybody’s on motorbikes, and there’s traffic and lots of commerce.  but cows are still in the road, and vendors still have tiny little shacks by the wide of the road, and people still try to cross against traffic and pull out right in front of us without any hesitation.  one fashion trend i’m seeing is the covering of faces and heads.  both sexes do it, and it’s not modesty but protection against the dust and pollution.

in between, there’s countryside.  it’s not as dry down the country as it is in delhi. there are many rivers, and lots of lakes.  but the mountains are mainly scrub, and things are covered in dust.  at the moment, we’re in maunipur, where the road crosses a train line, so we’ve been stopped in anticipation of the train for perhaps 20 minutes.  all the train crossings are operated by hand, of course, so a little guy comes out of a booth and lowers the rail, the cars and trucks and rickshaws all stop, people get out to talk and men go have a pee into the ditch, waiting for the train which hasn’t even gotten to the crossing yet.  a truck driver will get impatient and lay on his horn, which reverberates in the crowd.  and everybody stares at us, especially jim.

brand new tractor – the guy was so proud

as i write this it’s actually thursday, and we’ve been to khajuraho and are on our way back along the same horrible roads as yesterday, waiting to turn left after the train crosses.  they’re building an overpass for this left turn, but it’s still a road to nowhere now.  so the traffic jams must be constant right here.  and now there’ an oncoming truck being blocked by a bunch of bikes and motorbikes, trying to get thru a narrow construction passage, and the bikers are being yelled at by bystanders trying to guide the truck thru its narrow passage, and everybody going our way is trying to squeeze into three main (unmarked) lanes and a bunch of squish space filled by bikers.  not seeing any cows at the moment, however.

in an earlier post i marveled at the lack of traffic accidents, but now i have to report we’ve seen a few.  one was a kiss between the right front edges of the cabs of two large transport trucks, and the drivers were talking together, waiting for either the cops or the tow trucks, unhurt.  but another time we saw a huge truck completely turned over in the ditch, people standing around to see if the driver was hurt.  this morning we passed a car and motorcycle that had collided, and the motorcycle driver had been taken to a nearby hovel and laid him on a bed.  there was a crowd around the accident, as well as the injured driver.  but these accidents weren’t in delhi or any of the large cities, but mostly in areas of road construction, where the roads are very bad and it would be very easy to lose control of your vehicle.  we’ve got seatbelts on, of course.

an outdoor barber shop, where you can get the works, including head massage, for 50 rupees

because of the road, it took us from 9:30am to 5pm to get from gwalior to khajuraho, which is most of 8 hours. we did take one stop, at a maharaja restaurant and gift shop.  we suspect our driver got a kickback for bringing us, and as soon as we got out of the car, a tour bus pulled up, full of white people.  but we were actually there to eat, and they were only there for the bathroom and gift shop, so we didn’t have to panic.  just imagine 40 people arriving at once and wanting something to eat.  it happens in olafsfjordur, and the line goes right out the door.  but we had the restaurant to ourselves, and were grateful.

our rest stop, far enough from the road that things were only a little dusty

standing outside the bathroom was a little guy with paper napkins, offering to sell the women toilet paper.  but i declined, because i’ve learned the secret.  i could tell this was a tour bus stop from two things – the bathroom was spotless, and it had throne-type toilets instead of holes in the ground.  but they all have cup measures and hoses and spigots on the wall.  so you simply put water in the cup measure, and when you’re finished peeing, you just pour water down your front, and it washes you off.  a hand-done bidet.  i’m not sure what the men do, but everybody uses water to wash when you poop.  it’s so much more sanitary, and so much less polluting than putting paper down a pipe.

we ordered butter chicken, a mughal dish i have made at home, and knew jim could eat.  we also had jeera rice, which has cumin seeds in it.  again we had to explain that old people don’t eat much.  the life expectancy here is somewhere in the mid-60s, so jim is revered as an uncle, especially by the children.  back in delhi we saw many older men with henna in their hair.  gabi explained that nobody wants to look old.  of course, sikhs look like jim because they cultivate the gray beard, and gurus in photos all look like him too.  but the cult of youth has hit india as well as taken over back home.

while we waited for the food, i joined the throng of tourists in the gift shop, comparing the quality of the trinkets with what we can find in paharganj, and laughing at the prices.  800 for a tshit.  2000 for an embroidered blouse.  i can shop with confidence in delhi now, having seen how inflated the prices are in shops like the one where we had lunch.

the clean, wide roads of a true tourist disneyland

back on the road, which suddenly improved as we neared khajuraho.  our driver assured us that the village is exceptionally clean, primarily because of all the foreign tourists.  this was borne out when we entered.  wide, tree-lined streets, cows, only a few tire-shingled open-sided huts, and big hotels.  radisson being one.  conference centers, an impressive airport, roundabouts with statues in the centers, and no trash.  amazing what tourist pressure will do.

