Today, a complete contrast: from the acme of pure devotion that is the Taj Mahal to the riot of explicit sexuality represented in the equally famous statues and carvings of the Hindu temples of Chandela. To get there, we take a two-hour train ride followed by a five hour coach ride on bumpy country roads. The railway system itself is quite orderly, but the station when we get off at Jhansi shocks and upsets most of us by its squalor and the misery of the beggars who drag themselves along, their mutilated legs twisted behind them. I am so distracted that a nimble little boy snatches the bottle of water I am carrying out of my hands. Children here often beg for pens but this is the first time I've seen them go for water.
But once on the bus, most of our drive takes us through prosperous villages with healthy, neatly dressed villagers; well-fed Indians are a beautiful people with their fine features, glossy hair and willowy build.
The hotel resort at Chandela is tucked into a lovely garden and our rooms are delightful; everyone's good humor is restored. The other tourists are French, Swiss or German.
The morning looms hot as we head out to the temples, built in the 11th C, later abandoned, covered in jungle growth and re-discovered by an English officer in the 19th C. We soon realize why we are assigned a special guide- Rajput, a jovial man with heavy mustache and heavy accent- for the visit to the Hindu temples: our regula guide for the trip- Ritu- is a very proper woman utterly incapable of launching into salacious interpretations of the temple engravings. Rajput, on the other hand, delights in pointing out gods, men, women, and occasionally animals in contorted poses that would test any yogi's balance.We are shown temples to Kama, the god of love, to Vishnu and Shiva and their spouses. Of course, many of the engravings are intended to be interpreted allegorically, our guide explains.
At some point, in response to a question from an Indian couple passing by, he explains something in Hindi and then turns to us and says that he had to give them an alternative explanation in order not to shock them. He apparently believes all Americans to be unshockable; he has clearly not heard of the Bible Belt.
He asserts that the depiction of the naked women in poses of sexual abandon is evidence of the high status of women in 11C India, before the Mughals Muslims brought about veiling and what he considers debasement of women. I remark that some might take the Taj Mahal, the ultimate homage to a woman, as evidence of her high status.