Sick of Khajuraho

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
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Trip End Mar 21, 2008


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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Both of our India videos are now uploaded!  See the Contents Page (entry #1) for all the videos.

Three days in one place, especially one as small as Orchha, feels like a long time so we are kind of ready to go again.  Painful diarrhoea aside, we really enjoyed Orchha and would recommend it to anyone looking for respite from the hectic cities.  Get in quick though, because in another five years it could be over-run with tourists and touts, like Khajuraho. 

Incidentally, Khajuraho happens to be our next destination.  Our research pulled up differing opinions of the place.  Some visitors feel it is a stimulating, spiritual site of worship, an exciting legacy of a millenium-old dynasty.  To others it is a tacky tourist-trap, crawling with crooked touts hawking rubbishy souvenirs and busloads of camera-laden Koreans filling in the gaps.  On balance, we had decided not to come here and to visit Allahabad instead.  However, we learned that the mighty festival of Kumbh Mela, the world's largest religious gathering, coincided with our schedule.  Kumbh attracts upwards of 20 million pilgrims to Allahabad, making it briefly the world's largest city.  We weighed up the pros and cons of a few pushy salesmen versus 20 million pious pilgrims.  On reflection, we may have found it easier to splash in the polluted Sangam river with millions of naked holy men, but we chose Khajuraho instead.

It's not that the town itself is bad.  The UNESCO-protected temples, famous for their explicit Kama Sutra-style sculptures, are quite storied.  Our 'Let's Go' guidebook, a little melodramatically, gushes: "From war to love, from joy to sorrow, the carvings cover the breadth of human experience".  Some of the hotels, particularly our one, are well-appointed and enjoyable and the numerous rooftop restaurants look quite peaceful and tasty.  The problem with Khajuraho is the people. 

When the tourist boom began in the mid-70s, locals and carpetbaggers realised that where there are tourists there should be souvenir shops.  And over-priced restaurants.  And travel agents.  And, more recently, internet cafes.  Naturally, every such business needs a relentlessly annoying chap to stand outside and bark excitedly at any non-Indian who walks past.  The intense competition between the 30-odd identical handicraft stores means that these guys have to be original in their 'pick-up' lines. 

"Sir, how are you today? Please come look my store.  One minute only.  I have special price for you.  Where are you from?  How you like India? Where are you going? Please, sir, madam - beautiful Kashmiri shawls I have.  You want statue?  This is best store in India.  Please, see my letters from customers all around the world.  How much you pay for this bronze elephant?  Best quality in India.  Come, have some chai.  Please, madam, look one minute.  You look every other store, why not mine?  I make special deal . . ." and so on, and so on, ad nauseum. 

At first we respond with polite "no thankyou"s but this does little to deter them.  "Maybe later" is translated as a firm promise - on the way back the same guy will say "you promised to visit later, please come now.  I am waiting for you.  Why do you say you will come if you will not?"  We quickly decide that we will not encourage this sort of hassle and that we will only visit those stores without annoying touts.  Of course, it pisses the aggressive ones off no end when we stroll past their animated sales pitches and enter the store with no salesman outside.  We end up buying a small wooden statue of Ganesh, the elephant god at one such place but we had intended to buy a souvenir somewhere in India anyway.  Now that we have our souvenir, we are even less inclined to look at any other stores.

It's not just the handicraft stores that have irritating touts.  Men representing the restaurants, internet cafes, travel agents and convenience stores all bombard you with their pleas for business.  Rickshaw drivers slow down and toot as they drive past then yell from their windows, causing the backed up traffic behind to honk as well.  Add in the locals who genuinely just want to talk with you and aren't selling anything and the cumulative effect is a virtual wall of noise, a never-ending buzz like a bee flying around your ears.  We don't want to spend all our time in the hotel but even crossing the road to buy a bottle of water attracts a swarm of desperate hawkers.
 
Tuesday, January 16
 
We are not at all sad to leave Khajuraho.  Even right up to the time we get on the bus we are being pestered by locals hoping for a last minute sale.  The nearest train station to Khajuraho is in Satna, a five-hour bus journey away. 
 
There is a big crowd of Koreans waiting on the platform at Satna and we figure it is unlikely they would all let the train go without them, so we stand nearby.  It is another one of these vast platforms and when the train arrives an hour late it stops at the far end from where we are all standing.  This sends the Koreans into a panic, fearing they will miss the train.  They all race down the platform like a herd of buffalo, sending Indians flying in all directions.  We follow in their slipstream, as we don't want to miss the train either and we all descend en masse upon the same carriage - presumably the foreigners' car.  We needn't have rushed, as the train doesn't leave for another hour.  The Koreans busy themselves by taping huge plastic sheets up against the windows to stop the draught and unloading all their sleeping equipment.
 
It's a step up from our previous train journey, we are now in Second Class Sleeper.  This means that everyone has a designated 'berth', a thinly padded bench that can double as a bed when required.  It doesn't feel all that Indian though, being surrounded by Koreans on all sides.  At least we are not stared at constantly and manage to get some sleep before we roll into Varanasi Junction station.
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