Khajuraho

Photo by Michele Reid

One of the many decorated trucks in India

Photo by Michele

Fruit stall in one of the towns en route to Khajuraho

Photo by Stephen Reid

Transporting a truck tyre on a motorbike              

Situated in the state of Madhya Pradesh, is home to yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the famous temple complex. Build between 500 and 1300 CE out of Sandstone, there were originally 85 Hindu temples. Sadly only 22 remain. The area has temple ruins scattered everywhere but the ones inside the temple complex have been beautifully preserved.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Khajuraho Temples

Photo by Stephen Reid

Photo by Stephen Reid

One of the temples peeking out between the trees

Photo by Stephen Reid

Photo by Stephen Reid

The temples reach out into the sky

The temple walls are covered in beautiful, intricate carvings representing everyday life (including sex), gods and goddesses and animals. Each temple roof rises steeply into the sky and is said to symbolise the cosmic mountain, Mount Kailasha.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Small section of the outer wall of one of the temples

Photo by Stephen Reid

Close up of the carvings – some flute players

Photo by Stephen Reid

Each temple is covered with these amazingly detailed carvings

Photo by Stephen Reid

Beautifully carved Varaha

Photo by Stephen Reid

Lord Ganesha

After we visited the temple complex we made our way to the Jain temples. They look exactly the same from the outside except they have no Tantric carvings. We were allowed to go inside one of the temples still being used today and took some photos of the Tirthankaras (saints). The Tirthankaras look a lot like Buddha, except that they are completely naked.

We also stopped by a workshop where local men are creating replicas of the images found on the temples. They use traditional methods to make them. Sadly we couldn’t bring any of them with us as they were quite expensive (they’re entirely carved by hand) and quite heavy. Mostly it was a weight issue but I think hubby was relieved he wouldn’t have to hand over the credit card.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Keeping the stone carving tradition alive

By the time we finished our visit it was early evening. At the hotel we made a beeline for the swimming pool. We were staying at one of the Taj hotels so it was quite luxurious. The dip in the pool was really nice and cool and we decided to enjoy the thunder and lightning show with a Kingfisher beer by the poolside.

The next morning we headed for the local village. We were lucky enough to get a guide to take us through the beautiful village. We were invited into one of the homes of a Brahman family.

Photo by Stephen Reid

The kitchen inside one of the homes

Photo by Stephen Reid

These dung amulets hang outside many of the houses

Photo by Stephen Reid

Beautiful horses on the roof – apparently they bring rain

Initially the different coloured houses depicted which caste you belonged to. Our guide, who lives in the village, told us that today the colours can be used by anyone. But the water pumps and some of the shrines and temples are still restricted to certain castes. Outside the doors we noticed some writing. Apparently it was a way to keep track of which kids had been vaccinated and when.

Photo by Stephen Reid

The town Mill

Photo by Stephen Reid

A beautiful door in India

Photo by Stephen Reid

Cute goats having a nap in the shade

After our visit to the village it was time to head back, pack, get an early lunch and head out to the airport. We took a quick dip in the pool and took our sandwiches as takeaway to eat at the airport. They packed them in a cake box complete with condiments and chips!

Sadly we had to say goodbye to Pradeep. We had gotten used to having him with us every day and he really looked after us. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to survive without him. He found Hubby highly entertaining. Every morning while driving, Hubby would try and figure out which direction we were going in. Inevitably he would get it wrong and Pradeep would correct him politely, but with a smile.

Khajuraho airport is tiny, not well air-conditioned and not particularly clean. Our flight was delayed so we tucked into our sarmies from the Taj hotel. They were absolutely delicious and probably the best sandwich I’ve eaten.

After the standard extensive airport security screening, we finally boarded our flight for the shortest plane ride we’ve ever had. Before we knew it, we arrived in Varanasi, one of the most holiest cities in India…

Beautiful Orccha

Indian Countryside - Photo by Stephen Reid

Countryside on our way to Orccha

I fell madly in love with Orchha. It’s a beautiful, small town in Madhya Pradesh. It was established by Maharaja Rudra Pratap Singh in 1501. He later died trying to save a cow from a lion. It’s amazing how much the countryside has changed, from the cities to scraggly bush to wheat fields and sugar cane. Pradeep says they even have rice paddies here and I can see why. It’s the end of the dry season yet there’s still plenty of water still around. Every hilltop either has a fort or a temple on it. The temples have these long stairways leading up the steep hills. Amazing.

