Room Key: Usha Bundela Hotel
Address: Usha Bundela, Temple Road, Khajuraho, India 471606
Phone: (011) 91 076-86 272-386
Rates: $66 per night, double, for a standard room; $89 for a deluxe room. Breakfast is $5, lunch and dinner $20 each.
ORCHHA, India --
At first, only a trickle of pilgrims walked beside the road as we
drove toward Orchha and the Raj Rama temple there.
Orchha is located
in the northwest part of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, about
250 miles to the south of Delhi, and the pilgrims were hurrying to
reach the small town by dusk, when the festivities relating to
their worship of Raj (Lord) Rama would take place.
number of devotees increased. They were dressed in brightly colored
clothes, and some had a small bedroll or other items perched on
their heads. Many would walk up to 18 miles to their
In the evening,
my guide led me through chanting crowds as they pushed forward to
see the image of Lord Rama in the hot palace-turned-temple.
festivities included eating (stalls sold sticky sweets made from
milk) and the purchase of trinkets. Some people daubed their
foreheads with red or yellow dots from the piles of dye for
In the narrow
streets of Orchha, cows wandered about or even slept on the road
unconcerned by the traffic, and pigs rooted around in the
Buses were packed
to overflowing, and telephone kiosks offering facilities for local
and international calls were doing a roaring trade.
In the early
morning, I was awakened by the sound of voices coming from the
riverbank near my accommodation in the comfortable but basic Betwa
Cottages alongside the Betwa River.
devotees were taking their morning ablutions, the ladies washing
their saris and hanging them to dry on railings or large boulders.
Men soaped themselves from head to toe before immersing themselves
in the river.
It was a colorful
scene, enhanced by the beauty of the location, where the 14
cenotaphs grouped along the river
provided a dramatic backdrop.
Orchha was founded in the 16th century by
the Bundela Rajput chieftain Rudra Pratap, who chose the site as
In the following
centuries, a number of temples and palaces were built, noble
structures full of wonderful carvings and murals depicting
religious and secular themes.
The interior of
the Laxminarayana Temple is covered with vivid paintings and
murals; one long panel depicts local tribesmen fighting against
make up Orchhas fort complex. One has been converted into the
Sheesh Mahal Hotel. Enormous rooms enable guests to live like a
maharaja, yet one of the rooms I was shown costs about $30 for a
hotel are two other palaces, the Jehangir Mahal and the Raj Mahal,
the ladies palace noted for its colorful murals.
Orchha lies on
the road from Gwalior to the famous temple city of Khajuraho via
the railhead city of Jahnsi.
Jahnsi, the road passes the town of Datia, which contains the
imposing seven-story palace of Raja Bir Singh Deo, a unique example
of 17th-century Hindu architecture, currently undergoing extensive
Sonagiri is a hill containing 77 temples that are sacred to the
Situated on a
flat plain surrounded by distant hills, the city of Khajuraho has
been designated by Unesco as a World Heritage site for its
archaeological and historical monuments.
Built over a
period of 100 years, from 950 to 1050, only 22 of the original 85
temples survive, but they are a remarkable testimony to the skill
of the craftsmen and the vision of the Chandela rulers who ordered
The temples lay
forgotten for many centuries and were only rediscovered in the
early 20th century. The main group of temples, the so-called
Western Group, are especially renowned.
Standing on a
high masonry platform, each of the temples is covered with a
dazzling display of sandstone carvings.
The figures cover
a range of scenes: gods, goddesses, celestial maidens and lovers,
royal processions, hunting scenes, dancers and animals. Many of the
carvings are erotic, a sort of kama sutra in stone, and if you
cannot get good photos of them, the postcard sellers outside the
gates will hound you until you buy one.
impressive temples are Lakshmana, Kandariya Mahadev and Deva
Jagdamba, Chitragupta, and Vishwanath all located within a walled
compound and separated by grass and gardens..
In the evening, a
son et lumiere spectacle, narrated in both English and Hindi,
evokes the life and times of the Chandela rulers.
Not to be missed
is the new State Museum of Tribal and Folk Art, which contains a
fascinating collection of the art and craft of the Madhya Pradesh
state, including tribal and folk painting, masks and
Khajuraho is a
major tourist center (it also has an airport), and the choice of
accommodations is better than in most Indian cities of the same
Usha Bundela Hotel, part of the Usha Shriram Hotel group, is
recommended (see Room Key, above right). It is set on four acres of
greenery in the heart of Khajuraho. Its multicuisine restaurant
serves Indian, Continental, Chinese and Mughlai dishes. The hotel
has a swimming pool, a cyber cafe, a health club, room service, a
valet and laundry service.
Panna, one of the
many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh, is
close to Khajuraho and is reputed to have both leopards and tigers
roaming its grounds.
The ruins of the
imposing fort at Kalinjar are gradually being restored.
The roads are
pretty bad, and you share them with buses, huge trucks that play
chicken on the narrow central strip, cows and masses of
The mass of
humanity, especially the incredible numbers of small children eking
out a subsistence living, is an eye-opener.
Every village and
small town is crowded with tiny shops, markets and repair shops,
and out in the fields the tools for tilling are unchanged from
Late in the day I
saw women coming home with a pile of branches or a basketful of cow
dung (both used for cooking) perched on their heads.
For more on
Madhya Pradesh, visit www.mptourism.com.
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].