Treasury of Madhya Pradesh

There are certain adventures that are not to be had from any tourist brochure, however glossy and expensive, and the exquisite group of temples that adorn the countryside outside of Gwalior in the Morena district of Madhya Pradesh is one of the most sublime. Before anyone rushes to tell me that they have already “been there, done that” I should point out that until very recently, this part of India was dacoit (bandit) country and pretty much impassable to the authorities, never mind foreigners.

Nowadays the mustard seed and chili growing countryside looks deceptively serene and the Archaeological Survey of India has been doing an absolutely splendid job of cataloguing and restoring these 6th to 11th century treasures. Quite why the bandits didn’t resort to plundering the toppled treasures and selling them on the illicit antiquities market defeats my understanding, for all around the sites are beautiful, thousand year old carvings lying among the weeds.

When arranging this impromptu excursion, I was told that the sixty four Yogini statues that should decorate the niches of the incomparable Mitawali circular temple were not available to be seen on site. Whether this means that they are lost to history, that they have been taken away for restoration or that they now sit in one of the great museum collections of Europe, is something that I will have to find out when I return. I am also told that the Indian Parliament echoes the design of this hilltop marvel but whether it is the only ancient example of its kind in the country is, again, something for further research.

A few kilometres away from this site it is possible to see a more classically shaped and adorned sun temple at Garhi Padhavali. It has been enclosed by a 19th century fort but this time it was the rulers of Jat Ranas who incorporated ancient statuary into their defensive bastions rather than the British. There is also some evidence of iconoclastic decapitation but it doesn’t seem to have been very thoroughly carried out. More questions spring to mind.

The oldest group of temples, the Batesara Complex, is not far from here. As late as 2005 a comprehensive restoration project was undertaken and the on-site superintendent was only to happy to take me around with his fascinating album of “before and after” photographs. Take half a dozen three-dimensional puzzles, shake them in a box, lose a quarter of the pieces and reduce another quarter to dust and only then will you have some idea of what the archaeologists are facing here. Hopefully my pictures will give you a hint.

Great trouble has been taken over the landscaping of a surrounding garden and the installation of VIP toilets (a boy was sent running ahead to ensure that the water was switched on) and, much as I loved having it all to myself, I couldn’t help wondering about plans for the future. I enquired about UNESCO status and was proudly told that “paperwork doing now” so I will watch the web for future developments. This area will benefit immensely from the prestige and the foreign money that World Heritage designation will bring, although I think it much more likely to remain preserve of the dedicated “Culture Vulture” than the “tick another one off the list”type of traveller.

I have to admit that I was pretty fatigued by this stage of my journey and somewhat ill-prepared. Much as I have enjoyed sorting through the photographs, I will have to leave captioning them until I get to one of those museums so that I can correctly identify the different styles, architectural elements and (most importantly) all the various gods and goddesses who must have been following my peregrinations around India with the greatest amusement.

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