Fort ruins - Photo by Stephen Reid

Ruins of a fort we passed along the way

We stayed at the beautiful Amar Mahal where I had the best gulab jamun in India. It’s 2 balls made from dough and spices soaked in a sugary syrup. They served it with ice cream and I kid you not, it tasted very close to malva pudding (a South African dessert). I was in heaven! Besides the yum food, the staff is also incredibly friendly. After a very delicious lunch we headed off with our guide to explore Orchha.

Amar Mahal - Photo by Stephen Reid

Courtyard at Amar Mahal

Amar Mahal Pool - Photo by Stephen Reid

Swimming pool at Amar Mahal with the Chhatris peeking out in the background

IMG_0762-2

Me feeling very regal at Amar Mahal

Our first stop was Jahangir Mahal, built by Vir Singh Deo as a welcome present for the Mughal Emperor Jehangir when he visited the state in the 17th century. It’s three stories high and has many beautiful carved windows. The local monkeys came to say hello as they played around the palace. It reminded me a bit of The Jungle Book. The area is surrounding by dhak (called Flame of the Forest in English) forests and it was very humid. We even had a nice thunderstorm as we were exploring the passageways and rooms.

Jahangir Mahal - Photo by Stephen Reid

Jahangir Mahal

IMG_0794

Ruins in the dhak forest

Monkey business - Photo by Stephen Reid

A monkey playing in the palace ruins

We then walked next door to the Raj Mahal. It was started by Rudra Pratap and completed by Madhukar Shah in the 17th century. The interiors are beautifully decorated with murals depicting the Ramayana and different gods.

Mural - Photo by Stephen Reid

We then made our way to the other side of town to Chaturbhuj Temple. An old man was sitting on the steps playing his flute. Chaturbhuj Temple was originally built in the 9th century. The name Chaturbhuj is derived from the Sanskrit words meaning four arms referring to Lord Vishnu who has four arms. The temple is particularly significant as it’s the first place where the symbol ‘0’ is recorded.

Orccha - Photo by Stephen Reid

View of the town from Chaturbhuj Temple

Photo by Stephen Reid

The sun (or Vishnu perhaps?) giving us a beautiful display of sun rays while visiting the temple

The statue of Vishnu is no longer in the temple but people still come here to pray to him. The walls are decorated with more recent images of the wars between the Britishers and the Indians.

Indian army - Photo by Stephen Reid

Mural depicting the Indian army

British army - Photo by Stephen Reid

Mural depicting the British army

We then headed towards the Chhatris. They are beautiful buildings built in memory of kings. They were often built on the cremation site. It was late afternoon and quite humid so there weren’t that many people around. I found a rare moment in India where I had one of the monuments all to myself. The sun popped out from behind a cloud as I watched a local family come down to the Betwa River to bathe.

Chhatris - Photo by Stephen Reid

View of the Chhatris from Amar Mahal

Chhatris in Orccha - Photo by Stephen Reid

We had most of the complex to ourserves

Photo by Stephen Reid

Beautiful view

Our last stop that afternoon was the Lakshmi Temple in the town itself. It’s built in a similar style of the Chaturbhuj Temple. We walked through the small bazaar where delicious sweets and beautiful dyes were on display. We then returned to our hotel where we had yet another delicious meal and enjoyed some traditional music in the courtyard.

We were very lucky to be invited by our guide to visit the evening prayer at the Ram Raja Temple. What makes this so special is that this is the only temple in the world where Lord Rama is worshipped as a king. We couldn’t take any photos inside the temple. You enter through the doorway where you ring a bell to wake up the god.

Inside everyone gathers in the courtyard. There are several shrines of other gods located around the courtyard. Lord Rama is located behind a closed, beautiful silver door and he has his own security guard. Our guide informed us that only a Brahmin can have that job as his caste allows him to work within the temple. The priests begin to chant and the doors are opened revealing Lord Rama. It really was an amazing experience and we had some local kids coming to talk to us in perfect English. They wanted to know where we came from. The poor people wait outside the temple. Priests come to provide them with a free meal. This happens every night.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Shop selling beautiful dyes and wood block stamps in the market outside the temple

Photo by Stephen Reid

Sweet shop

I really enjoyed our very short stay in Orchha and wish we stayed longer. The people are incredibly friendly. I only hope that in future we can return to Orchha and spend more time visiting the beautiful people and scenic surroundings.

The next morning after a delicious breakfast we left for Khajuraho. The road was terrible and once again our lives flashed in front of our eyes at least a dozen times or so. I made sure I drank lots of water before we set off as it’s been quite hot but regretted it about 10 minutes into the drive. Thankfully we stopped about 2 hours into the drive at a shop and restaurant! Secretly I think Pradeep is psychic. He just magically knows what to do. Our adventure in Khajuraho will have to wait until next time.

Onwards to Gwalior

Photo by Stephen Reid

Early morning traffic in Delhi

We left the beautiful Taj Mahal and the state of Uttar Pradesh behind as we entered Madhya Pradesh. At every state border we had to stop so our driver could hop out and pay the road taxes for that particular state. We realised we were no longer on the tourist trap at the border stop. There was no-one trying to sell us something, just a few curious faces stealing glimpses in our direction.

Photo by Stephen Reid

I think he’s going the wrong way

The road got progressively worse as we got closer to Gwalior. We sat in the dustiest traffic jam with cars going every which way, women shielding themselves from the dust with their saris and the road workers not looking particularly rushed to finish the job.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Construction in progress

After a quick lunch we headed out sightseeing. There’s not that much to see in Gwalior, but it’s home to the tomb of Tansen and a very unique fort. Tansen was a Hindu composer-musician under the patronage of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. His raga compositions are still popular and people still perform it today. He is buried in Gwalior next to the tomb of his Sufi mentor, Muhammad Ghaus.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Tomb of Muhammad Ghaus

Photo by Stephen Reid

Relaxing in the shade

Photo by Michele Reid

Beautifully carved screen

Photo by Stephen Reid

Inside the tomb. People tie notes and wedding invites to the screen surrounding the tomb for good luck.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Tansen’s tomb

After our visit to the Muslim cemetery we made our way up to Gwalior Fort. Situated on a rocky hill overlooking the city, Gwalior Fort was originally built by the Tomara clan in the 8th century. Raja Man Singh Tomar improved the existing structure in the 1400s. Considered one of India’s most impenetrable forts, it was originally conquered by the Mughal emperors. The fort passed through many dynasties and eventually became under the control of the Scindias as a protectorate of the British (or Britishers as our guides called them).

Photo by Stephen Reid

Beautiful mosaics on the outside of the fort

Photo by Michele Reid

Stunning detail inside the fort

It was quite hot but unlike at the forts we’ve visited before, we could actually venture into the rooms below the fort. The military no longer uses this fort as a base so we could explore the narrow, dark but cool passageways to underground rooms where the women of the court used to relax. It’s now home to the local colony of bats.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Passageway leading to the rooms under the fort

The heat of the day was really beating down on us as we made our way to the Hindu temples located on the other side of the plateau. It gave us our first glimpse of what to expect when we arrive at Khajuraho. The two temples are called Mother-in-law and Daughter, but are actually temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temples were built in the 9th century. Naturally we immediately rushed up the stairs to enjoy the cool shade inside. Sadly most of the statues and human carvings have been defaced by the Mughals.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Beautiful temple

Photo by Stephen Reid

Photo by Michele Reid

The carved entrance to one of the temples

Photo by Stephen Reid

View of the fort and Gwalior from the temples

We got to enjoy the nice cool air-conditioning of the car for about a minute as we made our way to the next temple. Teli Ka Mandir is the oldest of the temples. The roof is built in the Dravidian (South Indian) style. The temple is covered in carvings of passionate couples, coiling snakes and river goddesses. Our guide told us that couples used to get married in the temple and often spent their first wedding night there. The carvings were meant to educate couples on married life.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Teli Ka Mandir

During the Britishers (I’m sorry, I just love that name) rule, they used Teli Ka Mandir as a cafe.  The idol that used to be housed inside the temple has disappeared centuries ago but people still remove their shoes before entering the temple.

We hopped back into the car to enjoy the air-conditioning. As we made our way down the hill we stopped to admire amazing carvings into the rock face. They are of Jain Thirtankars (saints). Some of the ones located higher up were lucky enough to be spared when the Mughals defaced the more easy to reach sculptures. They were carved between 1441 and 1474. The tallest one stands 17m high. It was incredibly hot, especially since there were no trees to provide shade, but well worth the climb up the stairs.

Photo by Michele Reid

Jain Thirtankar that escaped the vandalism

Photo by Stephen Reid

This one is easier to reach and sadly has been defaced

Photo by Stephen Reid

Me gazing back wistfully at the air-conditioned car

Later that night we returned to the fort to watch the sound and light show. Unfortunately it didn’t really cool down much. On the distant horizon there was a different kind of sound and light show, some thunder and lightning. The show lights up the fort while the Big B (Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan) tells you the history of the fort.

We had a relatively good night’s sleep despite the constant hooting and big party that was going on at a nearby property (thank you earplugs! Best thing we packed). Steve woke me up at 6 so I could get my daily fix of Bollywood. I also enjoyed some Krishna devotional songs on TV before we headed off to Orchha.

Agra bound!

Photo by Stephen Reid

Back of a truck as we’re leaving Delhi

We left Delhi bright and early the next day. I was quite excited as I wasn’t really bowled over by the city. It has amazing monuments but it’s huge and chaotic and I was looking forward to seeing the country side.

Photo by Michele Reid

I liked the name of this hotel situated on the outskirts of Delhi

It took us forever to leave the built up area. Delhi spreads quite far south and into the next city. Traffic got a bit better once we were out in the countryside but road rules were still non-existent. While serving out for trucks, cycles and carts, Hubby got educated on karma and marriage in India by our driver, Pradeep.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Drying dung to make cooking fuel

Photo by Stephen Reid

Women on their way to temple

We have realised that while driving looks chaotic, there is actually a system. Hooting and flashing your lights all mean things, like I’m about to pass you, or don’t play chicken with me, I’m not going to swerve out of your way. There is also a hierarchy. The biggest truck wins.

We arrived in Agra in the afternoon. It was already quite hot but it didn’t fizzle our spirits. Our first stop was the Agra Fort. It’s pretty big. Originally built out of bricks, it belonged to the Hindu Sikarwar Rajputs. Eventually the Mughals gained control. The current fort was built by Shah Jahan. He would eventually be imprisoned in the fort by his son, Aurangzeb. What amazed me was just the amount of detail in everything, from arches to the fountains.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Entrance to the Red Fort

Photo by Stephen Reid

Beautiful interior – scrolls and books would have been kept here

Photo by Stephen Reid

Where Shah Jahan was imprisoned

Hubby and I got asked by 2 girls if we would pose with them for a photo. Apparently they liked our Indian clothes, as I was wearing a salwar kameezt and Hubby his kurta pajamas. The funny thing was that the two Indian girls were both dressed in jeans and t-shirts.

Photo by Michele Reid

My obsession with beautiful carved screens continue

Photo by Stephen Reid

Diwan-i-Aam, or Hall of Public Audiences

We got to see our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal from the fort. We also saw the crematorium on the banks of the Yamuna River.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Glimpse of the Taj Mahal and Yamuna River

After exploring the amazing fort we made our way to the Taj Mahal. Initially Hubby and I both thought that sure, we’re in India, and we should see the Taj. But we had no idea how magnificent it really is. The sheer size of it is far bigger that we ever imagined and the amount of detail in the carvings and inlays are just amazing. You enter through the Great Gate, which in itself is beautiful.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Great Gate at the Taj Mahal

Photo by Stephen Reid

The beautiful Taj Mahal

Construction of the Taj Mahal started in 1632 and was completed in 1653. On certain stones you can see inscriptions made by the builders. Each workforce had their own unique symbol and worked on a specific section of the complex. The complex is built in Persian and Hindu styles and you enter via a huge gateway. The Taj is symmetrical on all sides and is flanked by a mosque and meeting hall. Verses of the Qur’an decorate the walls of the complex.

Photo by Stephen Reid

No amount of words can describe how amazing the Taj Mahal is

No amount of words can describe how big and amazing it is. You will have to go and see for yourself.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Reflection

Photo by Stephen Reid

The scale of the Taj Mahal is huge

Photo by Michele Reid

Beautiful inlaid semi-precious stones

We spend the night at a guest house outside the city in the suburbs. It was very nice except we visited India during wedding season. A wedding was in full swing next door. Luckily we packed earplugs and were fast asleep in a matter of minutes. I woke up after midnight to realise the power was out (a daily occurrence in India) and that the air-conditioner was no longer keeping us cool. Luckily the power came back quite quickly as it was stifling hot.

The next morning we visited the garden located across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal. We wanted one last view of the Taj. The garden was recently restored and is a rare quiet spot where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Taj for a fraction of the cost. We were stopped by a couple who asked if I would pose for a photo. They were really nice and the girl was beautiful in her pink sari.

Photo by Stephen Reid

Beautiful view of the Taj Mahal at a fraction of the price

Photo by Stephen Reid

Taj Mahal on the banks of the Yamuna River

After bidding farewell to the Taj we were on the road again dodging buffaloes and motorbikes driving up the wrong way. We were heading for Gwalior. But that’s a story for next time.