Aside from being cluttered with erotic temples, Khajuraho is a wonderfully relaxed haven for road-weary tourists. So we ended up staying a lot longer than originally anticipated. The old village of Khajuraho is actually a bit further down the road, but the Lodge was in the cluster of hotels, restaurants and shops near the famous western group of erotic temples. So there are loads of touts. But even they soon left us alone, recognizing us and just shouting a jolly hello across the square.
As usual here, a tout had attached himself to us as soon as we rode into the village, intending to take us to a hotel that would pay him a commission for doing so. But Aidan steadfastly insisted we had booked a room at Yogi Lodge. Normally this receives a response like “that place has burned down/closed/flooded” and then they suggest their place or one with a similar name but worse quality. Often restaurants and hotels nick the name of more successful ones, sometimes changing the name slightly, hoping to bring in tourists that mistake them for the real deal.
But this tout introduced himself as Ram and, impressed with our story of riding all around India, actually showed us to our chosen Lodge. He waited around to see whether we’d take the room and then invited us to meet him for chai after we’d had a chance to freshen up.
Of course he took us to a silver shop, but it was soon clear that we wouldn’t be buying. So the guys closed the curtain over the shop door and smoked a few chillums and chatted away solving the world’s problems and our cultural differences. Eventually a little boy from the local tea stall brought us yummy gingery masala chai. This is where we met Pintu Baba, a guy we wouldn’t be able to escape later.
We had arrived in time for the Shivatri festival (the wedding of the god Shiva). The town was bustling, stalls selling trinkets, food and offerings springing up everywhere and pilgrims carrying blankets, pots and little stoves or just stackable tiffin tins arrived from everywhere dressed in their Sunday best. There was even an outdoor cinema set up in the square showing old Indian films.
In the evening a procession of decorated horses, cars, dancers and the camel we had seen before went all around town. We waited for it to arrive at the gate to the Shiva temple squeezed among the anticipative crowd with a bunch of local youths, who’d attached themselves to us, cross-questioning Aidan.
A bunch of guys took pictures of us white strangers, so I whipped my camera out and photographed them doing it and everyone burst out laughing.
Then the procession finally arrived. Petals of marigolds and jasmine were thrown over them, leaving a wonderful flowery smell as people’s feet trampled the essential oils out of them.
We followed the crowd to the Shiva temple, which had been decorated in fairy lights like a giant Christmas tree. People in colourful saris and shirts sat on the steps for a better view and at the front a crowd was dancing wildly to the music, hands in the air and squished in like sardines in a tin.
After Shiva had climbed off his chariot car, the attending police got busy trying to guide the vehicle back out of the crowd. I grabbed the chance and climbed the fence for a better view 🙂 Eventually a cop did approach and I was expecting to be torn off the fence and arrested. But he only smiled and politely gestured for me to come down.
A little kid, who’s been selling memorabilia on the street corner was craning his neck for a better view. We weren’t sure if it was a taboo thing or anything, and the kid looked unsure too, but when Aidan hoisted him onto his shoulders, the boy had the biggest grin on his face.
Due to the festival there was a big Mela on too. The rides were almost medieval, the smaller carousels turned by hand and the rusty ferris-wheel was driven by a long belt connected to a loud, fume belching engine (like most of the big rides here).
Best of all though, there was a wall of death! I had always wanted to see one. The crowds started talking to us, the only foreigners up there, as we all waited in anticipation. Of course the camera didn’t catch a single good shot as the two bikes and one car were whizzing around, wooden boards rattling and the whole drum shaking under their wheels. It was almost scary to watch and it was awesome! The bikers did free-handed, side-saddle stunts, sometimes just one foot on the peg, arms and leg in the air. And the car driver popped out through the upper window of his sideways car, foot barely reaching the gas pedal.
And the best bit…. one of the bikers was a girl!!!! Here in India the most they are allowed to ride are silly little scooters (no offense), so to see one riding the wall of death on a geared bike…! My recently developed smugness for riding a huge 220cc Pulsar as a woman (a notion much supported by all those compliments I – and Aidan for having such an awesome wife -had received, quickly diminished at the sight of her. She made it look like an easy-peasy drive round the car park. I know how it works, just keep the throttle open…. but I don’t think I’d have the guts. Maybe one day, when no one is watching and there just happens to be a wall of death around…. (If I ever have a house, I’m gonna build one in the garden 🙂 )
There are also loads and loads of stalls selling anything from pots and pans, cheap make up, shoes and plastic bangles to tools and cooler boxes, even heaps of spices and rice.
