An unknown number flickered on my mobile phone’s screen.
“Hello?” I said, tentatively.
A voice boomed back saying, “Hello madam! This is your autowala speaking. Could you tell me where your train has reached? I’m at Khajuraho station.”
I was seated in a passenger train headed to Khajuraho amidst a constant supply of chatter and chai. The idea for this trip was seeded when I had a week of holidays in hand and decided to travel solo to Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh. While Orchha and Chanderi were recommendations by a friend, a tweet about the ‘Top 8 Destinations for Solo Travellers in India’ convinced me about adding Khajuraho to my itinerary too. A series of delays through the rest my trip, courtesy the great Indian Railways, made me want to enter Khajuraho better prepared than usual. I had requested the hotel in Khajuraho to arrange for an auto rickshaw to pick me up from the station. And that is how this faceless voice came booming through the other end of the line.
Some six hours later, I stepped off the train at Khajuraho and began to scan the crowd of faces at the railway platform. He spotted me before I could, though he was holding up my name board and not vice versa! Did I stand out that much, I wondered? Rameshwar Bhai, the driver, was chatty through the bumpy ride to the hotel.
“You see that structure being constructed to your right? It is the International Airport so that foreign tourists needn’t have to come via Delhi.”
“The total population of Khajuraho is no more than 15000 citizens. The people here are very simple…”
He continued without a pause but with a shake of his head, “Yes. Too many big hotels have come up in the last 5-10 years.” Referring to the string of five and seven star hotels that had sprung up all over Khajuraho.
At the hotel when I turned around to pay him, he suggested I first check-in. I hesitated; surely I could take such calls, but decided to go with the flow. Check-in formalities out of the way in less than ten minutes, I turned around to find Rameshwar Bhai now seated and with a sheet of paper unfolded in front of him.
“There are three groups of temples at Khajuraho,” he said. “We could go to the Southern group this evening. The sunset is a must-see. We could cover…” The itinerary for the two days was laid out in front of me in minutes. My ‘tour’ of Khajuraho began that same evening.
Rameshwar Bhai didn’t accompany me as I walked around the different temples. His snippets of information would be presented just as I stepped out of the auto rickshaw. At my first stop, the Eastern Group of Temples, Rameshwar Bhai explained, “This is the Chaturbhuja Temple. It’s one of the rare temples that looks to the west. Don’t forget to look at the statue inside the temple. It has the face of Lord Shankar, the body of Lord Vishnu and the legs of Lord Krishna.” Later, as I stood there and watched the sunset, I realised why he’d insisted that I spend sunset at this temple. It was spellbinding to watch the rays of the sun gradually descend down the temple.
That wasn’t all he advised me during my trip; it was a non-stop supply. His best tip was to watch the ‘Light and Sound Show’ prior to visiting the Western Group of Temples. I normally stay away from such shows, but he’d said, “You won’t need to pay a guide to tell you anything later.” Thanks to him not only did I experience my first ‘Light and Sound Show’, I didn’t need a guide to chaperone me around the next day, and sometimes it’s nice to walk around without the guide setting a fast pace. His second best tip was a restaurant recommendation for authentic Bundeli food. Needless to say, it was my most satisfying meal at Khajuraho.
Rameshwar Bhai also set me free on my last day! I spent it learning interesting facts like how the erotic sculptures at Khajuraho comprise a mere 1/10th of the total sculptures on the temple walls and I also stumbled upon the Pratapeshwar Temple which has three distinct elements—the Islamic dome, the Buddhist pagoda and the Hindu temple spire—all on one structure. Later in the day, I crossed paths with Rameshwar Bhai at my hotel.
“So did you see the temples?” He asked.
I nodded back as if to say, “Just the way you directed.”
Today as I sit and reminiscence about my trip, I wonder where and how he’d picked up all that information about Khajuraho and its temples. I have many memories of those ancient temples from my trip, and one that rivals those is the voice of Rameshwar Bhai, my rickshaw driver and guide. If any of you bump into him at the Khajuraho train station, don’t hesitate to hire him for your trip and if you do, ask him how he learnt so much!
Travels, Writes, Travels, Blogs, Travels, Reads, Travels—in that order, Elita hasn’t looked back since that day she travelled solo for the first time. For her, writing and blogging about her travels are not only forms of expression to be shared but also opportunities to relive her travels once more, albeit through words.She blogs at Nomadic Thunker.