they weren’t supposed to set up there, but on the steps where we sat, so we put our shoes on elsewhere

we went straight to the western group of temples, and our driver told us to call him when we were finished.  we thought we could get a few minutes to orient ourselves, and then come back in the morning.  so we found the ticket window and went up to it.  but the guy said we would be wasting our money if we went in, because it closed in 35 minutes from then, and told us we could go to a free temple if we wanted, pointing us to a side lane.  so we went down that and took our shoes off beneath the steps.  people just leave them lying there, but i don’t want to risk my birkenstocks (thanks, emma), so we tucked them into my bag and climbed the steps.

for some reason, temple steps are very tall and steep.  it’s not like people were taller back then, either, so it must be to impress. lots of indians were going up the steps and into the temple. which was small.  we were the only westerners.  they all went around a lower path along the walls, and then up some steps to a platform in the middle.  people on the platform were preparing for something, because they were hauling up a huge headdress to tie onto the head of a painted figure.  there was incense, and offerings, and people doing all sorts of activities that of course we don’t understand.

then we went out the exit and were against a fence facing one of the temples inside the compound they wouldn’t let us enter, and spend the next 20 minutes taking photos thru the bars.  and then we headed toward the street and called ashok to come and get us.  we had to run a vendor gauntlet, and quickly found that they are much more aggressive even that at agra.  we did buy a book on the sculptures for 220 (way too much, but down from 250), because we’d seen one in the gift shop (in japanese) for 450.  but we turned down offer after offer for maps, decorated purses, and giacometti style statues of gandi.


our driver picked us up; we went to the hotel, and got lost following the gps, which indicated a side road that connected, but that really didn’t. we had reached the outer edge of the village, and apparently there was going to be a connection someday, but at the moment it was dusty track and newly built shells of houses.

trying a different route, we found the sign for our hotel, and got out. i’d reserved a room online as we approached the village, but it was for thursday, rather than wednesday. no problem, said the guy at the front desk. we’d picked the largest room type, because the difference was $10, and the interior of the hotel was fancy marble corridors and heavy doors. but when we got into the room we were very disappointed. okay, it had marble floors, and a very large bed. but there was only standard furniture, and it was banged up, and some kid had scribbled on the wall with a green crayon and nobody’d washed it off, and the balcony lights didn’t work. a real comedown from the place we’d stayed the night before. i could have complained, but didn’t.

we rested for a few minutes; i had a shower to wash the dust off. a guy came by with our passports and another guy came by with some chai they’d offered us at reception, and we took it onto the balcony. when we were finished, we went to their restaurant and had a look at the menu. it’s continental and indian, so jim looked at everything from italian food to chinese food, while i got indian. i wanted mutton curry, but our waiter told me they didn’t have mutton. jim wanted fettuchine with mushrooms and a cream sauce, but he said it would take a long time to prepare. so jim got plain old spaghetti with tomato sauce, and i got chicken masala, dal tarka, and as soon as i saw it in the chinese section, hot and sour soup (my favorite). then we waited.

eventually a canadian couple came in for dinner, so i went over and talked to them, asking them how they managed to deal with eating local food and not getting sick. turns out they’d been up in ladakh, where it had snowed enough to close the passes, and they’d been evacuated out. they go trekking every year, they said, for weeks at a time, and just decided to park their cold weather gear in delhi and go sightseeing in 90 degree weather for awhile. they’re staying in paharganj as well, and recommended a restaurant they couldn’t remember the name of (understandable, as the names on the signs are not usually the names on the receipts they give you). so we exchanged similar pleasantries, and then our food came. of course neither jim nor i could finish, and we’ve got to remember to ask for child sized portions from now on, because we wasted a whole lot of his spaghetti, and some of my indian meal.

then back to the room.  i wasn’t ready for bed yet, because altho i’d sized all the photos for the previous blog post while we were driving (something to do, right?) i hadn’t had a strong enough wifi signal to load them, and wanted to get the post finished before sleeping.

we were up at 6, and packed everything up and took it down to the lobby.  but the guy at reception was sleeping on the couch, and didn’t react when i said hello, so we walked past him and out to the car.  we were at the temple complex at 6:30, and were one of the first ones in there, and had the place to ourselves.  the sun wasn’t quite up yet, but the light was adequate, so we started in.

