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When I was preparing our itinerary for our trip in North India, there was a stop that I really didn’t want to miss: the Khajuraho temples. Even though it is far away from Delhi and Rajasthan, I can tell you today that it was totally worth going all the way down to Madhya Pradesh to see that.
If Khajuraho doesn’t ring a bell to you, I’m talking about the erotic temples, those temples whose facades are entirely covered with thousands of statues, unveiling the most epic positions of the Kama Sutra.
People who come to Khajuraho usually visit the Western Group of temples, the ones you pay 250 Rs to visit and that are registered as a UNESCO Heritage Site. These temples are located in the new Khajuraho.
But did you know that Khajuraho has a lot more temples than that ? They are located in the old village, where roads are non asphalt but dust, where there are no hotels and no tourists. Did I mention that these temples are completely free to visit and accessible at any time of day and night.
After our 10-hour train journey in Sleeper Class, we arrive in Khajuraho at 7 am. Luckily, the hotel room is already available, so we can rest a bit and have a well deserved shower.
On our first day in Khajuraho, we decide to explore the old village, where we can see the Eastern and Southern Groups of Temples. Our hotel gave us a hand-drawn map and here we go.
Apart from the people who approach us and ask the usual « what’s your name ? », « where are you from ? », « How long have you been in India for ? »…we are soon joined by a young man who will stay with us the entire morning and act as a great local guide.
Unlike the Western Group where the temples are in a closed area, the temples of the Eastern and Southern groups are scattered all around the old village. So we’re not visiting temples by the dozen all at once. We visit one temple, then walk through a neighborhood and a school on our way to the second temple. Then we cross another neighborhood which symbolizes the crossing to another cast, we see women washing at the well and we reach the third temple, etc… Visiting the forgotten temples of Khajuraho is bound to offer you rich encounters and authenticity.
Obviously, this visit of the old village would have been less memorable, had we not been accompanied by this young man. We entered a school with him, where the kids welcomed us with the traditional « Namasté » and where the director took time to explain to us how they fight everyday to give a free education to these kids. The boy then walked us through each neigborhood of the village, explaining to us how the four casts are still working today in Khajuraho and how we could identify them, from one neighborhood to another. He showed us houses, farms, sacred places in the streets… He followed us the whole morning all the while giving us private moments to visit the temples at our own pace.
This is why I am asking you do not overlook the Eastern and Southern Groups of temples in Khajuraho. Just because they are free, it does not mean they are less interesting, less pretty or less preserved, far from that. By exploring the old village, you will get the perfect insight of real India, rural India and you will see how people live in villages. With some luck, you may even do a very nice encounter like us, that you will remember for years. Moreover, the Jain and Hindu temples are absolutely magnificent, from the outside but the also the inside. Visiting the Eastern temples is the guarantee to photograph the temples without anyone ruining your picture.
You had to endure 10 hours of train to come all the way to Khajuraho, so you’d better take everything this village has to offer. This means visiting the West temples but also the further East and South temples. By the way, apart from temples, you can also visit the Museum of Tribal Arts (free) and beautiful waterfalls a few kilometres away, the Raneh Falls which I recommend to visit during monsoon season.
Hotel Harmony: very well located, warm welcome, spacious double room for 800 Rs (11€) and a beautiful courtyard (zen garden type). The Hotel name makes sense here.