Think of a temple town in India and images of dusty lanes, congested streets and crowded markets will float in your head. But what if we tell you that there is one temple town in the heart of the country, which is neither crowded, nor dirty; there are no congested streets and the lanes are wide and shady.
Easy to reach and yet quiet and peaceful, Khajuraho stands peacefully amidst thick forests in which it was for centuries, and that, we believe, add to its mystic charm.
Here is a guide to the charming temple town.
Morning at Sevagram
Begin your day with a long walk along the Airport Road, also known locally as Bamitha Road. Lined with shady trees, dotted with sprawling hotels, the road leads to the main town square, Sevagram and the Shivsagar Lake.
The nerve center of Khajuraho during the day, Sevagram is beautifully quiet in the morning. With no tourists, travelers, or touts and only one tea stall functional, it is the perfect place to begin your day. You can choose to have your morning tea making small talk with the chaiwallah, or, you could walk across to the Matangeshwar temple.
Most temples in Khajuraho are no longer used for prayers, the Matangeshwar temple, next to the Shivsagar Lake, is an exception. Standing behind a large tree, the imposing temple is clean, quiet and peaceful. Said to have built between 9th and 10th century, the temple structure is surprisingly plain from outside. Inside, a 2.5-meter high 1.1-meter wide Shivalinga stands tall. Popular among the locals and the site for a 10-day long fair at Shivaratri, it is a great place to spend some quiet time by yourself.
Created between the 9th and 11th century by the Chandela kings, the temples of Khajuraho—over 85 in number—were spread all over the current day Khajuraho. Out of the 85, only 22 now remain. Known world over for their erotic sculptures, these temples have a lot more to see and the best time to do that is during the morning hours when the sun is out but it is still not hot.
The temples are divided into clusters or groups – Western, Eastern, and Southern. The Western Group of Temples is the largest, best preserved, and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also the place you should start your site seeing with. The entry ticket to the site is Rs. 30/- for Indians; Rs. 550/- for foreigners and is valid in all government museums as well.
The sprawling Western Group of Temple complex consists of the most important temples in Khajuraho like Lakshmana Temple, Viswanath Temple, Devi Jagdambi Temple, Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, and Varah Mandap. The Kandariya Mahadev and Vishwanath temples are the most exquisite and display Khajuraho’s famous erotic sculptures. Featuring men, women, and even animals with depictions of orgies, threesomes, and bestiality, they are not for the faint hearted. The Varaha Mandap and Devi Jagdambi temples meanwhile are much smaller and depict everyday activities like warfare, weddings, travelers, kings, and nymphs. It is best to hire a licensed guide who can not only show you the ‘spots’ but also tell you stories behind them. The Guides licensed by MP tourism cost Rs. 750/- for half a day, while those licensed by India Tourism charge Rs. 1375/- for half a day.
Afternoons are best spent indoors in Khajuraho – and they are spent rather well in the museums here. The Tribal Art Museum and the Archeological Museum showcase the cultural heritage of the region. Shilpagram, a craft village run by the ministry of Culture, hosts exhibitions, film festivals, craft fairs and folk performances.
The archeological museum, located next to the Western group of temples, displays rare archeological finds from the excavations at Khajuraho. You can see elaborate statues, plinths, panels, and sculptures from the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples. The entry to the complex is free and it is operational from sunrise to sunset everyday. Phone: +91 7686-272320
Set in the Chandela Cultural Complex, Adivrata, the State Museum of Tribal and Folk Art, is a must visit. Often referred to as the hidden gem of Khajuraho, the museum showcases an expansive collection of masterpieces from the Bundelkhand region like Dokra figurines, Folk Paintings, Gond Art, Terracota, and Masks. Open from 12:00 PM until 8:00 PM, the museum does not require an entry ticket and is open every day except Mondays and Government Holidays. Phone: +91 7686-274051 or +91 7686-272721
With the mellow sun setting behind the golden temples, an ever-changing horizon, and gentle breeze, evenings in Khajuraho are magical. It is also the best time to explore the smaller temple clusters, the Southern and Eastern group, and the quiet villages around them. Auto Rickshaws or Tuk-Tuks works best for this and cost between Rs. 400-500 for the evening.
The Southern Group comprises of two main temples – Duladeo and Chaturbhuj – while the Eastern group mainly has Jain temples like the large Parvsnath complex.
The Duladeo Temple, dedicated to Shiva’s bridegroom form, stands tall in a large compound surrounded with well-manicured lawns, and a tiny hamlet. Located about a kilometer off the main town, it is one of the most beautiful sites in Khajuraho. The Chaturbhuj Temple, close-by, is smaller but higher, with an unusual form of Vishnu as the presiding deity.
