Khajuraho is a temple complex reasonably close to Varanasi. It is famed for its elaborate carvings of many Karma Sutra depictions. While both Sarah and I started our tour of the temples maturely, visiting each temple and admiring them for their individual style and design, as we visited more and more, they were all very similar - to the point that we couldn‘t tell the difference between them. When this happened, we resorted to searching out the ‘rudies‘ for our own (and now hopefully your) amusement.
No one seems certain what the inspiration for the carvings were. Some think it was intended as a ‘how-to-guide‘ for young Indian men, while others believe they are depicting the marriage of one of the Hindu gods. For the perverts among you, the final set of images shows many of the best examples I could find - so you can head there now. If you are likely to find some of these offensive for some reason, you have been warned…
So, now that the prudes and perverts have either navigated away or scrolled down the page, I‘ll explain Khajuraho in a little more detail.
The temples were rediscovered by the British (we love to claim rediscovery - it sounds so much better than ‘stumbled upon‘) when we were in power here and they were declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986.
There are 3 main temple areas, the south, east and the most complete and cared for west complex. With the exception of the western complex, they are free to visit.
The town itself is a booming little strip along a dead straight road. When we arrived it was still being freshly laid with new, smooth tarmac (rare in such rural parts) between the open sewers on either side. The road runs between the heritage village and the western temple complex. It is lined with hotels, restaurants and convenience stores. One Italian restaurant was very proud of their “Italian chef & Dutch supervision”!
We were extremely lucky and the first restaurant we picked was run by a very nice man who had a friend (as all seem to) who drove a tuk-tuk and he was happy to quote for various trips. This turned out to be the restaurant owner’s father, who was also an extremely friendly chap and became our very own mode of transport for the few days we had in town. We just had to pop over to the restaurant and he‘d be round within a few minutes.
One morning, I had arranged to head out at 5:15 - 30 minutes before sunrise to photograph another of the nearby heritage villages but after 20 minutes waiting, decided to go back to bed, only to be woken 5 minutes later with a call from reception as he had literally been the other side of the road all along - our view of each other obstructed by a taxi. It took almost 3 hours of him apologising and trying to assure me he was ready ‘since 5 sir’ to convince him that it was OK and the morning was a success. His tip was the clincher. We returned home for breakfast and parted company until we needed to head off to the airport.
Unlike Sarahan, being so close to a massive tourist attraction gave the villages a totally different feel. They were a savvy bunch and since I am less keen on ‘sneaking‘ portraits and prefer to ask, I would, in Khajuraho‘s surrounding villages be constantly hounded for money.
I never carry any cash on holiday for two reasons. Firstly, if I have money, I spend it - normally on frivolous tat. My wife, ‘The Treasurer‘ is far more responsible and capable of budgeting. Also, fishing in and out of pockets all day long for batteries etc means it regularly gets dropped and sometimes lost in the process. I am a very lucky man to have such a responsible wife with Herculean levels of tolerance for my administrative shortcomings.
Being empty handed is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I don‘t have to lie about my lack of money and then go jingling off down the road and on the other It means I miss some nice portraits but it also means that those who will allow me to take a photo tend to be friendlier and always happy to ‘approve‘ their shot in the back screen.
One lady, a few minutes after sunrise, simply walked up to me and shouted ‘MONEY‘ about 18 inches from my face. I wasn‘t even going to ask her for a photo. This was a little uncomfortable at the time but a big smile, ‘sorry, no money‘ and a well rehearsed Indian head-wobble and off she went muttering down the street.
Opinion differs on whether to pay people for photos. Some argue it is exploitation, and I agree in the case of many homeless people as this is becoming a trend in more developed countries among photographers trying to be ‘edgy’. But I feel that it‘s all down to the attitude of the image maker as to whether it is either disrespectful or exploitative and their personal reasons for seeing and deciding to make a photography of that particular moment.
Some people ask upfront for money and others are only too willing to let you have a photo. One delightful family invited me into their home and gathered the children together for a quick photo beaming as I showed them one another‘s faces, zooming in to the image on the camera. I have their address and will be sending some prints in due course with a thank you note.
We really enjoyed Khajuraho and managed to get some sleep here too with a few early nights. It is a small town with very little outside the villages or temples but if there is time and you are planning a trip to Varanassi, this is an easy ‘hop‘ on a plane through the smallest airport we have been through so far.
The three sets below show the best we could find. Some are harder to spot than others…