Religion and spiritual thought have been main association of India since always, after living and working there for a while I must admit that I’m now even more sure that this things are to be found in person itself or not; there’s no place that could make you rich in spirit unless you already had it in yourself. Yes, it might have great impact on you, as any other country you visit, but it won’t give you inner peace or make you a better person just because you went there, as some assume. But, among many other places in India, there was one where I could have felt the power of Indian Gods, it was Palitana, temples in Palitana to be exact. And I swear it was before smoking magical green cigarette in the middle of the temples ;).
The fact that there aren’t many tourists who visit the place or even know about it, already made it a bit magical. It was the first place where I haven’t seen any other foreigner but us for the whole trip, doesn’t mean they never go there, but it doesn’t happen that often- making the place even better and more authentic. Although it’s located in Gujurat, Indian country I lived in, even I didn’t know about it. This was a great opportunity for my best Indian friend to show me and our small international gang “the real India”. Since we had him and his car there was no need for a bus and Palitana was just around 4 hours away from Ahmedabad, the city we lived in. But if you find yourself in India you will have the bus option and Palitana is something you don’t want to miss. The city of Palitana and mountain Shatrunjaya next to it is the world’s only mountain that has more than 900 temples. So it’s no surprise that the temples and whole mountain are the most sacred pilgrimage place for the Jain community and this is the world’s largest Temple Complex. Being the special place as it is has good and bad side of it.
On the way to Plaitana we stopped at one of the numerous restaurants next to the road, even though it seemed as lottery winning place– this was the way we would call places where things like diarrhea would be inevitable. It actually turned out to be the place where even I loved the food, which wasn’t often when it comes to Indian food. Besides, we were like Hollywood stars since most of the people having dinner wanted to take a photo with us, in India this happens often when you go to places where tourist rarely come.
Ok this was the good part of a special place, but after coming to Palitana we experienced the bad one as well. We haven’t booked a place for the night, since our Indian friend was sure we won’t have any problem with finding one, once we get there. The city is full of Jain hotels, meaning they maybe offer rooms like regular hotels, but are actually only for Jain and usually don’t accept anyone else. We have tried with the normal hotel first. While our Indian friend booked the rooms we were taking things from the car and the moment a boy at reception desk saw us coming in, (international girls and boys), he changed his mind, gave money back and explained that there was no room for us. After my friend got angry and tried to explain how wrong this was, 4, 5,6,ACTION ( we were Hollywood stars anyway), one of them was holding him while the other one was hitting him with a wooden stick. Next scene “our” international guys getting between them right away and there it was; just like a movie scene.
The noise we made gathered several angry Indian guys in front of the hotel and we realized instantly that the best thing we could have done was to get into the car as fast as we could had. So there we were, no place to stay since the next expensive hotel (with no scenes like this) was already full. Right before considering sleeping in the car, our Indian diplomat managed to convince one of the guards in one of the Jain “hotels” that nobody will even know that we were there. We paid a bit extra, ran into the rooms and left them before dawn.
Leaving rooms before dawn was our initial plan anyway. Most of the people walking to the temples start that early for a simple reason; main complex of the temples is on the top of the mountain and it takes more than 3800 stairs to be climbed (3.5 km) in order to get here. Furthermore you have to get down before evening, since nobody, not even Jain monks are able to sleep there. Beside taking all that stairs and not being able to sleep on the top, there is one more rule which will help you find the Indian Gods or discover spiritual India: you are not allowed to eat any food on the way to the temples. Mistake number one; we didn’t eat before walking there, mistake number two; we carried only biscuits, hoping to find food offered on the top. Upsss, first thing that for sure made Gods angry, we had been eating on the way to the top. Even though you’re not allowed to eat, you can get free water on several stops towards temples . Standard Indian way of drinking; everybody drinking from several same metal cups, without touching mouth. After few months of life in India, this things become completely normal for you.
