Jain temples have a distinct architecture to them especially the temples of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Most of them are made of marble , highly ornamented carvings and huge complexes. I can still remember my awe and immense pleasure visiting the Adinath temple at Rankapur, Dilwara temple of Mt Abu years ago. Palitana was a completely different experience , one the climb up the hill Shatrunjaya and the other it was just not one temple but clusters of these beautiful temples all the way up the hill forming a temple city on the hill.
Cluster of temples at the top of the Shatrunjaya hill
I had taken an early morning bus from Junagad to Palitana. I intended only a day trip to Palitana heading to Bhavnagar for stay as there were very few options to book a hotel online at Palitana. Then the local friend whom I was in contact with at Bhavnagar pointed out that climbing the hill would be better in the early morning what with it getting very hot later in the day. So I graciously accepted his offer to help me out with getting a room at a dharmshala at Palitana.
The Taleti area which is at the outskirts of the town and the start point of the climb up the Shatrunjaya hill has a large number of these dharmshalas, most of them very well maintained and highly patronized by the Jains who visit this pilgrimage center every year. Most of these dharmshalas have their own bhojanalays (kitchen serving food) serving Jain food with dinner being served before sunset. I thoroughly enjoyed the simple meals served here and some authentic Gujarati Jain food to boost. Checking with some of the folks staying here I was told that apart from calling up to book the rooms there are websites through which you can book the dharmashalas online.
Taleti with its many dharmshalas and temples
Taleti also boasts quite a robust market area, from clothing to handicrafts to food stalls. And quite a variety of chikkis (sweet made of jaggery or sugar) which I was happy tasting hopping from one telewala (cart vendor) to the next. Also regretted not picking up some from here as when I checked out at Ahmedabad just before boarding my flight back I could not find these different varieties. The bhel with sugarcane juice is another must try here. The bhel of Palitana is very famous and has a very distinct taste as compared to the ones you may have eaten elsewhere
Next day morning around 6:30am I started my climb up the hill. The roads were already crowded with pilgrims and travellers alike. The whole environment was very festive with full families, young old and children, vibrantly dressed undertaking processions with offerings to the Gods. These processions were accompanied by band baja (musician troupes) till the starting point of the climb. At the entrance you can opt to purchase bamboo stick which will help you in the climb. For people who cannot/or donnot want to climb you can also hire the service of the palanquin bearers. Various types of palanquins are available and there seemed some haphazard way in which these bearers were allotted. Talking to one set of the bearers further up the climb I was told that they had some sort of quota system where a bearer was allowed to make only one or two climb at most a day
Palanquin bearers carting men women and children up Shatrunjaya hill
Climbing up a few steps you enter the first temple which seemed to be like a a place the pilgrims made a definite stop and made most of their offerings here. You can also opt to skip visiting this temple by instead taking the curved pathway on your right. From here on you keep climbing uphill. The first 500-800 steps or so the climb is pretty strenuous but after that you have much more flat pathways in between some steep climbs.
Pictures taken climbing up the hill
Peacock welcoming the morning sun
I met an old lady of 73 climbing up with her son who said she makes this trip every year and climbs the hill everyday for 99 days. They call it “Navanu” visiting the holy place 99 times. Then there were a group of 4 teenage girls who were running down the stairs as I was panting my way up, happily stating that they climbed the hill more than once a day and towards the end of their Navanu they would climb 4 times a day.
Pictures of temples enroute
Its around 4000 steps up to the main Adinath temple and the total temples on this hill is amounted to around 896. Among all these beautiful temples the main Adinath temple is a real gem. There is something about the main temple that just mesmerizes you. The day I visited was a very auspicious day of the Jain holy month and the main temple was just too crowded for me to enter in. I was very happy and contended just seeping in the beauty of the temple from outside and all the structures surrounding the main hall.
I started the climb down around 1:00pm. Its the same path down the hill and as I was not stopping at every temple enroute I did make it down by around 2:30 or so. There are many small stopovers points where you can quench your thirst and rest your feet a few minutes before continuing. Since this pilgrimage is considered to be very auspicious, the Jains donnot eat anything before the climb nor carry any food on the hill. Once you reach down there are ladies selling thick curd in mutcaas (eathern pots) garnished with a chat type masala which taste heavenly. The Bhojanalayas were closed around the foothill by the time I was out , so ended up having bhel and sugarcane juice for my lunch.
After a refreshing bath and some rest back at my room I rushed for my dinner as soon as the bhojanalay at the dharmshala opened around 4pm. On my way back to the room the maid who works at the dharmashala offered to give me a leg massage which I realised later I should have taken up, probably my legs would not have hurt as much as it hurt in the later days if I had had the massage.
Getting Here: There are frequent buses from Bhavnagar to Palitana. From the town center take an auto to Taleti which is right at the foothills of Shatrunjaya hill.
Travelled in Dec 2015