Known for the profusion of sculptural embellishments on both exterior and interior walls, Khajuraho's temples are also recognizable for the exaggerated vertical sweep in the majority of the temples, with a series of shikharas (spires) that grow successively higher. Serving as both metaphoric and literal "stairways to heaven," these shikharas are believed to be a visual echo of the soaring Himalayan mountains, abode of Lord Shiva. Most of the sculpted temples are elevated on large plinths (often also shared by four smaller corner shrines), and follow the same five-part design. After admiring the raised entrance area, you will enter a colonnaded hall that leads to a smaller vestibule and then an inner courtyard, around which is an enclosed sanctum. You can circumnavigate the sanctum (move around the temple in a clockwise direction, in the manner of the ritual pradakshina, with your right shoulder nearest the temple building) to view the beautifully rendered friezes of gods, nymphs, animals, and energetically twisting bodies locked together in acts of hot-blooded passion.

Originally spread across a large open area, unprotected by walls, the temples -- most of them built from sandstone lugged on bullock carts from the banks of the River Ken 30km (19 miles) away -- are today roughly divided into three sections according to geographic location: the Western, Eastern, and Southern groups. The most spectacular -- and those most obviously dripping with erotic sculpture -- are within the Western Group. The Eastern Group is located near the old village, and the Southern Group, which is the most missable, lies south of this. As none of the temples outside the Western Group are likely to evoke quite the same delighted reaction, see these first if you're pushed for time or tired; they're also conveniently located near the majority of hotels. Try to enter as soon as they open (sunrise), not only for the quality of light but to avoid the busloads of tourists who will almost certainly detract from the experience.

You can cover the Western Group in 2 hours. The baritone voice of Amitabh Bachchan, arguably India's most popular screen icon, narrates the fascinating history of Khajuraho for the 50-minute sound-and-light show held here each night at 6:30pm (1 hr. later in summer). Try to time your visit to the Eastern Group for about 3 or 4pm, so you can enjoy the sunset while you return either to the Western Group or to the imminently more peaceful Chaturbhuj Temple in the Southern Group.

Tip: Remember when setting out to explore the temples that you need to wear shoes that you can easily slip on and off before and after you enter a temple building -- even if it is no longer in use.