There is More to India than the Taj - EAST India

  • This article tells about the architectural grandeur of monuments in Unakoti Tripura, Bishnupur West Bengal, Konarak Odisha and Khajuraho Madhya Pradesh.

When foreigners plan an India visit the Golden Triangle, consisting of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, is a must see. Within that the Taj Mahal is a must see. Nothing wrong with that but from an architectural standpoint there are monuments across India that match if not exceed the Taj.

Part ONE covered Gujarat and Maharashtra. Monuments include Kailasa Temple Ellora & Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, Rani-ki-Vav Patan and Surya Mandir Modhera in Gujarat.

Part TWO covered Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Monuments include Big Temple Thanjavur, Palaces of Chettinad, Mysore Palace, Badami Caves, Belur Temples and Hampi.

Part three covers Unakoti, Bishnupur, Sun Temple and Khajuraho. Format is about place, how to reach, name of guide & links to albums of places to see.

Unakoti Rock Carvings Tripura. 

1 UNAKOTI Tripura - Rock Carvings

Visited 2014. I reached Silchar from Aizwal. Stayed at Kamadhenu Hotel because the bus to Dharmanagar leaves from outside the hotel. Took bus at 5.30 am (Unakoti is 20 minutes from there). The minute the bus entered Tripura good roads, forests & cleanliness welcomed us.

At the Dharmanagar bus stand are a number of private taxis which take you to Unakoti, cost about Rs 500/ in 2014. Very scenic drive to Unakoti, tea gardens on either side of the road.


The marvellous rock carvings & murals with their primitive beauty are a must see. Unakoti means one less than a crore, it is believed these many rock cut carvings are available here.

These carvings are located at a beautifully landscaped forest. The images found at Unakoti are rock-carved figures and stone images. Central Shiva head and gigantic Ganesha figures deserve special mention. The central Shiva head known as Unakotiswara Kal Bhairava is about 30 feet high including an embroidered head-dress which itself is 10 feet high. On each side of the head-dress of the central Shiva, there are two full size female figures - one of Durga standing on a lion and another female figure on the other side. 

How to reach, where to stay and how much time to spend

The closest airport is Silchar (120 kms away) or fly to Agartala (171 kms away from Dharmanagar). Keep 2-3 hours for seeing. Visit JAMPUI Hills close by, nice and scenic.

Links to albums

1 Unakoti

2 Places to see in Tripura

WHEEL, 2 by 16 spokes, 8 broad n 8 thin. Spokes minutely carved.

2 SUN TEMPLE Konarak, Odisha

Temple built by Raja Narsimhadeva of the Ganga dynasty. It was built in 1250 A.D. to enshrine an image of Arka (Sun) the patron deity of the place. It resembles a chariot with 12 pairs of wheels pulled by 7 galloping horses and has a 3 tiered pyramidal roof topped off by a fine spire. 12 wheels represent 12 months of the year. The chariot represents 7 days of the week and 24 hours of the day.

3 rock types were used i.e. chlorite, laterite and khondalite. The masonry is ashlar. The facing stones were smoothly finished and fitted together so finely that the joints are hardly visible. The 8 spokes in each wheel symbolise the 8 prahars (time frames) of the day.

Area in red is that of a Giraffe. Indicates trade relations with Africa during 13th century.

Photo albums cover temple exhaustively. You must see the following -


1. Motifs: elephants in various altitudes, military march and processions, caravans.

2. Platform: see ladies motives e.g. wringing water from wet hair, tail of snake.

3. Deity: Navagarhas–Surya, Chandra, Mangala, Buddha, Brihaspati, Sukra etc

4. Doorframe Panel: has 3 images – Siva, Shakti, and Vaishnav. 

5. Surya Chariot: Images of Sun God & Temple of Shadow or Chhaya Devi.

6. Mithuna couples or exotic scenes.

7. Natya Mandir.

8. Ladies playing musical instruments  

Do visit Chandrabhaga Beach and Museum close by. If you are driving in from Bhubaneshwar do stop by at PIPLI for local handicrafts.

Mukteshwar Mandir Bhubaneshwar is a gem of Odisha temple architecture. 


Muktesvara, made in late 10th century is worth seeing. Temple spire rises up to 35 feet. The corners of the sanctum tower or sikhara are carefully rounded off, and the edges of the ratha-paga projections are bevelled to a certain extent, with the result we see a graceful & softened outline of the sikhara.

How to reach, where to stay, how much time to keep and Guide

Konarak is 65 kms from Bhubaneshwar and 35 kms from Puri. Lots of hotels to stay at various price points. Check out Orissa Tourism hotel too. If you start at 7 am will finish seeing by say 3ish. Guides used Panda, 91 73776 66652 and Shankar, 91 99377 08364. 

Links to albums

1 Surya Mandir 1

2 Surya Mandir 2

3 Mukteshwar Mandir Bhubaneshwar

4 Places to see in Odisha

Madanmohan Mandir Bishnupur. Pic by Parthip Ray.

