The resplendent, immaculately restored Hindu temples of KHAJURAHO are an essential stop on any itinerary of India's historic monuments. Famed for the delicate sensuality – and forthright eroticism – of their sculpture, they were built between the tenth and twelfth centuries AD by the Chandella dynasty, who abandoned the area shortly afterwards for more secure ground. By the sixteenth century the temples had been swallowed by the surrounding jungle. It took "rediscovery" by the British in 1838 before they were fully appreciated in India, let alone internationally.
While Khajuraho might look central on maps of the Subcontinent, it remains as remote from the Indian mainstream as when the temples were built – which is presumably what spared them the depredations of the marauders, invaders and zealots who devastated so many early Hindu sites. No train routes cross this extended flood plain, set against the backdrop of the jagged Dantla hills, and visitors who don't fly straight here are faced with a long bus journey from the nearest railheads.
The exquisite intricacy of the temples was made possible by the soft fawn-coloured sandstone used in their construction. They have withstood the ravages of time remarkably well. Much of the ornate sculpture that adorns their walls is in such high relief as to be virtually three-dimensional, with strains of pink helping to imbue the figures with gentle flesh-like tones. The incredible skill of the artisans is evident throughout, with friezes as little as 10cm wide crammed with naturalistic details of ornaments, jewellery, hairstyles and even manicured nails. To add to the beauty of the whole ensemble, the temples subtly change hue as the day progresses. Dramatic floodlights pick them out in the evening, and they glow white when the moon is out.
The sheer splendour of the temples rather overshadows Khajuraho village, where most local people live and which is increasing in hotels and trinket shops fed by the daily tourist invasion. However, if you stay a night or two, you'll discover a relaxed pace of life, especially in the evening when the local market and open-air restaurants create a very sociable atmosphere.