Backdated from March 24 − 29
Given that my last post somewhat slagged the backpacker tendency to tour ‘the sites’, I’m forced to acknowledge the irony of admitting this: I really enjoyed the palaces and temples of Orchha and Khajuraho.
The decision to hit Orchha was a last minute one; upon hearing that we needed a via point to stop in on our way from Agra to Khajuraho, a man working at our hotel suggested Orchha. Said it was a nice town with a very impressive palace and, buddy, he was not telling lies.
Lacking any real knowledge of the origins of these places, they tend not to sway me with the weight of their history. I can, however, appreciate stunning architecture, and Orchha’s palace fort had that in spades. As an added bonus, being a little out of the way for most, Pete and I largely had the area to ourselves, particularly when we went wandering the grounds outside the palace walls. Providing background to it all, a single man sang from a small temple below, not bothering to move the microphone away from his mouth whenever he felt a cough coming on.
We also took one of the bikes for a run out to the local ‘nature reserve’ which was decidedly short on inhabitants. A sign at the entrance warned to be wary about swimming in any of the lakes as there were ‘crocodils’ and we may ‘become feed’ to them. We didn’t see any crocodils, but we DID find the scattered contents of someone’s pockets lain out across a stone near the edge of a lake – credit cards, driver’s license, several rupee notes and a busted phone.
With a murder mystery half-formed in our heads we warily entered a worn, cement structure to find a trio of travelers sharing cigarettes inside. Turns out the items belonged to one of the group, who had forgotten to empty his pockets before diving into the still, green waters. Hanging out with them for a short while allowed me to have my first English conversation with an Indian woman, during which all of the questions I’d been eager to ask an Indian woman seemed to escape me. After that, I took to writing them down as they came to me.
I banked some good karma on the way back by fixing one of the men’s busted rental bikes; he’d lost a bolt from the front frame which had led to the bike’s inability to hold onto its front tire. Stealing a bolt from the front brake I was able to repair it enough that he could actually ride the bike back. +2 bike repair skill.
After Orchha it was on to Khajuraho, which had been on my ‘to see’ list from the start of the trip. The town is home to several clusters of temples, their claim to fame being the 10% of the carvings that depict figures engaged in sexual acts, some more racy than others.
Contrary to popular belief, the sculptures do not actually have anything to do with the ancient Indian Kama Sutra text. As to where they did come from. . .history seems to be a little sketchy on that. One of the more likely explanations I came across (heh. See what I did there?) was that these were placed only on the outside of the temples, suggesting that such physical, worldly impulses were to be left outside a place of worship. Another believable theory suggested they were ‘yantras’, designed to appease malevolent spirits.
I like to think of them as educational.
Whatever the history of their origins, it was interesting to see such blatantly erotic figures in an area that had once been under Mughal rule. Muslims aren’t historically known for their tolerance of anthropomorphic depictions in general, let alone ones that are getting their nasty on; sometimes in groups, sometimes with horses.
It was also interesting to see these figures featuring in the local Jain temples. For a religion that strives to conquer passionate urges, the sculptures were rather ambitious when it came to their take on female anatomy. You think modern women’s magazines set unrealistic expectations for the female form? Check out the gravity-defying rack on this little vixen.
One more point of curiosity was what appeared to be some form of leg bondage around a number of the figures, even ones featured inside the temples. I’ve attempted to find any information about them on the interwebs but, alas, my google fu has failed me. Any insight from anyone more educated than I is appreciated.
After a day of touring the temples we continued on towards Varanasi with the hopes of making the city before nightfall, but got side-tracked by a flat on the edge of Satna. To be fair, it had been some time since our last bout of motorcycle trouble, and Hrithik did have the courtesy of getting the flat directly in front of a tire shop.
Which someone later pointed to me is just a wee bit suspect.
Health update: Still waiting on the results from my stool cultures. In the meantime, health is continuing to improve – am now able to go for a jog or finish a session of yoga without fear of passing out. Winning.