Monday, April 10, 2017


Friday, 31 March 2017

Palitana is major Jain pilgrimage site. It is here on Shatrunjaya Hill that the tirthankaras achieved enlightenment and/or other significant milestones in their lives. The hilltop (2 closely spaced summits and a narrow saddle in between) is covered with temples and shrines -- over 1000 altogether. Unfortunately, all photography has been prohibited within the temple complex since 2014. Apparently many Jains thought the sacredness of the site was being compromised by YouTube videos.

We started up the mountain at 6:15 AM to take advantage of the (relative) coolness of the early morning. That meant getting up at 4 AM, catching a bite of breakfast, and leaving our hotel at 5 AM. Vendors in Palitana are ready for early-rising pilgrims.
Google maps shows the 4 km (2.5 mile) path up the hill starting at the far upper left. The temple complex is in the lower right. There are a few temples along the way, and two big ones at the bottom, so even those not up to the climb can worship at the site. Fortunately, you are allowed to wear shoes on the path. Jains are not supposed to drink the entire time on the mountain, but others may bring water. No one is allowed to bring food or eat along the way. Shoes and water must be left outside the temple complex.
The top of this ridge is not the top of the hill!
There are more than 3500 stone steps to the top. Quite a few more if you count all the ups and downs visiting the temples. The top of the mountain is about 1700 ft above the town.
There are plenty of opportunities to hire a “doli” to take you up and down the steps. This particular one has a folding lawn chair lashed to poles, but most were a swinging seat hung from a single pole. Negotiations over price are important. If the price seems too low, it may turn out that the ride ends after 600 or 800 steps!
Progress to the top is marked by painted signs on the steps. For some reason, the distance is usually given in miles.  At first glance, the top photo looks like there is snow and ice on the ground, but it’s really just wet paint. The top sign reads “mile” 1. The step count is 897 -- the sign shows Gujarati numerals.
The sun was rising as we climbed the mountain.
There are rest areas and some small temples and shrines on the way to the top.
The rest areas give a place to sit for a moment. Usually there is a least a bid of shade.
Pausing for a break; looking back down the hill. Our guide is coming up the steps at the left.
Finally, we can see the top of the hill.
About 800 steps to go!
Getting closer.
The tower over the Adishvara Temple.
We took about an hour and 45 minutes to reach the summit. The trip up is really not too bad in the early morning. The steps are stone, and hard, but they are of even height and spacing and well-maintained.

A Google Maps view of the temple complex.

It’s really too bad that photography is not allowed inside the temple complex. The temples are amazing. Jains are small in number (about 0.4% of the population of India), but have the highest per capita wealth and are highly educated. A great deal of their wealth is spent on temple building and renovation. The temples here have been continuously maintained, renovated, and rebuilt for centuries.

Going down was much more difficult. It took about an hour and 50 minutes to descend. The temperature was rising -- probably close to 100 F. Shade was in short supply. We should have brought more water (2 L rather than 1.5 L).

As we were going down, a group of high school students and their English teacher were on their way up. At this point I was glad I wasn’t on my way up in the heat.
A Jain nun walking back down the mountain.
Lon with the town of Palitana in the background.
Back at the beginning! My knees did not have trouble with the trip down the steps, but my calves took a week to recover!

Absolutely worth the effort!

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