In the evenings the tarps are pulled down and the stall owners and families camp out here, cooking dinner and chapattis over small fires from wood they brought or rubbish. At first I got a few frowns for taking pictures, but then a little girl got everyone all exited and we had to take picture after picture and show them on the little camera screen, resulting in proud beaming smiles.
Most of the pilgrims who’d arrived for Shivatri, curled up in blankets on the pavements outside shops for the night.
We did spend a few days just interneting, reading, diary writing and generally stuffing our faces with all the European dishes we’d been missing at Bella Italia and Raja Cafe. One day we decided to get off our arses and explore the other temples dotted around the old Khajuraho village and out along a footpath into the fields behind. But we only got as far as the chai stall when Pintu Baba kidnapped us for a tea.
It soon turned out he was busy getting drunk and we were invited. In fact, we had some catching up to do. He left us in the reception of a hotel while procuring whiskey for Aidan and Rum for him and me, and then we hid in the now disused restaurant of the hotel. It had become clear to us from everyone else’s reactions, that Pintu is a high caste and so no one disagrees with him and he gets away with every thing, including being publicly drunk. We are not the first tourists he’s attacked and he kept dashing off to see ‘friends’ that came here every year. They all consider him nuts, but they go along with what he asks of them, calling them their brother, because caste rules demand it.
And he was nuts! In a kinda loveable way though. He had some interesting and strange views of the world, emphasized with two or three cheesy one-liners per sentence, like ‘you love me or leave me’ and ‘you’re high, you fly, you’re drunk, you ride!’ It was lots of fun hanging out with him though. When a wedding party checked into the hotel, he made some of them come in and chat with us and people were constantly coming and going.
In the evening he lost us, as we went for a walk to explore the old village. We found a mechanic that promised to take a look at Nila’s fork seals the next day. The oil had been leaking out for a while now, with only a rag tied around the fork keeping it from dripping onto the brake disk, rendering the front brake useless. The repair was long overdue.
The next day I left Aidan at the lodge with our new room mate, working on pictures and took Nila to the mechanic.
He set to work straight away, while I chatted to another customer, who was interested in our trip, wanting to travel around India himself. But he didn’t think his three year old Enfield was up to it. I told him why not? And he said it was a mal-treated hand me down from his bother. Fair enough though, since my new friend had crashed his brother’s brand new Hero Honda when he’d made the mistake of parking it in his family’s front yard, key in the ignition 🙂
Just as well I’d got the bike fixed… (And the mechanic had done an excellent job, without the usual fiddling with other things till they break!) The next day two guys riding around on a 180cc Pulsar started following us around and helping us out with some parcels we were sending home. When we said we were headed to the local waterfall, they declared they’d come with. But first the older brother of one of them needed that family Pulsar back, so before we knew what was happening, the guys had hopped on the backs of our bikes. We got a lot of odd looks from the locals….. A white woman riding a Pulsar with an Indian guy on the back, following her husband on the other bike?!?
The river was almost dry of course, no waterfall till after the rainy season. The rocky riverbed and landscape was still pretty awesome though. Shame they had done the usual Indian tourism thing of blocking any real access to climb around and putting up concrete paths and fences. We would have climbed over, but we were being watched like hawks by a bunch of rangers that were hoping to take us round the “jungle” (read forest) to crocodile point where we were “guaranteed” to see crocodiles. For another fee of course (we’d already had to pay an entry fee to the waterfall)!
The guys were disappointed that we were disappointed. But on the way back we found a sandy track along a canal and decided to follow it.
It led to one of the water dams in the area, created so fields could be watered during the dry season.
You could walk along the top or through a tunnel at the bottom.
And then out onto the many boulders strewn along the almost dry riverbed. One of the guys decided to hop in for a swim and we founds loads of the bright red, orange, black and stripey little stones the locals had told us about. It was an awesome little place.