I first visited Khajuraho some years ago, just after the first rail link to the town had been built. At the time it was a quiet place, reached only by hardened travellers willing to take on bus travel and a hefty, bumpy journey across the north. My previous post talks about how the place is leafy, empty, free of hassle and all but abandoned…… Oh how things have changed.
Stepping out of the rickshaw having travelled from Chatrapur 500INR we were instantly accosted. People telling us we needed tickets, guides, offers of rickshaws, restaurants, hotels, books and fake gold. The scams were instant, and neatly weaved with careful half truths. I had booked a hotel at the Happy House Homestay based on the very high rating on Booking.com and trip advisor. Expecting to be led to the Homestay I was to be met with the oldest scam in travel history. The classic “there is a problem at the property so I have found you somewhere else” scam. Turns out, having walked to the Homestay that it didn’t even exist. The reviews are completely fake and just a ruse to scam unsuspecting tourists to opt to take the alternative accommodation at a higher price.
That was how our trip to Khajuraho started, was the theme throughout, and as we were leaving.
Gone are the quiet streets, gone are the vibes, the trainline has ushered in an era of relentless hassle, aggression, dirt, scams and the worst of our time in India.
Though visitors come for the temples showing karma Sutra, yoga and a relaxing walk around the countryside, they are now met with entrance prices that have tripled, guide prices that are the highest in the country, mostly sub par accommodation, food and frequent power outages. Khajuraho is not what it used to be, and most certainly not what you expect it to be.
It is impossible to walk the streets without constant harassment, even sat eating food in a restaurant the owner will join you and try to sell you everything and provide every service imaginable. The word ‘no’ has no meaning in Khajuraho, but when after saying it some 15 or 20 times the person will curse at you, likely spit on the ground and eyeball you with absolute hatred.
Days in Khajuraho are spent saying “no thank you”, avoiding traffic that tries to mow you down, avoiding being scammed, seeing through blatant lies and scratching mosquito bites.
I was travelling with 3 children, and on the day we were there, kids under 15 were free, those over paid full price which is of course, almost 20 times higher than Indians pay. There were so many guides at the entrance, it was impossible to even buy a ticket “guides compulsory” constantly being shouted at me, and insisted at me. They aren’t. Having visited the temples previously we opted to grab lunch at Raja café, a nice little place with optimum views over the complex. And the place we realised we didn’t actually need to go into the complex at all.
The hassle continued to the point of exhaustion, so I decided to grab some bikes for 100INR each, and head out of town to the Eastern temples. These are free, and though not as imposing as those in the Western complex are still worth a visit. Hassles continued at the temple, including someone saying he would steal the bikes unless I paid him. We ditched the temples and rode off into the countryside.
Very soon we were amongst the Khajuraho I remembered. No traffic, no people, birds singing in the trees, buffalo cooling themselves down in water holes. Occasionally we would see some working in a field, they would wave at us, we would wave back. We passed through a number of villages, kids ran behind us shouting “namaste” and waving, laughing. We found random temples far from anywhere, explored ruins of eras gone by, threw stones in a river, and cycled. It was perfect.
Around 6 hours later we began to arrive back into Khajuraho, sat on my bike at the side of the road having a drink of water, an auto rickshaw driver appeared; “you want rickshaw” he barked, clearly not seeing the bike I was sat on. “No thank you” I replied. “very far, too hot and too far to ride”, at the side of me was a mile marker saying we were 1km out of town. “No thank you”, I replied. “Where you from” “no thank you”. “Mister, I am trying to help you, you are very far”…… And so it was. We were back in Khajuraho, desperately waiting for the time of our train so that we could leave forever, one of Indias biggest disappointments.