Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First Trip To India: Khajuraho - More than erotic temples

Chapter Five - Khajuraho... More than erotic temples

The temples of Khajuraho really live up to their reputation, creating a photographer's paradise (there are a lot of details to shoot). The exterior of some of the temples in the Western group is under restoration. There's nothing new to say about the Khajuraho temples. I think everything has already been said about them. Something personal maybe... I came down with a simple but frequent diarrhoea in Khajuraho so when I was walking around in the Western group, I needed to go urgently. There is a public toilet there and it's relatively clean. It was pointed out to me by a local. It's between the Lakshmana and Kandariya Mahadev temples.

Entry to the Western group is 50 paise and also gives admission to the archaeological museum in which photography is regrettably not permitted (as in so many other places in India). You have to stow your bag in a locker. Apart from that diarrhoea, I was feeling good that day so I even hired one of the museum attendants to show me around. The person was friendly (he even invited me to stay the night at his house) and not greedy at the end, but the explanations of the sculptures were limited to giving me the names of the depicted deities. The reason was probably that his English wasn't up to much.

Admission to the Jain museum in the Eastern group was still 1 rupee. The collection may be interesting because of the 24 tirthankars, but it made no great impression on me. The sculptures were just not impressive enough.

I wanted to spend the night in the Tourist Bungalow, because to me it seemed as one of the better deals. Unfortunately, it had been closed down. The signs to it are still around, but business has definitely finished. I went to the Hotel Payal, but it was full. On to Hotel Jhankar then. Over there, they had a single room for me. Without air-conditioning the rate was Rs 225 plus 10% luxury tax. The room was good but the staff was not friendly at all and they refused to accept my Citibank Visa card, although the sticker was on the door. You can have a massage by a professional 'masseur' for US$ 3. Judging by the recommendation book he was carrying, he did a good job, but I refused anyway. The restaurant's menu lists a variety of dishes. Unfortunately, not much of that is available. Dinner is served from 7 PM on. I entered the restaurant about 30 minutes before that, but could only get a snack. All right... "Where are the snacks on this menu ?" "Snacks is the same as breakfast, sir." So there you are, ordering scrambled eggs on toast in the evening. The speed of service reminded of these Indian road signs, saying "Dead Slow !". After 40 minutes (dinner could already be served), the waiter came over and told me that there was no toast to put the eggs on. I said to bring it without, then. Twenty minutes later, I got them. Then, I left to see the folk dances. After I returned, I was of course still (or more) hungry. So, I went back to the restaurant. After waiting for about 15 minutes the waiter came up and I ordered something from the Tandoori clay oven. "Sorry, sir, we don't have anything Tandoori", although there were about ten dishes on the menu. I said : "Okay. Then I'll have this chicken biryani." "Sorry, sir, no chicken biryani. Actually, it is best if you order something Chinese. We have Chinese." I ordered chilli chicken and as a dessert, I would have liked caramel custard. "Sorry, sir, we don't have that." Why, how is that possible ? I asked him : "Is there anything on this menu that you do have ?" "Yes sir, we have all of that, but no caramel custard, only fresh fruits." I told him not to bring any dessert. I could as well buy fruits for a lot less along the road.
It took only half an hour to prepare my food this time. The quality was nothing spectacular. Conclusion : don't eat here if you don't have to ! Also in the town, you see a lot of advertising for an Italian restaurant / pizzeria. Don't go there either. The pizzas are barely edible.

I already mentioned that I went to see the folk dance. In and around the Jhankar Hotel, people told me that there are no longer performances in the Chandella Cultural Centre. Instead, there are now performances at a place called Shri Swami Shiva Nand Chandela Traditional Cultural Dance & Music. Entrance is still a hefty Rs 120 per person (they don't call it an entrance fee, but a donation), but at least it's less than it used to be at the Chandela C. Centre. What is a bummer, is that they also have the nerve to ask Rs 100 for photography. But, let's concentrate on the program. Two shows of half an hour each are being staged. The first is a typical folk dance (Rai), the second one is tribal (Diwali). The group is the same, but in different dresses. There are seven male musicians/dancers and two female dancers. The director is a Mr. Surendra Kumar Sharma alias Gautam. He's really fanatic about his business. He introduces the dancers, announces the different dances and operates the lighting equipment, which is the living room's lamps (the dance is staged in a large living room or the like). This guy really wants to make a good impression. The artists also do a good job, I think, they're also very much into it. One particular small guy really seems to get into some kind of trance, especially in the tribal dance where he performs like a real caveman, or make that tribesman. After the show, Mr. Sharma came over and asked us what we thought about it. To everyone who liked it (we all did, as there had been only two of us watching, which wasn't really encouraging for the artists), he asked to write a letter to Lonely Planet. This guy is definitely convinced of LP's power as guidebook publishers. He understands only too well, that if he gets a good review more people will come over. I told him that if he wanted to get a good review he should be dropping his ridiculously high prices. He didn't seem to understand my point somehow. But, on the other hand, I had respect for his efforts, so I decided to write a small letter for him. He was really happy. So were the dancers, whom I had the change to talk to afterwards. They were all very friendly and very pleased that a foreigner took an interest in them. I suppose Lonely Planet now regularly receives letters written with recommendations for him.

The place to go to is Shankar Garh village near Pahil Vatika, Khajuraho. It's show time every day from 6.30 to 7 PM (Rai) & 7.15 to 7.45 PM (Diwali). Second program starts at 8 PM with the same shows.

A nice side trip from Khajuraho is to Raneh Falls, about 15 km out of town. You cannot do this trip during the monsoon, as the falls are made out by the bed of the river Ken. You can take a guide or follow some other people who have done just that. You'll be walking in the river's path actually, over granite rocks. It's a nice walk that lasts maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. In the distance, on the river banks, are the surrounding jungles. At some points you can see perfectly circular pits which have been carved out by small rocks in a whirlpool of turbulent water. In the monsoon, the river's water level is at its max or beyond, so you can't see the falls which otherwise are impressive enough. At the point of departure, there are a couple of refreshment stalls.

No comments: