It was a quintessential scene of life in rural India. Fields of Buffalo, cows and goats that lazily roamed around the open, dusty countryside that was punctuated by the ancient, elaborate temples. Women and children chatted as they collected water and washed at a pump just outside the village.
The bicycles we had hired to explore the temples and countryside of rural India looked almost as ancient as the temples but more decrepit. The combination of rusty bikes and the road that started off pot holed and ended as a rutted track made for a bumpy, uncomfortable ride and sore bottoms.
Despite this we enjoyed the freedom of cycling as we rode out of the tourist areas around the starched countryside. We rode down random country lanes as we explored, the pace of life slowed down and we got a glance into life in rural India.
The old village was pretty and well kept, the houses painted in whites, dusky pinks, blues and mellow yellows and the streets were clean and swept. We caught glimpses of villagers in their houses, sitting outside or going about their business and heard singing and chanting coming from a small school.
The local kids were very insistent as they followed us round the country lanes asking questions, trying to sell us things and demanding money, chocolate and pens. The most popular hobby seems to be coin collecting, upon asking where you are from they will say “nice country, do you have a coin for my collection?”
In contrast we did met a really nice tourist coach load of older Indian men and women who were very nice and polite. They wanted a massive photo session with me which was quite funny.
Khajuraho is famous for the ancient temples with elaborate erotic carvings but it also has a group of Jain temples which were paler and a simpler style.
I know very little about Jainism but it originated in India in the 6th century BC and disagreed with the strictures of Brahminical Hinduism, the caste system and the unthinking worship of gods. The Jains believe in attaining liberation through purity of the soul and fundamental to this is ahimsa – non violence towards any living thing so monks have to sweep paths before them to make sure they don’t step on and harm any insects.
Jainism didn’t really spread outside rural India unlike Buddhism and other religions. There are similarities to Buddhism which also originated at this time when the Buddha achieved enlightenment through meditation in Bodhgaya in Bihar, India.
For lunch I had a veg thali, a traditional rural India dish. It included chapati bread, rice, 2 vegetarian curries and a spinach and paneer (cheese) dip thing. It tasted OK and filled a hole but it wasn’t something I go out of my way for.
After lunch we continued exploring the countryside on our bicycles. The countryside was dry and dusty, the grass scorched by the harsh sun and interrupted with muddy tyre tracks, spindly trees, wandering cows and buffalo and and small dwellings.
It had a quaint historical feeling about it. I guess life in rural India has not changed that dramatically since the temples were built and as we rode past villagers and children they would smile, wave and shout out hello at us.
It could have been hundreds of years ago apart from the motorbikes, old rusty tractors and trucks overloaded with passengers that hurtled past at alarming speeds and the occasional large modern four wheel drive car.
There was wildlife all around in the fields that spilled onto the roads and trucks had to swerve to avoid the wandering cows and boars.
We watched an amusing scene where 3 tractors carefully and slowly manoeuvred around a very small, suicidal sandy coloured puppy that was darting around the middle of the road. Some local children laughed with us and ended up saving the pupy by putting it in the basket of their bikes. The trucks and tractors continued only to be stopped moments later by a string of donkeys and small horses crossing the road.
As the sun started to go down it gave the land and the temples an amber glow, we turned down a lane of houses stained grey by time and the monsoon rains.
To our surprise two large grey and white monkeys with black faces and with their long tails curled up in a large curve scampered across the road right in front of us.
They jumped into the garden of a small white house and preceded to gobble up tomato plants and other greenery in the garden. We stopped and quietly watched these impressive monkeys in awe.
After feeding in the garden they bounded back across the road over to where we were standing and walked up and down the wall, jumping up nimbly into the trees and onto the roofs of the small buildings.
I nearly squealed with delight when I noticed that one of the large monkeys was carrying a little baby monkey under her tummy. He clung on as she leaped around. Then they sat on the wall just a metre or so from where I was standing. It was amazing and such a beautiful surprise to be so close up to these incredible monkeys and their baby.
I watched as the mummy monkey sat and groomed her baby right in front of me. After about 5 minutes she sort of tossed the baby other to the male monkey and he swept him up under his tummy and leapt up tree skilfully and bounded over the roofs of the buildings against the fading sunlight. Truly amazing!
Sometimes the most priceless moments don’t happen at the iconic tourist sites, they happen when you leave the guidebook behind and just explore.
We were treated to another, even more amazing, experience later when we attended a wedding anniversary party in a home in the old village which I will talk about in the next post.