A stroll around the adjoining hamlets of Jawari & Jatakara is at this hour is a great way to get to learn about the people and their culture first hand. The two tiny villages, with clean lanes, beautifully painted walls, and friendly locals, are a treat for the senses too.
If there is anything better than watching the temples glisten in the golden rays of twilight, it is watching them glimmer in shades of red, green, yellow, and orange in the night. No sooner than the sun sets, the lawns of the Western Group of Temples come alive with strains of classical music and deep throaty voice of the veteran actor, Amitabh Bachchan. For, this is the time for the much loved Sound and Light Show.
The show begins with the story of an extraordinarily beautiful woman, Hemvati, the daughter of the priest of Kashi, the moon, and their love child, Chandravarman, the founder of the Chandela dynasty. Depicted on the temples with colourful light beams, it goes on to narrate tales of valor, devotion, and courage of the king, the rise of his empire and the eventual fall of the kingdom. Resonating with music, and Mr. Bachchan’s powerful voice, glowing in dancing lights, the experience of sitting among stars and the ruins is surreal – it is also the best way to close your day in the town of Chandravarman.
The Light & Sound Show runs in Hindi and English and starts at 7:30 PM and 8:40 PM respectively. Tickets for the show are priced at Rs. 200/- for Indians and Rs. 550/- for foreigners.
How to reach:
Khajuraho Airport is connected to several other major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi, Bhopal, and Mumbai. International travelers can get direct fights from Mumbai and Delhi.
To reach Khajuraho by train, you can take the Uttar Pradesh Sampark-Kranti (12448) from Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station, Delhi – departure 20:10; arrival 06:35 or Mahamana Superfast Express (22163) from Bhopal – departure at 06:50; arrival 13:30.
Khajuraho is well connected by road to all major towns of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. It is a 7-8 hr drive from Lucknow (310 Kms) and Bhopal (376 Kms).
Where to stay:
Khajuraho has something for everything. The luxury traveler can revel in 5-star properties; the backpackers can camp at hostels, while the budget conscious can choose from an array of mid-segment offerings.
The Lalit (Twin Room Rs. 8000.00 upwards) is one of the most premium properties with an in-house spa, and entertainment options for the guests. Radisson Jass, Khajuraho has a sprawling property with a pool and fitness center (Twin Room Rs. 3000 upwards) and Ramada (Twin room Rs. 2500 upwards). There are several budget hotels too like the MPTDC Hotels Payal, Jhankar, and Tourist Village (Rooms Rs. 2000.00 upwards) and the newly opened Zostel, a hostel with dormitory as well as rooms (Rs. 1600 upwards for a twin room; Rs. 500.00 onward for dormitory).
Where to eat:
Khajuraho has limited dining options outside of the hotels. Raja Café, and the Maharaja Restaurant are the most reliable of those.
Raja café, with its leafy courtyard, al-fresco seating, and perfect location is popular for its Continental and European offerings like pizzas, pastas, brownies, and sandwiches, (meal for two Rs. 1000 upwards). Maharaja Restaurant on the other hand is best suited for basic Indian food like Dal Tadka, Jeera Aloo, Chana Masala, and Rotis, (meal for two Rs. 500 upwards). Both are located at the main square within a few feet of each other.
What to buy
Khajuraho is a small town with no shopping malls, brands, or high streets. What it does have however are several small handicraft shops selling locally made trinkets, souvenirs, figurines, and replicas of the erotic sculptures Khajuraho is known for.
The best place to shop here is the MP State Emporium, Mrignayani, where you can be assured of quality and prices. Kuber, a family run enterprise, that stocks everything from local handicrafts, to textiles and jewellery is also recommended.
If you prefer shopping at the local stalls at the market square near the Western Group, be prepared to bargain. The prices of handicrafts can range anywhere from a few hundred rupees to tens of thousands, and depend purely on the product, the quality, and the place you buy it from.
When to go
Khajuraho gets hot during summer and its best to avoid the town between April and June. Monsoon onward is a good time to travel to the temple town. While the rains turn the rocky terrain lush-green, the sunshine in winter months is perfect to see the temples.
Sunset and Sunrise Tours
Especially curated by Zostel, these treks to the close-by Dalta Hills in the Chitrai village are great to experience Khajuraho from a height at dawn and dusk. During monsoons and winters, the hostel also arranges for camping at the same place for no extra cost.
Some hotels and auto drivers offer to take you around the adjoining villages. Javari & Jatakara villages, close to the Southern Group of Temples are the most popular ones. You can take a stroll, interact with locals, and experience the Bundeli lifestyle. The 4-hour evening trip costs about Rs. 400
Arti and Sound and Light Show at The Lalit.
The Lalit, Khajuraho, hosts special evening Arti and a private sound and light show every evening. Exclusively for the in-house guests, the Arti happens at 6:30 PM followed by the Sound and Light Show at 7:00. During winter they also organize puppetry sessions.