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Khajuraho

Home to what are arguably the finest Hindu temples in all India, Khajuraho is a remarkable and atmospheric location. By virtue of being fairly isolated the temples have been spared much of the destruction caused by pillaging armies over the centuries, and the site is remarkably well preserved.

Built between the 10th and 12th centuries, Khajuraho is the greatest monument of the Chandella dynasty. The site was mysteriously abandoned shortly after construction, and lay undisturbed for hundreds of years until its rediscovery by a British army officer in 1839. Carved from soft sandstone, the site is best known for the erotic sculptures that adorn the walls, carved in such high relief that they appear to be almost 3-dimensional. Gods and goddesses wear elaborate hairstyles, jewellery and ornaments, and are depicted in a variety of creative postures. As the light changes throughout the day the friezes appear to become even more lifelike, changing in colour from warm pink at sunrise to white in the glare of noon and back to pink at sunset again. At night they emerge from the shadows to shine in the moonlight.

The erotic sculptures, though they account for less than 10% of the carvings, have been regarded as degenerate by various societies, and T S Burt, the British officer who found the site, described them, with characteristic Victorian outlook, thus: "The sculptor had at times allowed his subject to grow a little warmer than there was any absolute necessity for his doing; indeed some of the sculptures were extremely indecent... the religion of the ancient Hindoo can not have been very chaste".

The Chandellas were followers of a Tantric system of belief that considered gratification of earthly desires to be a step towards attaining liberation. The most intricate are to be found on the temples of Kandariya Mahadeva, Vishvanatha and Lakshmana - known as the Western Group. The temples are still used for the Shivratri Shiva Festival held in February and March, but otherwise they are devoid of religious significance today.

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Time: GMT +5½ hours

Flight time: Flight time from London to Delhi is 8 hours 30 minutes and to Mumbai is about 8 hours.

Language: The official language is Hindi, which about 30% of the population speaks. English is very widely spoken and is used for official and commercial purposes.

Visas: Required for British travellers. Other nationalities should obtain advice from their embassy.

Health: There are no compulsory vaccinations.

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