The Road Less Traveled- Khajuraho and Orchha

KHAJURAHO and ORCHHA- Part III of INDIA travel series

Overview

  • When: 25 December – 26 December, 2018
  • Where (accommodations): The Lalit Temple View
  • Transportation: Flight from Varanasi to Khajuraho- Jet Airways, drive from Khajuraho to Orchha 3.5hrs and Orchha to Agra 6.5hrs with hired driver through the hotel
  • Sights/attractionsKhajuraho: Khajuraho Western Temples (guided tour); Orchha: Orchha Fort (Jahangir Mahal, Raja Mahal), Shri Ram Raja Mandir temple, Chaturbhuj Temple
  • Food/drinksOrchha:Amar Mahal hotel restaurant

KHAJURAHO

The past twenty four hours in Varanasi was a unbelievable sensory experience. We felt like we were able to see the old India- no driving rules, spiritual rituals, loud and crowded- something we sort of expected, but at the same time it was a lot to take in.

When planning this trip our main goal was to see Taj Mahal in Agra, but at the same time  we wanted to visit some of the less touristy destinations that you don’t see in every India travel book. While doing the research, Khajuraho came up as a small town with incredible temple complex and not yet overrun with tourists. Conveniently it’s less than an hour flight away from Varanasi, but what a difference one hour flight makes!

Since the moment we landed and walked out of the small and empty airport it felt like a  complete opposite world- peaceful oasis, the only sound was the birds chirping, no horns, no traffic or crowds.  Even the weather was different- a lot warmer, no need for jackets or scarves. 15 min drive in a comfortable hotel car and we are whisked into the luxurious Lalit Temple View hotel.

There are not many hotels in Khajuraho, so it was a bit more expensive, but totally worth the money. We were greeted with the fresh juice and our guide was already at the hotel patiently waiting for us for over an hour because our flight was delayed. We came in later than planned, so we needed to get going if we wanted to enjoy the Khajuraho temples before sunset.

Lucky for us, it was just about 2 min drive to reach the most beautiful Western Temples complex. Afterwards we stopped at the Eastern ones, but I did not find them that spectacular.

I would spend all the time you have in Khajuraho admiring the intricate beauty of the Western group of temples.  Built between 950 and 1050 magnificent structures are one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India.

The temples have incredibly carved statues and are quite famous for the erotic poses, however sexual theme cover less than 10% of the structure. The arts express central ideas of Hinduism, teaches about human life and values, tantric yoga etc. We spent two hours at the site and the guide was very informative- we could not have spotted important details, nor would we’ve known the meaning of a lot of sculptures without his help. Sadly the sunset approached quickly and we had to leave. Highly recommend visiting this spot in India. It makes a huge difference to be able to walk around the monuments and not have to wait in lines. Taking pictures and not having tons of tourists in every frame was also a nice change.

On the way back to the hotel, the guide took us to the local jewelry shop. We did not plan on buying anything, but then I fell in love with the ring that had tiny sapphires, rubies and emeralds in it. The gems are being mined in the area and therefore are far more affordable than purchasing them in the USA. Intense negotiations later, the price came down significantly and I walked out with a beautiful new accessory.

Khajuraho town is small, we were tired, so we did not even consider looking for any kind of nightlife. We got back to the hotel, had the most amazing relaxing massages at their spa, ate at the restaurant on site and that finished our short but very pleasant stay in Khajuraho.

ROAD TRIP TO ORCHHA AND AGRA

We were a little sad to leave this oasis- all the places we are yet to visit will be a lot more famous and that means we are going to be dealing with crowds again. But we are yet to reach our main goal- Taj Mahal, so without further ado, we eat delicious breakfast on the outside patio and are off to our first road trip in India!

We booked the driver through the same hotel and they also arranged for the guide to meet us in Orchha, the town about 3.5hrs drive away from Khajuraho.

First part of the drive was great- the road was smooth, we passed a lot of little towns and villages and saw different kind of India- far away from the touristy cities and monuments.

It was very interesting to get a glimpse at the daily life of the people we were passing by. We saw some showering, one man was being shaved- right on the side of the highway!

All the way to Orchha we thought- India’s roads are great! This drive is easy! However, that changed quite dramatically as we were getting closer to Agra. There was a lot more traffic, a lot less driving rules (huge truck literally came in front of us on a one way highway) and eventually we were driving through a dusty unpaved road for a good 30 minutes if not longer…it was around 6.5 hours from Orchha to Agra and we could not wait for the 10hr drive to finally be over. But first- let’s stop, stretch our legs and see what Orchha is all about!

ORCHHA

Orchha is not one of the towns that you typically see advertised for your first time in India. Once we determined that we will go to Khajuraho, we started looking into ways to reach our next destination- Agra. We had an option to fly to Delhi and then get a driver- that is your typical tourist plan. But we are not THAT typical 🙂 . We want a road trip adventure! Also we’ve heard that the fog in Delhi in winter can cause major delays. We don’t have time to be delayed, we NEED to reach Agra before Thursday.  Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays and we want to see it at sunrise. So a road trip was a logical step and Orchha was a perfect pit stop to break up a long 10 hour drive. This beautiful town was founded in 16th century and is famous for its huge palace-fort.

Jahangir Mahal

Our driver called the guide, who met us right near Jahangir Mahal.

This palace was a gift to Jahangir from the local ruler of the region and according to the guide, Jahangir only stayed in this location for only one night! It was a cool place to explore, walk up and down the stairs, check out many nooks and beautiful architecture. It has great photo opportunities, but pay attention to the low doorways if you are tall like me…I hit my head on one and I think I may have seen stars for a few seconds 🙂 .

Raja Mahal

King’s Palace was also built in the early part of 16th century and that’s where the kings and the queens resided until it was abandoned. To this day it has incredible wall and ceiling designs and I especially loved queen’s bedroom.

Shri Ram Raja Mandir temple and Chaturbhuj Temple

Our quick Orchha tour ended by stopping by Shri Ram Raja Mandir temple and then Chaturbhuj Temple.

You could spend a few days in this city, there are many places to visit, but for us it was just a few hours stop to break up the drive and at the same time to see more of India.  I have to say a few words about the colorful piles of dye in the picture above. In this case they were used as a tourist bait! Indians use it when they celebrate the festival of colors- Holi, but it’s not until March. During the festival people smear each other with colors, play, drench each other, sing and dance. Now being December, the vendors just put out the colors to attract potential buyers. As soon as I approached the stall to take a photo, the seller was all over me offering all kinds of little trinkets and statues 🙂 .

Before we get back in the car, we were taken to Amar Mahal hotel for quick lunch. Hotel itself looked really beautiful and the food was great.

The menu is definitely adjusted to the tourists palate, but we don’t need anything too adventurous before another almost 7 hour drive :).

The last part of the drive was very long and tiring, we saw some pretty bad accidents, but luckily we made it to Agra safe and sound. We were very happy the longest road trip of this adventure is over. Now just one more sleep until we fulfill the dream to see TAJ MAHAL at sunrise!

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