Naughty or nice?

Khajuraho, India. There are many things to see and ways to look at the remaining thousand-year-old temples of Khajuraho. First of all, there is the basic architecture of these Northern Indian marvels. The soaring spires of the Western Group temples we saw today are meant to resemble the peaks of the Himalayas, the home of Lord Shiva.

They are all rather marvelous, even from a distance.

And then there are the carvings, as you begin to explore the outside walls of the temples. Built at the height of Hindu art and devotion, in the temples at that time there was no strict boundary between the sacred and the profane, and no limits on how the deities were portrayed.

That’s where the naughty/nice part emerges. The erotic carvings here are a virtual Kama Sutra, which – one learns – is neither exclusively nor predominantly a manual on sexual positions, but a guide to the “art of living well,” the nature of love, finding a life partner, maintaining one’s love life, and other aspects pertaining to pleasure-oriented faculties of human life.

Our living guide positioned the most startling carvings as examples of experiences that would not give true pleasure or satisfaction in life. Avoid them! That is the lesson of Khajuraho, he said. Rather, one should live the simple married life with a single partner and very basic ways of showing love. He pointed out all the various ways that one should not experience sex, making his point over and over. Hmmm. One wonders if the original architects had that morality lesson in mind.

Assuming you are adult enough to handle them, I will include some of the most graphic along with other stunning figures carved into the temples. The workmanship is breath-taking and the state of preservation is wonderful.

Those of you who haven’t left the room to get your magnifying glasses will notice that the friezes of elephants, camels and warriors marching into battles are very reminiscent of the those that once covered the Parthenon. There are a million stories and lessons on these temples, if one has the language to understand them.

And then there were the insides of the temples, works of art in themselves. All the temples were built as domes within domes. This keeps the ceilings inside the temples low and does not reflect the towering exterior domes. Each of the temple interior has as its centerpiece either a statue of Shiva, the sun goddess Surya, or a linga, the phallic-like abstract representation of Shiva. Our guide went to great lengths to explain that the linga is not a phallic representation but has a much deeper meaning that cannot be translated but that Westerners have applied the phallic interpretation because it’s easier to understand. (We’ve seen some lingas that look rather realistically phallic to these Western eyes, but we’re as simple-minded as the Westerners that came before us.)

Because of the double-dome nature of these interiors, you see dazzling ceilings. And the light playing from the small openings in the temples highlights small areas of the heavily carved images in a way that makes them seem in motion.

Clearly, as the light changes through the day, the impressions you see change with it. In most cases, the interior sculptures echo the exterior decorative work. It’s interesting to see the progression of styles over the centuries. The earlier human images are rounded, but as the art evolved, the images became more elongated.

Of particular interest was the statue of the sun god Surya with a base featuring seven tiny sculptures of horses pulling Surya’s chariot.

There is also an outstanding shrine to Shiva’s beloved bull, Nandi.

Don’s Food Corner

We made an effort to search out a guide-book recommended restaurant. Called the Raja Cafe, it was located directly across the street from the entrance to the Western Temple Group. Usually this type of location spells trouble. Specifically, tourist-trap supreme: bad food, bad service and high prices. Worse, it had a “multinational” menu. Meaning, of course, they will try to please you, whatever country you are from. The menu even included “chicken schnitzel.” No veal here, of course, although I’ve seen a few potential candidates walking around the streets.

To our surprise, it turned out to be really good and reasonably priced — as promised in the guidebooks. Jo focused on the “multinational” section and once again tested the wood-burning pizza ovens of India. Although her lunch didn’t arrive until well after I was done eating, she gave it high marks. Would you believe you can get a doggy bag in India? Just don’t tell the doggies.

As far as the Indian selections, I decided to focus on the Tandoori offerings because I think we will be leaving the authentic Tandoori oven region as we travel east from here. The waiter directed me to chicken tikka masala, which I thought was kind of a cop-out and Raj-era Indian cuisine. But it actually turned out to be one of the best tikka masalas I’ve ever had.

The sauce was the real deal. Rich and complex and loaded with whole spices, like cardamon pods, to prove that no short cuts were taken and that it was actually home-made.  Also, it was obvious that the chicken had been roasted in the Tandoor oven on skewers. This added a welcome texture to the dish with some crispy edges to the chicken that was later folded into the sauce. The chicken was unusually tender. I’m sure it had been marinated in some type of yogurt/ginger/garlic mixture.

As a side note, the restaurant was a sprawling enterprise, with seating in a garden under a gigantic ancient tree, terrace seating upstairs that would have given a great view of the temples and an air-conditioned dining room. Since the temperature was over 100 degrees, we opted for the air conditioned room. In India, if you eat in an air-conditioned restaurant — or in a section of a restaurant that is air-conditioned — you have to pay an extra tax that is not levied on the people who can suffer the heat and not waste energy.

OK, so we’re not green. And we certainly were hot.

2 thoughts on “Naughty or nice?

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