2 Terracota Temples Bishnupur West Bengal

Since I have not travelled to Bishnupur taken matter from respected and famous travel writer Rangan Dutta blog. Terracotta literally means baked earth in Italian but West Bengal has the distinction of housing some of the finest terracotta art in the world. The terracotta art reached its pinnacle under the patronage of the Malla Kings of Bishnupur during the seventeenth century.” 3

“The Malla Kingdom flourished and after about 300 years the 10th Malla King Jagat Malla decided to shift his kingdom to Bishnupur. Over the next 800 years Jagat Malla and his descendants built several temples and structures (both of brick and stone) turning Bishnupur into a temple town.” 3

Temples are located in a compact area so can walk around or hire a rickshaw. Temples are -

Rasmancha Temple, one of its kind in Bengal probably in India. Pic by Parthip Ray.

Rasmancha: “Built in 1600 by the Malla King Hambir, the Rashmancha is the oldest standing structure of Bishnupur. It is architecturally unique and one of its kind in the whole of Bengal, probably in the whole of India.” 3

Shyamrai Temple: “A left turn from the Ghumghar leads to the Shyamrai Temple, popularly known as the Pachchura temple, because of its five pinnacles. Built by Mallaraja Raghunath Singha in 1643 this is terracotta at its best.” 3

Kestorai Temple: “A short distance away from the Shyamrai Temple is the Kestorai temple. It follows the jora bangle style of architecture and hence is popularly known as the Jore Bangle Temple.” Radhashyam Temple: “Just next to the Kestorai Temple is the Radhashyam Temple. This Ek – ratna (Single Pinnacled) temple is built of laterite stone and contains lime stone stucco decoration.” 3

Radha Laljiu Temple:Built by the Malla King Bir Singha in 1658 it is considered as the finest laterite stone temple in Bishnupur.” Madan Mohan Temple: “This single pinnacled temple has some of the finest terracotta in the whole of Bishnupur and shouldn’t be missed. Built in1694 by Malla King Durjan Singh the star attraction of Madan Mohan is its intricate terracotta.” 3

Also see the Dalmadal Canon: Seven Ek – Ratna Temples, Bishnupur Museum.

How to reach, where to stay and how much time to spend

Bishnupur is 132 kms from Kolkata. Bishnupur is well connected from Howrah by train, take Rupashi Bangla and Purilia Express. It has hotels at various price points. West Bengal Tourism Lodge is an option. Bishnupur is famous for the Baluchari saree and terracotta items.


1 Bishnupur Temples

2 West Bengal Tourism site

3 Rangan Dutta Blog on Bishnupur

Vishwanatha Shiv Mandir Khajuraho. 

4 KHAJURAHO TEMPLES, Madhya Pradesh  

Our holiday route was Delhi, Gwalior, Jhansi, Orchha, Khajuraho, Chitrakoot, Prayagraj and Kashi. The drive from Orchha to Khajuraho took about three hours in 2008.


Khajuraho has the best collection of temples at one place. Only Pattadakal temples in Karnataka are comparable. Do see the Light & Sound Show. Temples were rediscovered in the 1850’s. Of the 85 temples only 20 have survived. Temples are divided into three groups.


The Western group consists of Chausauth-yogini, Lalgaun Mahadev, Varaha (900-925 A.D), Matangeshwara (900-925 A.D.), Parvati (950-1000 A.D), Lakshmana (930-950 A.D), Vishwanatha (1002 A.D.), Nandi shrine, Chitragupta (early 11th century), Devi Jagdambi (early 11th century), ruined Shiva temple and Kandariya Mahadeva Mandir the best (1025-50 A.D.)


The Eastern group consists of temples Brahma (900 A.D.), statue of Hanuman, Vamana (1050-75 A.D.), Shantinath, Parshwanath (mid-10th century), Adhinath (late 11th century), Ghantai temple (late 10th century) and Javari temple (1075-1100 A.D.).


The Southern group consists of temples Duladeo (1100-50 A.D.) and Chaturbhuja temple (early 11th century). There is an Archaeological Museum close to the temple. The information below is essentially from board outside temple and given temple wise.


Visvanatha Mandir - “This temple is among the finest monuments of Khajuraho and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was a Panchayatana (five shrine temples) shrine but of the four subsidiary shrines only two in the northeast and southwest have survived. The temple shows all the elements of the developed Khajuraho temples – entrance porch (ardha mandapa), Mandapa, Maha Mandapa and Sanctum enclosed by an ambulatory.”


A Panchayatan temple consist of a large central shrine which the principal shrine housing the deity to whom the temple is dedicated, and four subsidiary shrines at the four corners of the platform which are dedicated to the other members of the panchayat of Gods. The detached Nandi pavilion forms an integral part of the architectural scheme of the temple. The square pavilion rests on 12 pillars and enshrines a massive image of Nandi, the vehicle of Siva.  


Pics of Vishwanatha Mandir


Chitragupta Mandir – “The temple closely resembles the Jagdambi temple and consists of a sanctum (Garbhagriha) without ambulatory, avestibule (Antarala), a Maha Mandapa with lateral transepts and an entrance porch (Ardha Mandapa). The main image in the sanctum is an impressive sculpture of Surya standing in a chariot driven by seven horses. This is the only temple in Khajuraho dedicated to Surya.