the first temple we came to was i think the largest one, a temple dedicated to shiva, with a very small temple facing it dedicated to nandi, shiva’s pet bull (well, not his pet, but the dude he rode in on).  since we’re both born under the sign of taurus, we were intrigued.  there was a guy already on the platform both temples shared, sweeping.  he followed us around, first jim, then me, acting like a tour guide.  but both jim and i react badly to this hovering behavior.  jim turned his back on whatever the guy pointed out, and took photos of something else, and i told him plainly that i don’t need a tour guide.  finally we left him up on the platform and went to the next one.

the whole complex is walled off from the rest of the world, and the grounds were impeccably maintained, making it seem more like a theme park.  but at least there were no vendors inside, and all the tour guides had already been hired.  there was a sandstone outcrop behind one temple, and large boulders beside another, but otherwise it was very carefully tended, with signs saying not to pick any flowers, and large hoses coming from a well, to keep the grass and plantings well watered.

a shiva lingam with 4 heads

the temples in the western complex were built around 900-1050 a.d., mostly out of sandstone, which weathers slowly.  but the carvings were still full of details after a thousand years and more, and must have been really lifelike when they were new.  according to jim’s research, the temples were built after some war with neighboring kingdoms, when the spoils would go into a huge erection.  this of course would deplete the coffers, and they’d have to have another war.  eventually the temple-building dynasty was beaten, and the jungle took over, hiding it from total annihilation by mughals, who don’t much like graven images.  then they were ‘discovered’ by the english, who love prurience.

right now jim is reading a scholarly study of the statues, and can say more about it, but basically they were the pinnacle of pre-mughal art, the product of a single, short-lived dynasty, and only survived to the present day because of their remoteness.

they think there were originally 85 temples, but only about 25 remain in the western group of temples, which is all we thought we’d have time for.  altho the place is famous for its erotic statues, they make up only 10% of the total. mostly the subjects are war and daily life.  only the statues inside the temples, in niches, are any size at all, maybe 3 feet tall.  the ones on the outside are about 18″, and some are about 5″.  we’d seen photos, and thought they’d be much larger, but all the same, the detail was incredible.  and the impression was overwhelming.  like richly patterned wallpaper.

each temple was set atop a platform, and we noticed a strange thing about the platform faces.  they had carvings placed seemingly at random, as fill, sometimes upside down or sideways.  perhaps they were rejects, or maybe they were left over.  we don’t know.

it was easy to tell what seemed to be original, and what was apparently modern renovation.  the original wasn’t sloppy, just haphazard, in the indian manner.

they seem to have built with bricks, but this looks like modern slap-dash

first we had to climb up to the platform, and we’d go around the temple, looking at all the carvings.  then there was a further stairway up to the temple entrance, and usually a sign saying to put off your shoes.  this was something jim didn’t want to do, because it meant untying his shoes and taking off his socks, but i just put my sandals in my bag and went barefoot, so i took on the job of taking photos of the interiors, and jim got the outsides.

we quickly noticed that most of the imagery was similar from temple to temple.  you could see a progression, too, from temple to temple, reflecting its age as well as the sculptors employed to carve the statues.  take the image of a horse or dragon rising on its back legs in front of a crouching figure.  in most cases the figure was a woman, but in earlier (or later) temples, it’s a soldier with a spear, or a shield.  again, it’s all just supposition, because we didn’t have a guide.

and we quickly realized we didn’t need one.  most of the guides were going on about the erotic sculptures, pointing them out, and advising their customers exactly where to stand, and talking about whichever god the temple was dedicated to.  and none of them would have been able to answer our questions, because as artists we always ask the difficult questions (what was the artist thinking when they did whatever).

mom and kid

the usual

i was impressed that the women all seemed to have an active social calendar, but there were no statues of children.  small adults, just the way they used to do it in medieval europe, but only one mother breastfeeding her kid, tucked away in a niche in the mostly dark.


and bats

i was more fascinated by the fractal nature of the place, and how much the bottoms of the temples resembled the local trees.

as ever here in india, the vast majority of the tourists are indian.  there are only a few westerners, and they get the brunt of the aggressive vendor tactics.

the sun got higher and higher, more and more people arrived, and we got burned out from looking at too much detail, so after 2 1/2 hours, we called our driver to come and get us.

don’t ask

cool inscriptions everywhere, and those feet in the foreground used to have some dude attached

so that’s what happened to all the trash

but we weren’t done yet.  our driver suggested a very old, very famous jain temple, so we let him drive us down there, only about a mile away.  it was crowded, and they were having a service, and we were plainly in the way.  jim forgot to take his shoes off, so they yelled at him and i had to go back and help him with it.

but we were already tired, so we went back to the hotel and paid our bill, and they overcharged us, but my computer was packed up and unavailable.  i should have complained, but i left a bad review instead.

but breakfast was fine, with a nice view into the surrounding countryside, and we were happy enough to get in the car and travel the nasty roads up to orchha, our next call.

more in a bit; i need a nap now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: