image 3 days, 2 flights, 2 trains, 1 cab ride — Orchha & Khajuraho!

It will be my 3rd consecutive trip on Diwali. The first one was to Malaysia and Thailand, the second one was a solo escapade to Sikkim (see the blog here) and now it is this trip to the great Khajuraho. I have been dreaming to go to Khajuraho for the past one year. Many plans were made and cancelled, but this is more like an unplanned trip. A way for me to run away from my daily chores.

1 cab ride, 2 flights, 2 trains, 3 days sums up my trip to Khajuraho from Mumbai. To make it even more eventful, we had to reschedule one train and one flight that brought all our plans to toss. But somehow, we had survived and returned to our homes with minimum damage.

Orchha – Bundela’s jewel

The route we have selected for this trip is fly from Mumbai to Delhi, train from Delhi to Jhansi and cab from Jhansi to Khajuraho. Since Jhansi is one of our stops, we thought of travelling to Orchha as well which is just 20 kms from Jhansi.

Orchha started into being at around 15th century. It is a 9,000 populated village built round two forts. This was once the capital of Bundelakhand (Land of Bundela). The population used to be around 25,000 in its heydays.

These 2 palaces are adjoining to each other. One of them is called Raja Palace. As the name suggests this is the abode for Bundela Rajas. This palace was again divided into 2 parts, one for males and another for females. There is no wall which divides them, but most likely this might have been separated by a cloth (pardah) then. Only the king is allowed to all the restricted places in the palace. There were paintings on King’s and Queen’s chambers. The paintings reminded me of that of Taj Mahal, though they are not as beautiful as the Taj. A stage is built at the center of palace verandah for the royal dancers and a small fountain set-up was also built. This is at such a place that it is visible from both the male and female chambers of the fort.

The other palace is called Jehangir Palace. Again as the name suggests this palace is related to Jehangir, even though it was not built by him. This was gifted to Jehangir by Bundela Kings. But it was said that Jehangir stayed only for a night at this palace as he had to immediately move to Lahore for his next expedition and he died there. Jehangir Palace is made of Indo-Islamic Architecure with domes denoting Islamic architecture and pots (kalash in Sanskrit) over the domes denoting Indian culture.

There is a “lights and sound show” every evening in Orchha which depicts the rich history of Bundelkhand. When we had told our guide, Ajay Ranawade, that we would be leaving to Khajuraho the same evening and will not be available for the show, there was a mix of frowned and worried look in his face. He then exclaimed “Bundela Rajas and Bundelkhand has a great history which no history books tell you”. I just realised that he was right.

One more important landmark in Orchha which you hardly find in other places are Cenotaphs. Cenotaphs are monuments commemorating those who died in war. There are around 14 cenotaphs (Chhatris in Hindi) in Orchha on the banks of Betwa river surrounded by lush gardens with beautiful flowers. They are worth a watch.

Fun Fact: Bundelkhand was the first princely state to get annexed into Independent India.

Now enough of Bundela, we will now move to Chandela :P.

Khajuraho – Chandela’s cultural capital

Around 3 centuries prior to Bundelas, Chandela dynasty existed. It flourished between 9th to 12th century AD. The name Chandela came from “Chand” means Moon and “ela” means sons in Sanskrit. The Chandela kings are considered as the direct descendents of moon and hence the name.

They had 3 capitals:

  1. Kalinjar: Political Capital (in present UP)
  2. Mahoba: Military Capital (in present UP)
  3. Khajuraho: Cultural Capital (in Chattarpur district, MP)

Khajuraho got its name from Khajoor (date palms in Sanskrit). It used to be a place of date palms. Now one hardly finds any. We did find 2 date palms while roaming the whole town.

As the legend goes, during these 300 years, Chandela kings built around 85 temples. Out of these, only 22 are left for us to explore. Rest all have been completely vanished. Most of these 22 temples were repaired and preserved by ASI (Archeological Survey of India). This was a commendable job done by ASI.

Moreover Khajuraho has been protected from Muslim rulers even after 1100 years is because of thick jungles surrounding this area. Panna Tiger Reserve, Bandavgarh National Park etc. to name a few. No king ever dared to venture into this unknown land. For many centuries these temples were folklore only to the villagers nearby. Until early 1800s when a British took notice of these and started publicising and protecting these marvels. These temple complexes are majority divided into 3 parts: Western, Eastern and Southern.

Western Group of Temples:

The western group is the main attraction of Khajuraho. This was declared as a UNESCO Heritage Site by 1986 and is maintained by ASI. Mind you only Western Group of Temples are declared as UNESCO Heritage Site. Major and larger temples constitute the western group. Lakshman, Kanhari and Viswanath Temples to name a few.

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Of all the temples in India, why did Khajuraho has a special place? Of all these centuries under various empires, what did Khajuraho portray and others did not?

It is the depth of sculptors’ imaginations. They were not just any sculptures. The level of detailing is simply amazing. Even the design of the saree worn was etched on the rock. It is very tough to show the facial expressions on a stone. The smile, anger, grace, love, lust etc. everything was depicted on a hard body. The battles fought were shown, everyday life of an average men and women, the lifestyle of a king, the celebration of love and lust, their style of worshipping gods and goddesses, music, dance and archery classes were clearly shown. It is very hard to imagine that such minute details are shown and it will make you bewildered when I say that this was constructed some 1100 years ago. It is simply the magic of hammer and chisel. Many of the sculptures are intact, few were damaged. As they say “no stone left unturned”, they made no rock unturned in sculpting them into beauties.

The boldness of the sculptures has made Khajuraho even famous. The erotic depictions were taken from Vaatsyaana Kamasutra. The sexual positions with aasanas were clearly depicted. Sex with animals, homosexuality is not alien to them. All these can be seen in their work. But this is just 10-20% of the whole artwork. As you know the world remembers all the wrong interpretations missing its true essence. Khajuraho became famous more for its sexual depictions than for its artistry, imagination and vision.

Eastern and Southern Group:

All these temples are more or less the same. The western group shows the grandeur which is missing in the other temple complexes. One striking feature that you find common in all the temples is the ceiling. Different forms of lotuses was sculpted on all the ceiling in every temples. Over 27 kings in 3 centuries built these temples, but it will be beyond your thought that they still have maintained the uniformity in the temples. It is hard for a common man to identify which temple was built first and which one was the last.

The lights and sound show in the evening is worth a watch. This helps you in visualising the stories behind the temples of Khajuraho. Every temple is a mark of victories won by Chandela kings; victory over Muhammad Ghazni in 1023 AD is one of them.

Note:- If you are travelling to Khajuraho from Jhansi, never ever (A strict NO NO) take a bus. The state or private buses here are horrible. We did the right thing by booking a cab for our trip. MP Tourism has got good buses, but they are from Bhopal and Indore and not from Jhansi.

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