Every devout Jain aspires to climb to the top of the mountain at least once in a lifetime, because of its sanctity, so there will be numerous both female and male monks whom you will meet on the way to temples. Besides being inspired by their devotion I got my answer for their “strange” hair. (If they weren’t bald, their hair looked just as the hair of a toddler looks like). They all have to pull out their hair, both man and women in order to avoid obstacles in their path of going Gods way, since in many ways the beauty of a person is attached to the his/her looks and looks have a lot to do with hair. Monks walk bare foot and very fast especially when you think of their age, but it wasn’t only monks walking bare foot, majority of the people was walking barefoot, of course but us. Beside Jain living in India you will meet many of them living far away ; Canada or States… but they visit Palitana at least once if not every year, they simply find it necessary for their health and success or something else. Some of them will be the ones who will talk to you, often surprised to see you there.
Just as with many different sanctuaries of other religions you will find many people trying to get there even though not being able to do it by themselves, with a hope of getting better if they reach the top. That’s when “Doli” comes in. These kind of things are really only to be found in India or some other 3rd world country. Doli is kind of a swing chair carried by porters. Yes the truth is that some of them are too old or too ill to climb the hill alone, but many of them just use the chance to have others carrying them on their back literally, for this I was amused by the fact that you are charged based on your weight. I don’t even have to mention that we were offered to be carried by every single available Doli carrier, since we for sure looked like someone with the money, being white as we were. Sadly for them we didn’t like the idea in the first place.
With all the stories on the way there, with every step closer to the top and main complex of the temples I was realizing why every single stair was worth it. Since the whole hill considered as a sacred place, there are also temples on the way to the top, already amazing enough to fascinate you. No crowd, as often in temples around India, no people living on the streets next to them, no cows coming in…all together some different India. As the number of stairs has increased, so has the level of the fascination by the view on the Cambay gulf underneath and temples in front of us.
After we were already slightly spiritualized (extremely hungry-one causes the other) we have reached the main temples at the top of the mountain, where we instantly felt some special energy. Although they were the same people whom we met on the way to the top everybody was somehow happier and more relaxed, followed by the energy of the place itself. It really wasn’t only about the fascinating architecture, the place has some kind of power to make you fell the peace inside of you, yeah you are able to find that in many churches, temples or mosques, but there is something which distinguishes Palitana temples form many other spiritual places.
There is amazing and big outdoor space between temples which you can easily enjoy; we have managed to smoke weed ( usually not my kind of thing, but the energy of the place made me do it ;)), we have climbed through all kinds of passages to reach every possible top of the temples, we have laughed like maniacs which didn’t bother anyone. We have even found the place to sleep in the middle of the temples. All together absolute freedom, just like the place where Gods live. Still if you go there and don’t experience the same things, don’t blame it on me , I just had the right friends along, so everything was possible with them, still we have proved that it’s possible. If this kind of energy was to be found in churches I don’t think they would be missing young people like they do.
There are two basic parts of the complex, the one with old temples and with the new ones, on the day of our visit (Sunday) there was some kind of ceremony, something like mass in churches in the old part. There is a rule that forbids you to take any photo of the old part, still I have managed to find some spot where at least few shots were possible, ok another way to make Gods angry. It’s amazing what kinds of their customs you can get familiar with during the ceremony, most interesting one was that many of them hold some little mirrors in their hands during singing-praying, so they avoid looking directly at the Gods whose statues are at the altar.
We were already familiar with the next custom, but that day it was our favorite one; they feed the Gods. Not some proper meal, but they bring almonds and different kinds of sweets and just leave them close to the altar or at some spots in the temples. Hahaha yeah you just made the right conclusion, our hunger was greater than the fear of making Gods angry or risking with the bad karma. Our inner Gods had enjoyed some sweets and a lot of almonds when nobody was watching, we are all still alive and fine. I believe this made the Gods more angry than anything else we did that day, while on the other hand I was angry when thinking about the fact that all that food from all the temples in India could be in the hands of many hungry children in India instead of being thrown away. Just the same as the fact that rich Jain community from all around the World is spending enormous amount of money on keeping the temples in such great condition or on building the new ones can easily make you wonder. Obviously making Gods happy is more important than helping millions of people leaving on the streets of India. However, that same Gods are still enjoying themselves while I hope you will enjoy photos of beautiful temples in Palitana, before you explore them by yourself.
For the ones who will go:
During the monsoon season the temples are closed for devotees – June till September mostly.
Book a place for sleeping before going there.