What we have learnt since we last spoke.
We learnt that two people who go out for dinner in Varanasi do not need to order the large Thali plate each, even if it does only cost $6.00. Well you can, but you certainly won’t need breakfast and lunch the next day. Particularly if said two people, feeling a little peckish mid-afternoon, had ordered a samosa each, and in return had each received a plate with two of the largest (and most delicious) samosas known to man.
We’ve learned that while the Indian people generally have a very good sense of humour, not all humour translates. When we were disembarking from the Ganges our boatman was having trouble bringing the boat alongside. There were three of his contemporaries advising him from the shore and one from another boat. I turned to our guide and said, “Too many chiefs and not enough …..” Clunk!
We learnt that the universal greeting “Namaste” sounds suspiciously like ‘aveaniceday, and means roughly the same.
We’ve learnt that there is no change in India. Hotels cannot change a 100Rp note so that you have small money for the bathroom or shoe attendant. If you give someone 1000Rp for a 630Rp lunch, they have no change. Same for using 100Rp to pay a 50Rp charge. “No change”.
Your guide, driver and hotel will warn you against “tricksters” who will take you unbidden to “Government” antique or craft shops. Then your driver and guide will take you unbidden to exactly the sort of place they have been warning you against.
Oh, we also learnt that you can buy EXACTLY the same elephant pants in the markets of Varanasi as you can in the souk in Siem Reap. Exactly!
A short flight on Jet Airways takes us from Varanasi to Khajuraho which from the air appears to be in the middle of a very arid plateau. We’re here to see the famous temples and no sooner than we had checked into our hotel, we hooked up with a tuktuk driver and set off to walk around the old town. Of course nothing in India is that simple and the tuktuk driver’s two lazy nephews squeezed into the front with him and told us they were coming along to practise their English. With the proverbial sound and light show booked at the temples this evening we thought a short stroll through the old town would be an interesting prelude. Lonely Planet warns that such an endeavour will be complete with conniving children, but heck, we’re bigger than that. Of course we are, but what we hadn’t allowed for was the conniving nephews, who while they made fair tour guides, did ensure that everyone in the village shared in our rupees. “See here Sir, the local priest and his temple”. Interesting. Priest sticks out his hand. “Rupee?” “See here Madam, my Auntie’s house and her lovely children”. Nice kids. Auntie sticks out hand. “Rupee?” “See here the school and meet the headmaster”. Headmaster shows us school. Impressive. Headmaster opens his receipt book. “Big Rupee?”
The temples here in Khajuraho are simple amazing. The detail is almost unbelievable. They were all built around 950-1050 AD and fell into disuse a couple of centuries later when the aforementioned Moghul invaders started to stir things up. Forests grew up around them until they were discovered by a British surveyor in 1838. So although only 25 of the original 85 remain, they are in remarkably good condition.
The carvings show a storybook of life from 1000 years ago. Village life, soldiers bringing the sandstone to the building site, the thousands of artisans who must have carved the figures and then gods, goddesses, holy people and a lot of people searching for the Kundalini. At least that’s what I assume they were searching for. Everywhere you look there’s people in every imaginable tantric position – after all, this was the inspiration for the Kama Sutra. There’s man with woman. Man with three women. Man bending woman over backwards, frontwards, sideways, and upside down. You’ll see there’s a picture where the elephant is watching and even he looks embarrassed. And bestiality. Yes, with beasts. (No, not with elephants! That’s just silly.) Here our guide was a little circumspect but he explained that when a man is away from his partner for a long time, such as when he’s a soldier on a long posting, he can get lonely on a cold night, and he might have manly needs that need to be met. And in situations such as this, a horse can be a man’s best friend.
That evening, as we had dinner in a café, a man sidled up and slid a set of playing cards decorated with the Kama Sutra across the table to me. It was the local equivalent of, “Pssst, wanna see some dirty pictures?”
Anyhow, it’s all in the photos…
While I attended to correspondence and the beating up of the hotel staff Maggie took herself off for an Ayurvedic massage. This had been organised by the company rep as he promised that this location was “half the price” of the massage in the hotel, (which was quoted in Euros). Maggie reports she was a little non-plussed as the car crossed a dusty cow paddock and stopped outside what appeared to be a semi-permanent structure. There she was greeted by a young Indian woman in a Sari who took her into a little room and asked her to remove her clothes. “All off?” enquired Maggie. “All off!” confirmed the girl. So Maggie said she was standing there, as Mother Nature intended, with the girl having watched the disrobing process with interest. Then standing behind Maggie she reached around her waist and tied a thin piece of string at the back. Then as if by magic a thin strip of cloth unfurled, the massage girl reached between Maggie’s thighs, pulling it backwards and into a wedgie like a primitive G string. It was in fact, said Maggie, just the sort of thing you saw American Indians wearing in early westerns. The massage was pretty good though.
After breakfast next morning, and after an argument with the hotel – actually that hotel was all arguments – we set out with our driver for the palaces of Orchha.
Four hours on the fairly simple paved road brought us to this little town of 10,000 people. Orchha’s claim to fame is the two wonderfully fortified palaces built by the Mughal rulers in the 17th century. In some places you can still see the turquoise tiles from the original build. It’s all spectacular, and as we climbed the steep and often tiny staircases and gazed out over the river, one of the many things that struck us was how little OH&S there is India. For a country so tied up in red tape, you’d think they would have had this sorted. But there are a million opportunities to take a misstep and fall 20 feet or 100 feet to your death.
On the other side of town there’s a magnificent Ram Raja Hindu temple. There we were somewhat of an oddity and had our picture taken by several local people. We thanked our local guide and our driver took us the remaining 30 minutes to Jhansi and delivered us to the railway station for the train to Agra.
The link to the photos is in the next post featuring the Taj Mahal.