The temple walls are carved with some of the finest figures of Sura-Sundaris and an eleven headed Vishnu in the central niche of the South façade.” 


Jagadambi Mandir – “Named for the image of Parvati now enshrined in the sanctum, Jagdambi temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu. The lintel of the Garabhagriha contains a 4 armed standing Vishnu figure.”


Pictures of these temples

Kandhariya Mahadev Mandir Khajuraho, no words to describe it.


Kandariya Mahadeva Mandir - “The temple was built during 1025 to 1050 A.D, is the largest and loftiest monument of Khajuraho & dedicated to Lord Shiva. It consists of an entrance porch (ardha mandapa), Mandapa, Maha mandapa, Antarala (vestibule) and Garbhagriha (sanctum). The sanctum is enclosed by a Pradakshinapatha (ambulatory passage).”


Its mature plan and design, dimensions and symmetrical proportions, superb sculptural embellishment and architectural elaboration, all mark it out as the most evolved of the central Indian building style and one of the most sublime creations of Indian architecture.


The temple has a lofty basement with elegantly ornamented mouldings including friezes of elephants, horses, warriors and hunters, acrobats & musicians, dancers, devotees etc.”


It has an elegantly carved Torana decorated with a kirtim ukha and a frieze of dancers and musicians. The lintel of the sanctum is represented with a four armed Siva flanked by Brahma and Vishnu on the right and left side respectively.


One can count as many as 872 images of 2.5 feet to 3 ft in height on the walls of the Kandariya temple, 674 on the Vishwanath temple. On the body of Varah in the Varaha temple 672 images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are carved.


Pictures of Kandariya Mahadeva Temple


Varaha Mandir - “The shrine built on a loft plinth is simpler, has an oblong pavilion with a pyramidal roof of receding tiers, resting on 14 plain pillars. The temple enshrines the monolithic image of Varaha, the boar incarnation of Vishnu. The shrine is built entirely of sandstone. It is dated circa 900-925 A.D.”


Lakshmana Mandir - “The temple dedicated to Vishnu was built by Chandela ruler Yasovarman during 930-950 A.D. It is a sandhara temple of the Panchayatana variety. The temple consists of all the principal elements of the developed temple – the entrance porch (ardha mandapa), mandapa, maha mandapa, antarala and garbhagriha.


Two rows of sculptures including divine figures, couples and erotic scenes adorn the wall surfaces. The sanctum doorway is of seven sakhas, the central one is decorated with various incarnations of Vishnu. The lintel depicts Laxmi in the centre flanked by Brahma and Vishnu. The sanctum contains an image of the 4 armed Vishnu.”


Matangeswara Mandir - is a place of worship. Dedicated to Lord Shiva it has an 8 feet high lingam. Loved the lingam, still part of me. Lots of devotees, some danced with peacock feathers. Interesting they performed some sort of a dandiya dance with sticks.


Vamana Mandir - “The temple is dedicated to the Vamana incarnation of Vishnu consisting on plan of a saptartha sanctum vestibule, Mahamandapa with late-raltransepts and in entrance porch. The sanctum is Niradhara and enshrines an image of the 4 armed Vishnu flanked by Chakrapurusha on the left and Sankhapurusha on the right.”


Pictures of Vamana Temple  Eastern group of temples are –


Adhinath Mandir - “Temple is known after the enshrined image of Adhinatha. Originally encompassed all the basic members of Nirandhara temple including Mandapa and Ardhamandapa now completely lost. Built in the later part of 11th century A.D.”


Parsvanatha Mandir - “The largest and best preserved amongst the old temples of Khajuraho has individual features of plan and design.”


Pictures of Jain Temples Southern group of temples are -


Duladeo Mandir - “Dedicated to Siva, the temple faces the east and consists of a sanctum without ambulatory, vestibule, mahamandapa and an entrance porch. The Sikhara is clustered round by three rows of minor sikhara, its Mahamandapa shows some peculiarities of design and decoration, the Mahamandapa is octagonal showing 20 Apsaras bracket which are elaborately crowned and heavily ornamented. Temple belongs to early half of 12th century.”

Chaturbhuja Mandir - “This is the only temple at Khajuraho which lacks exotic sculptures. Except the vidyadhars the top rows are stereo typed and without much life or expression. The image of Dakshinamurthi which is houses in the sanctum is remarkable for its expression of transcendental calm and bliss. The temple is datable to 1100 A.D.”


How to reach and how much time to keep

There is a flight from Delhi to Khajuraho. The Khajuraho station is well connected to Delhi and Kashi and (via Satna Railway Station) to Mumbai and Kolkata.  OR take train to Jhansi from where Khajuraho is 172 kms, from Satna is 112 kms, from Chitrakoot 151 kms. Lots of hotels at various price points. We stayed at the Madhya Pradesh one, very nice.


There is so much to re-discover in east India. Unless otherwise stated all pictures in article clicked by Sanjeev Nayyar.


1 Detailed information about Khajuraho Temples

2 Madhya Pradesh Tourism website

Author is a travel photojournalist and founder  

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